My partner calls Atelier Totori my pretty princess game as a joke. Well in the third PS3 Atelier game does feature a princess as the main character! You take control of Meruru whose task it is to use alchemy to help build her kingdom of Aris on the outskirts of Arland. It seems that virtually everyone from Totori has moved to this small kingdom. Totori is featured very early on and does become a controllable character, much like Rorona in the previous game. But Totori is there from the very beginning and she is Meruru's teacher. Meruru seems to suffer from the same 'faults' as both Rorona and Totori: a high propensity for blowing things up and a high pitched 'cutesy' voice (at least in the Japanese audio setting). Although Totori in Atelier Totori takes the cake for most awesome costume.
Like Totori, you have a set time limit to accomplish things. The most notable improvement in the time limit regard is that when you die, it only takes a few days off the time limit rather than more than a week. Dying once in the previous game would almost certainly put a crunch on the time limit. In this game it seems a little less rushed, but still rushed nonetheless. I would have liked a little more leeway to experiment or explore more. I still wonder why there isn't an option to turn off the time limit on the game. Or if you fail the time limit, I would have liked the option to continue playing but with no hope for the 'good' ending. Alas...
When you accomplish certain tasks, things do change. Like one area that starts as a forest becomes a huge farm once you complete certain events. You do lose the lumber harvest points, but gain fruit and grain harvest points instead. And the enemies change as well. So be careful and save often! You might need to gather those extra logs before making the change!
Battles are fluid and fast as they were in the previous game. The music in this game seems a little step down from Totori though. You can actually unlock scores from Totori and use them instead. But once you are in battle you really feel let down with the score. But you really feel the burn when you're in the outlying lands exploring. Some of the scores used are just horrid. Others are good, but a few are just really not interesting.
Just spent a lot of time this weekend playing it. One thing I might mention and that is kind of annoying, is the frequent interruption by characters for little dialogue scenes. There is much more in this game than Totori. I find it happens most annoyingly when I am trying to synthesize items for Development. It can get annoying because you want to watch the scene, but you were really in the middle of getting things done, so...
But it's a lot more fun later on in the game than Totori it seems. Though the map locations are often small (smaller than in Totori usually), there are a lot of them. I just really wish they had paid more attention to the music. Sometimes it's just a slight variation on the main theme, just not very well done. Totori had a great score!
The other slightly annoying thing is that virtually every character from Totori is playable in this. I liked them, but I would have liked to get to know some new faces. You can travel with Lias and Keina (though I rarely use her), but I end up with Mimi, Gino, Sterk, or Esty. You can also use Totori or Rorona, but they're a lot like Meruru, so it's only useful for later play through when you are trying to trigger character specific endings.
Battles continue to be quick and fun. Leveling up makes a huge difference, not like in other games. Just a few points in strength helps. Also upgrading new weapons and armor is the quickest way to being able to tackle some of the baddies. Especially the notorious ones (like the Penguin ninjas and the dragon).
If you liked Totori, you'll like this one, only be prepared for a LOT more dialogue scenes.
The game shines when it comes to story and characterization. I wouldn't say this title is an improvement over Totori, actually I would say that Totori held my interest more with the story line. But that's not to say this isn't a great story, just not quite as good as the excellence of the previous title.
I also felt that the difficulty was a little higher. Part of it might be the lack of team diversity early on. You really only have one true warrior early and so it makes things a little tougher when one of the characters hits for 1-4 damage despite possibly inflicting sleep status. But stocking up on items and bombs helps a lot. And battles have a system much like Grandia and Final Fantasy 10. A kind of attack bar that puts your character in a queue depending on their speed and the previous attack. So that's a big improvement. And you still have the combo attacks used after items as well as the defender swap in if Meruru is targeted.
The other thing is that early on the shops don't really stock items you really need. In Totori, you almost HAD to buy most of your alchemy ingredients. Trying to harvest more than I'd say 25% of your goods would take too long in Totori. So in this game you really have to spend some time harvesting. Especially for fuel type items. It also takes a little while to get the blacksmith shop running and cranking out more advanced weapons.
Speaking of alchemy. The alchemy formula remains nearly identical to the previous game. There are some minor changes, mainly to the added effects and how you can apply them. Such as certain effects not showing up until you combine your result with something else to create a new item (the effect usually appears as a ? until the next combination).
The biggest improvement has to be the graphics. NIS really upped the ante with the foliage detail and the lighting effects. It's gorgeous. The characters have the same 2-d almost cell shaded look as before, but the backgrounds just pop. The detail is amazing while retaining the story book look and feel.
But like the previous title, this is a fun little bit of nostalgia. Early on the game seems a little tedious, but after a couple of hours things do start settling down and the fun begins. I would say that if you liked Totori, then you will like this game. If you haven't played Totori, then this still might be a fun game for you to try, just really know that you're getting a beautiful game based on some old school RPG mechanics. Enjoy!