Atelier Lulua Review
Elmerulia Frixell and the Technicolor Dream Game
Having played and enjoyed two shorter crafting-centered RPGs earlier in 2019, it was time to jump back into the behemoth of a series that is Atelier with the latest entry, Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland. It has been fifteen years since I completed my only other foray into the series, Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana on PS2, and I was pleasantly surprised how the series has grown. From gorgeous graphics to deep crafting and combat systems, Lulua is an impressive game.
Atelier Lulua is the fourth Atelier game set in the region of Arland. Elmerulia Frixell (Lulua), the daughter of series veteran Rorona and pupil of alchemist Piana, is busy learning her mother’s craft when she’s literally smacked on the head by a mysterious book called Alchemyriddle, a book that oddly only she can read, and one whose pages only become legible when Lulua is in need or when certain objectives have been met. As the game progresses and Lulua begins to explore all of Arland, continent-spanning issues as well as the everyday requests from townsfolk and party members alike arise. Players can spend as much time as they like completing every side quest and acquiring every alchemy item and recipe as the game, unlike some other Atelier titles, is untimed and allows unlimited game years to pass before Lulua needs to save her homeland.
The gameplay of Atelier Lulua is quite a pleasant loop of working on main chapter objectives, exploring new areas, and working on requests from party members and NPCs alike. Alchemyriddle is accessible at the touch of a button and displays both primary and secondary goals graphically on the screen. Notification is given when players complete any goal, and while primary and secondary goals are presented immediately, additional goals require the completion of the first two sets in each chapter before they become visible. While this system works well and provides good direction, the game belies the importance of completing all goals. Many locations, useful recipes, and even crucial battle system options are unlocked by completing each chapter completely, making all game objectives almost necessary.
Atelier games are built upon the premise of item creation, and alchemy in Atelier Lulua doesn’t disappoint. While alchemy begins quite simply with placing a few items together to make something bigger and better, the game slowly expands the system and challenges players via Alchemyriddle goals to make more complex combinations that require higher quality ingredients or the addition of awakened skills and increased power. Unfortunately, the system isn’t always explained very well and it may take many hours for players new to the series to begin to feel comfortable adding secondary skills or powering up items appropriately. Once players master those skills, the game fully opens up with gameplay options that unlock to make using items in battle much easier and convenient while allowing for the crafting of weapons and armor as well. While various alchemy gameplay elements seem to unlock frustratingly slowly, they are actually well spread out over the full length of the game, with new systems opening around the time old ones feel fully mastered. A small learning curve is also present when using items in the field and with some battle mechanics. While Alchemyriddle does guide players, sometimes it is too vague when leading players to do completely new tasks. Perhaps this won’t be an issue for series’ veterans, but for newcomers the in-game tutorials and explanations need to be more thorough.
Similar to how the alchemy portion of the game grows, the battle system expands along with the size of Lulua’s party from a classic turn-based affair with few frills to a wonderfully complex and fulfilling experience. Up to five characters can be taken into battle, with front-line characters directly attacking and rear-line characters providing support via skill combos, follow-up abilities, and the alchemist’s ability to use items. A bit of experimentation will lead players to realize which characters are best suited for specific positions. As more battle features open up, battles become more dynamic with strategically placed support characters able to chain their follow-up abilities to most front-line characters’ attacks based on positioning and the skills chosen each turn. While this does decrease the number of turns needed to defeat enemies, it doesn’t always equate to saving players time. After players see the same support character perform the same action multiple times in each battle, a sense of fatigue sets in as the animations grow increasingly redundant. Minor quibbles aside, with a bevy of playable characters to choose from and multiple formations to place them in, all of which activate different special combos and battle support bonuses, there exists enough customization in Lulua’s battle system to keep players experimenting throughout the game.
Visually, Atelier Lulua is impressive. The color palette of the game is filled with bright pastels that match well with the upbeat, cheery mood of the story. The graphics overall go from good to great with some finely detailed work noticeable in weapon designs and many of the locales visited around Arland. Additionally, even with dozens of different cities and gathering places located around Arland, care was taken to make each area seem visually distinct from the rest, something quite appreciated since a sizable amount of time is spent in these areas gathering alchemy ingredients. Animations in battle are quite fluid and wonderful sights to behold; however, character animations in story scenes too often have characters looking like rigid marionettes whose few poses are reused often enough to become noticeably redundant. The soundtrack matches the graphical style perfectly, with many upbeat and happy tunes playing peacefully in the background during exploration as well as some fun town and alchemy wagon tunes. Impressively, most all dialogue in the game from party members to NPCs is voiced, though only in Japanese with English subtitles. While this is a disappointment, it’s partially offset by the well-done localization.
Going into Atelier Lulua with very few expectations other than a deeper alchemy system than many other games, I found the overall experience to be an impressive one. From bright graphics and a happy score to an excellent battle system and even deeper alchemy system than I’d envisioned, all aspects of Lulua just seemed to work well together. While I experienced a bit of a learning curve with certain gameplay systems, it was nothing that couldn’t be overcome with experimentation and diving deeper into the additional challenges Alchemyriddle provided. As the fourth game in the Arland sub-series of Atelier games, there were characters and interactions that series’ veterans would get more mileage out of than those who hadn’t played the first three, but at no time did the experience suffer from my lack of background knowledge. Atelier Lulua is both a wonderful game for newcomers and Atelier veterans to enjoy.
Characters and world are bright and beautifully designed
Battle system evolves throughout the game from serviceable to excellent
Deep levels of customization through alchemy for a wide variety of items and equipment
No way to skip battle animations
No English voice acting
There's a bit of a learning curve for players new to the series in many aspects of gameplay