Have you ever sat down to watch the hit anime series Fullmetal Alchemist and thought to yourself, “Why does alchemy have to be so dark and scary? Can’t it look more like adventuring through Candyland?” Well do I have good news for you. In Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland, it turns out Alchemy has a much more lighthearted side and it’s here to be so colorfully cheery you’ll practically feel like you’re being smothered by a Care Bear.
Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland is a vibrant kaleidoscope of sickly sweet candy gloss masking a surprisingly robust RPG with deep crafting elements. In Atelier Lulua the titular alchemist must collect all of her own ingredients to them shape them into battle ready armaments. Want a healing potion? You’ll have no look searching the shops, you need to brew up a stockpile and their effectiveness is only as good as the ingredients you procure. It’s the same story with every item in the game; bombs, mana potions, buffs, debuffs, even collection tools like bug nets and fishing poles.
Every item Lulua uses can be highly customized in the creation process. The quality of the ingredients factor into the quality of the end product, but the ingredients also carry several other properties as well. Lulua can craft a metal ingot for a sword that carries extra damage properties against wolves or a chance to inflict burn damage, all because in the crafting process she chose the correct ingredients and planned accordingly.
In order to progress through Atelier Lulua players are tasked with strengthening Lulua’s alchemy skills by solving riddles in the aptly titled Alchemyriddle book. The Alchemyriddle appears to Lulua in a moment of need at the start of the story and always leads her down the right path at the right time, albeit in a slightly convoluted way. These riddles will mostly pertain to harvesting a new ingredient, trying a new concoction in the alchemy pot, or battling a certain enemy type.
In regards to story, the stakes of Atelier Lulua are never raised too high. There’s no evil master to overthrow, no plots to destroy the city, no world ending circumstances. The tension is kept fairly minimal as Lulua complete’s work orders to keep her mother’s alchemy reputation intact and eventually grows into a strong alchemist in her own right. However this works just fine. The low takes nature of the adventure allows the characters in the party to be themselves and have a more interesting dynamic with each other. It’s a simple and relaxing world free of time constraints that in most cases allows you to explore at your own pace and trigger a wide variety of character interaction cutscenes.
There’s a wide cast of characters to be recruited by Lulua through the course of her adventure. These include a childhood friend with a bazooka, a pirate swinging an anchor, and a magician with a few magic cards up his sleeve. Each character battles differently and syncs up with others to provide a unique combat boost depending on the party arrangement.
Combat in Atelier Lulua is turn based with a 5 person team. These 5 characters are split with 3 on the frontlines and 2 hanging back as support. The frontline attackers absorb all of the damage and dish it out as well. The support characters will jump in to assist on a special move or are available to tag in if the going gets tough. Battles take place on a timeline with the fastest characters attacking sooner, stunned characters skipping turns, and slow characters being forced to take more shots before getting a turn. Alchemists such as Lulua are able to use interrupt actions at any point in a battle, which when activated allows them to jump into the field and use whatever item has been assigned to them. I would usually keep my alchemists strapped with explosive weapons and interrupt right before an enemy attack to stun and force them to skip a turn.
While the combat was fine enough on its own, it’s more a mechanic in service to the alchemy aspect as you collect monster ingredients for a completed battle. This makes battling work so much better because it is a piece of what this game is really about, creating with alchemy and harvesting new ingredients to experiment with. This takes something that would just be serviceable in a standard RPG and makes it work for a larger purpose that I don’t see too often, making Atelier Lulua more unique.
Admittedly, I’ve not had much experience with the Atelier series and this is the first entry I have played, but it’s abundantly obvious that this game is packed with nostalgia for the Atelier faithful. Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland is a sequel to the Arland trilogy of games and features tons of returning characters, locations, and music tracks. Even as a newcomer to the series I was able to spot out multiple call backs and references in this love letter to the Atelier fanbase.
While the aesthetics of Atelier Lulua are sure to attract fans of the art, it can be a harsh deterrent to those that are adverse to the cutesy anime style. Personally I’m not usually a fan of the wide eyed, overly cutesy anime style, and in reviewing this game I was met with some awkward moments from those that caught me playing it. Despite having to reassure my friends and family that I was not, in fact, trying to purchase anime body pillows, there was a lot in the gameplay to keep me happily plugging through. Creating new items through alchemy and experimenting with new ingredients was a blast and the mechanics of it were more robust than I had anticipated upon starting the game. Atelier Lulua defied a lot of my expectations and gave me an experience I was glad I didn’t miss out on.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Cutesy Visuals Mask a Surprisingly Deep RPG
Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland is a vibrant, cutesy adventure through a fantasy world that sees you as the player enhance your alchemy abilities through battle and ingredient harvesting. The visuals pop out immediately, the soundtrack is insanely catchy, and the story let’s you explore at your own pace. However, the story is mostly forgettable and randomly strung together, which can be a hindrance to feeling any connection to the characters and doesn’t give the player an impetus to keep going forward.