Title (JP): Lulua no Atelier: Arland no Renkinjutsushi 4 (ルルアのアトリエ 〜アーランドの錬金術士4〜)
Title (NA): Atelier Lulua 〜The Scion of Arland〜
Platform: PS4, Switch, PC (Steam)
Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games
Release date: 20 March 2019 (JP), 21 May 2019 (NA), 24 May 2019 (EU)
This review was written based on the Japanese release of the game, and may not reflect changes made to versions released in other regions.
Atelier Lulua is the 20th game (excluding re-releases, ports, etc.) in Gust’s long-running Atelier series in almost just as many years, and departs from recent releases in how it goes back to the popular Arland Trilogy which originally concluded with Atelier Meruru in 2011.
The game follows the adventures of the titular protagonist, Lulua, adopted daughter of the first Arland game’s protagonist, Rorona, as she aims to become an alchemist like her mother, and what happens when she finds a mysterious book called the Riddle that only she can read which constantly gives her timely alchemic insight pertinent to problems she faces. Though the story takes some time to get going, it eventually grows in scale to encompass aspects and characters that were introduced but not elaborated on in previous games, fleshing out things like the ancient machine civilisation that created many of the ruins players delve through, and certain bosses that were clearly important yet not given much background previously. Many characters return, including all three protagonist of the previous Arland games and staples like Sterk and Mimi, as well as some that had been neglected for some time such as Lionela who had only appeared in Rorona (and the opening movie of Meruru), and players can also revisit some old locations.
Though a sequel to the Arland Trilogy, Lulua is closer to recent Atelier games, with many of the Arland simulation game aspects removed or toned down, and a greater focus on being a story-centric RPG: The ingredient collection and item synthesization systems at first seem to be heavily streamlined, the game is divided into story chapters, and the time limits of the Arland series are done away with completely.
Instead of aiming to fulfil certain conditions before a deadline, the majority of the game’s progress involves Lulua facing a problem, and the Riddle giving her conditions to fulfil for it to cough up the answer to the problem, upon which she can solve this problem allowing the story to go forwards, and this allows the player to advance the game at their own leisure instead of having to meticulously plan what to do like in the previous games. In addition to the story quests, the Riddle also issues optional quests which give new recipes (usually for powerful items) and sometimes powerups when cleared.
Many of the differences are bound to leave fans of the Arland games with mixed reactions: Some players found the hecticness of the trilogy to be part of its charm, and the removal of time limits also results in less urgency in the story, as well as a decrease in replay value. It should be noted however that despite the game doing away with the time limits, this does not mean that it has been made any easier than the previous ones: Many late game bosses require the player to understand the game’s systems and create and make proper use of appropriate items, and most of the optional bosses are downright brutal.
The new synthesization system involves using the ingredients to distribute points to four elements, but as some elements will cancel others out depending on the recipe, and specific point numbers need to be reached for certain effects on many recipes, by the later parts of the game players will almost certainly end up making ingredients, and ingredients for ingredients, trying to get the right combination.
The streamlining mostly involves features that help the player to keep items that they made once: Consumables can be recharged (even if entirely used up), and the player can register most items with their homunculus helper Chim Dragon, who then mass produces it, ten at a time, albeit for a price (basically the same system with the shops in the previous Arland games)
The shift to using the character models in story sequences instead of portraits also takes getting used to, as even though this may be more impressive from a technical standpoint, the fact is that the models quite simply do not look as good as designer Kishida Mel’s artwork, and this is not helped by how some animations feel stiff, and many are reused frequently. That being said, the shift to using character models does have a few fantastic moments where it is put to good use with unique animations or interesting camera work.
Though none are particularly fatal, Atelier Lulua does suffer from a myriad of minor problems and annoyances. The synthesization system, while satisfactory in the end, has a large number of functions and features that are not unlocked until later in the game, and the limited version the player is given to work with in the early game is thoroughly unsatisfying to use. Control of the camera on the field can be annoying due to how it swerves slightly when the player turns, and the camera itself also tends to go crazy when the player is near to multiple walls or in tight spaces. The draw distance being short in relation to the size of the fields in Lulua might also be bothersome for some players’ immersion, with giant monsters popping in and out in the distance. Some of the Riddle’s quests can be very annoying to fulfil depending on your playstyle, such as some being “use a particular item 10 times” which can mess with the pacing of the game when said item is one that the player does not usually use. And though Lulua’s soundtrack is arguably overall one of the absolute best in the Atelier series, it does have a small number of questionable tracks, mostly remixes of tunes from previous games.
A disappointment for long-time fans is the conspicable absence of many characters, such as Cordelia, Esty and Filly, Gio, and Hagel. Furthermore, despite Atelier Totori and Atelier Meruru having the protagonists of previous titles as playable party members, although Atelier Lulua has Totori and Meruru appear in the game, they are not playable unless purchased as DLC. Though one might have been able to interpret their exclusion as part of Lulua being a soft reboot of the Arland series, their being turned into DLC seems highly questionable.
One of the biggest problems inherent in the game, however, is with the writing surrounding a specific character central to the plot. This character is introduced late, in a fashion that is out of place both in the game’s world and relative to her role in the story, and though her relationship with Lulua is vital to the events later in the game, there is almost no buildup to this relationship shown at all; As it is presented, the story simply suddenly treats her like she’s Lulua’s best friend, despite there being no indication of any reason for this. That this character does manage to remain likeable regardless is the only saving grace.
Although Atelier Lulua is very different from the previous Arland games, and has a number of its own issues, it does in the end wrap up nicely as its own little comfortable adventure, while at the same time setting the stage for a sequel which feels like it may have great potential. The system-level changes might take some time getting used to, especially since the new system has functions that are slowly unlocked over the course of the game, but in the end offers the same amount of depth as previous games. The premise of the game also makes it so that while players familiar with the Arland series might enjoy it more, new players can also jump in perfectly fine, making it an appropriate starting point for players interested in trying out the Atelier or Arland series for the first time.
The Good: Enjoyable Atelier series item-centric gameplay, set in the Arland series’ world but with more attention to story than before, with likeable characters. Plenty of returning characters and locales mean that series fans have much to look forward to as well.
The Bad: Several noticeable absences in the cast (though these may be saved for a sequel), and a few issues with the writing. Totori and Meruru are playable only when purchased as DLC.
Conclusion: While it is clearly different from the Arland series, Atelier Lulua does manage to inherit some of its essence while managing to succeed as its own thing.
(This article was edited on 29th April 2019 to add more details regarding the game’s synthesization system)