Regardless of the ridiculous Kingdom Hearts esque title the Atelier series have always remained a mystery to me. Not least because I never really got into the PS3 until late into its life-cycle. Still, I’m always up for trying a new JRPG and the Switch is just the perfect system for this, even if the game is a port of the first in a trilogy from the PS3. There are some games that are like a warm bath, you slip into them relax and just let your mind wander while your hands tap out the buttons. Despite it’s attempt at falling into JRPG niche trappings Rorona is definitely one of those games.
When you load up Rorona you’re treated to an anime intro that feels like a dot hack project for romancing. It’s cute, vivid and works well to place the setting. At its core Rorona is an item and time management game with classic JRPG systems, exploring, battling in turn based combat and reading lots of text to drive it all along. Now I personally hate time based elements in games but Rorona is possibly the first RPG I’ve ever played where it not only makes sense but it’s a welcome system. Not only does it progress the plot nicely but it gives the management aspect a clear focus and incentive to prioritise quests and crafting items. Essentially the time limit makes for a game where you will be crafting base elements and collecting items to make future moments easier with a higher outcome of success.
There is a plot to all this alchemy and strangely it’s details and intricacies are optional. The story and writing that you are likely to see is enjoyable enough. There are some tropes to be had and more than a few times you know what a character is going to say from their outfit before they speak. Rorona doesn’t diverge from the norms much but it’s essentially boiling down the genre tropes into a charming tale regardless. Timed events don’t overlap so if you see an option to catch your dad perving on the sunderies store owner you can still see the knights continued shaming of the desk clerk in the same day. It encourages checking back to the town often and although you might miss out on some aspects while exploring the world the feeling of wanting to replay the game after is still there and chances are you’ll see at least half the content without trying.
Visually Rorona is functional for the 3D and beautiful in 2D. It’s another PS3 title brushed up and ported for better and worse. Some outfits are frankly overkill and there’s a subtle nudge to the sexualisation but it’s not too extreme (ignoring the original games DLC bundled with the title). You’ll be easily able to read all the text and see what’s going on but the game definitely shines better in handheld mode as opposed to being docked. On the big screen the simple dungeon areas are bland and the combat appears dated but when in handheld mode the game works surprisingly better. The styling of the characters is simplistic in 3D but the 2D artwork for them is fantastic and the characters really shine.
For a typical JRPG story and all the trimmings it’s quite surprising how many more characters keep being added as you progress. You’ll get to the 7th task and a new character and store opens up, All the previous parts and systems simply using this new entry to expand and become a little more complex. You can either explore the towns and see the NPCs or click a quick move option to zip between the important locales with minimal loading. All of the exploring for the safe area costs no time and all feels so fluid that you’ll not feel penalised for forgetting an item at the blacksmith and simply nipping back with minimal effort. It’s bizarre Rorona has any niggles when it’s full of so many quality systems to make your experience more enjoyable.
Rorona also surprised me by having the most subtly brilliant soundtrack for a JRPG in years. It’s no epic mindblower like Nier but it’s full of catchy little ear worms that don’t overpower or take away from the game while also adding it to delightfully. It’s full to the brim with those peculiar melodies that if you hear a snippet, you’ll remember over and over for hours after. Shame about the voice acting then. It’s as cookie cutting cringe as possible in both dub and sub. It’s not greatly surprising when you see the characters involved but it’s such a hard pass on the English dub and its original Japanese is a little disappointing, It’s surprising given how well made everything else is.
As much fun as Rorona generally is the game can also be a little buggy and too nuanced at times. Going into combat sometimes has other characters saying dialogue while showing Rorona’s animation. When you explore some areas while in handheld mode the frame rate can chug a bit and it can drop even lower when you use powerful items and magic (these moments function fine when the switch is docked) but this niggles can largely be shrugged off for the combat isn’t exactly rocket science. You see a monster, get into an encounter and most of the times mash A until you win. The strategy to protect and use Rorona is there but it’s nothing to shout home about. Thankfully Rorona is really liberal with EXP and you’ll quickly overpower enemies with a little managing of equipment and items. Just be sure to have multiple saves before you go exploring as there are optional bosses you can stumble across and if you die you’re sent back to the Workshop and sacrifice precious days. Screw up too often and don’t complete your chapters assessment and you get Game Over. That’s it. Cold hard back to title screen and tough luck.
Crafting is the bread and butter of Rorona, managing your stock and making sure to synthesise the necessary items from the garbage. For better or worse the crafting does take a fairly hands off approach. There are plenty of “what do I need to make this” (akin to Minecraft) moments that require a lot of exploration of new areas, killing of monsters or rooting through item shops to find a solution. Don’t expect the game to stop throwing new things at you until the end, you’ll only find out about gardening until halfway through the story. All of these niggles with Rorona should add up and yet you find yourself just shaking them off. The overall charm just brushes them aside and pulls you in to play more. Mostly everything in the game can be figured with a little trial and error and the balancing of systems at it’s core if fun.
Rorona can be incredibly grindy but only if you let it be that way. When your finding yourself killing monsters without batting an eyelid and smushing A to get through another encounter to collect on a side quest request it does get a little tedious. If this occurs there are enough other things to concentrate on and other jobs that need doing just don’t expect the game to remind you. You can even sleep through spare days if your finding the game far too easy and put more pressure on yourself to complete tasks. You have to make sure to save before you do though as there’s no going back. It’s this hands off approach that at first feels daunting but the deeper you dive into the game feels warm and comfortable.
It’s short by other ‘epic’ standards but it’s not a quick game to finish. It’s also not over at the credits, there are multiple endings and an extra chapter which links in the other two games. To accompany this grind is the addition of unlockable outfits and a new game plus that carries over money and equipped items (also any decorations) but resets your alchemy and EXP level. There’s lots to be getting on with. It even unlocks Extra mode with plenty more artworks and extra bits to have a look through. There are 14 different endings for Rorona. 6 character specific endings, 4 generic, and 4 special endings. So depending on how satisfying your ending was expect to go back to it a few times, although my ‘normal’ ending just from playing the game was a nice closure to the story.
I can see why a friend of mine rates this series so highly and why each release gets a huge fanfare by its fans despite numerous titles being released on a yearly basis. With this being the baseline for me of the quality to be expected from the series I know I’ll be jumping into the next title in the trilogy with high expectations. Rorona is such an odd game to recommend. Selecting the same options for sorting items can be tedious, inventory management can be a chore and the combat is largely forgettable. All of these problems and yet the game is just so disarmingly charming and addictive these issues become trivial nitpicks. If you need a game that just chews up time then politely hands you a perfectly drawn spring water vase and a warm fuzzy feeling you can’t do better.
8/10 – Synthesising your time into fun
Code provided by Koei Tecmo Europe Ltd. Check out their games here