Release Date: December 4th, 2018 (Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Steam)
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
ESRB: Teen (Fantasy Violence, Language, Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol)
When tasked with reviewing a collection, it is never quite an easy endeavour as one may think. There is deciding how best to frame it– e.g., reviewing it as if it was never before released, leaning on discussing the technical aspects and upgrades of the collection, etc. Then there is the time commitment that each game in said collection deserves to receive in the process, even if it means the reviewer has to break immersion to skip around from game to game to best represent every part of the collection. This small glimpse behind the scenes is brought about by Koei Tecmo releasing the Atelier Arland Series Deluxe Pack on Steam, Nintendo Switch, and Playstation 4 this month. When it was originally released, this was the first Atelier trilogy to use 3D models and the last trilogy that was self-published by Gust in Japan before merging with Koei Tecmo. With these games almost a decade old, have they aged well to satisfy newer fans of the series such as myself?
Right off the bat, the player will notice that the games are separate files as opposed to being in a single file with a connected menu to select which game to choose. This is most likely because the games can be bought separately, but I personally would have preferred the use of a connected menu hub. In which case, everyone would use the hub (which could have been a small file) and then the games could utilize the DLC method like Halo 3: ODST did for the Halo: The Master Chief Collection. This also could have given the players the option to have universal settings for the games and, especially on the Nintendo Switch, not as much valuable real estate taken on the game library screen. Sadly, with this being mostly a straight port of the three games and their DLC, before the series returns to Arland in next year’s Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland, improvements and quality of life implementations like this are not found.
While that is a bit of a disappointment, it does give the players a chance to see where the franchise was from 2009 through 2011. In fact, the series’ progression can be seen in this collection as the first two games, Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland DX and Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland DX, do not have full video cut scenes – likely as the 3D models were new to the franchise. Rather, the video will awkwardly pause and then become blurry as the visual novel traditional dialogue layout would pop up, sometimes causing the in-focus character models to overlap over the blurry models. Then there is the third game, Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland DX, where the game incorporates video cut scenes into the mix, even if the characters’ mouths do not move during them. While the third game also features the awkward cut scenes from the other games, it does provide a fascinating look into where exactly in the series the games started becoming closer to where they are today.
Another relic of these being older games is that the player cannot rotate the camera around the character, instead they are only able to zoom in and out and let the game dictate where the camera placement is. Then there is the strange case of the settings menus and dressing room, with the dressing rooms being unlocked from the very beginning in these versions. The first and third games in the trilogy have the same layout and dressing room while the second sees a drastic change. With this change for Atelier Totoro: The Adventurer of Arland DX comes the technical hiccup of the game having a delay when changing costumes while the other titles are instantaneous. Speaking of the dressing rooms, they each include the canon outfit of the game along with a selection of even skimpier outfits the player may choose for the character. The customization is nice even if it leans a bit heavy on the fan service.
The games may be old, but the graphics certainly stand the test of time even if the environments of the first two games feel a bit muddled. Luckily, the third game has crisper environmental graphics while all three games have vibrant and crisp character models. If the player has played any Atelier game, then they are familiar with the gameplay loop of synthesizing, turn based battling, gathering materials, and fulfilling quests. These are all done as one would expect and with the first two games featuring compelling stories the player will spend a ton of time in each game, around twenty-five hours for the main story and over double that to be a completionist. Unfortunately, the third game has a less than stellar story, but the progression of the series and the fact it is an Atelier game helps it stand on its own. It also helps that all three games have English and Japanese voice acting.
Overall, (with the release of the fourth game based in Arland coming shortly) this was the perfect time to release a collection like the Atelier Arland Series Deluxe Pack. While there were some missteps to make this feel like a true collection, the fact the games have aged well while also being pivotal to the series helps offset the fact that they are essentially straight ports. With this currently being the calm-before-the-storm that is February 2019, Koei Tecmo may have walked into a perfect release window out West that will allow players to give this more of a leash than they might have any other time. Fans of the series will love to revisit this trilogy, especially on the go with the Nintendo Switch, while newcomers may want to pick one of the newer games to give the beloved series a look before jumping into this older trilogy. (Ryan Williford; Gaming Editor)
Review copy provided by Koei Tecmo.