In Atelier Meruru Plus, you take the role of the clumsy Merurulince Rede Arls – or “Meruru” as she is come to be known. She is the princess of the small kingdom Arls, which lies at the northeast border of Arland.
Arls is a very rural country; there’s not much technology, let alone alchemy. That changes when the Totori is sent from Arland to Arls to be the alchemist of the region. She’s taken up this position due to the imminent fusion of Arls and the bigger kingdom of Arland. This is the string that ties this game to the last; Totori is the heroine of the last game in the series and history repeats itself once more as she becomes Meruru’s teacher. In the last of the series, Totori was taught by her predecessor; Rorona – so this is definitely becoming a common theme.
The game begins with Meruru wanting to learn alchemy, while her father wants her to take care of her royal duties. Meruru is unwilling to compromise her dream and her father is unwilling to change his views, causing an argument which pushes Meruru to run right to Totori for solace. During this, Rufus (Lias’ older brother and somewhat like a consul for the King) creates a plan regarding how Meruru can both learn alchemy and follow her duties as the princess. The plan is that using the alchemist knowledge she could gain, she would help the country – and she’d do it in three years. The country starts with a population of 1000 and according to the plan should reach 30.000 people by the third year. This end goal is also split up into minor stretch goals; 5.000 by year one and 15.000 by year two – sounds hard, but it really isn’t.
There are two ways to increase the population of the country; the first (and fastest) way it´s to use development points to build facilities which serve to increase the population by a certain amount depending on the building. Those development points have another use; after a certain amount of collection, the kingdom will rank up – which will increase your population and give you extra benefits. An example of these benefits would be that you don’t lose HP while traveling the world map, or even an that half of the gained experience point goes to NPC that arent used. Development quests vary from “create item x and bring it to place” to “clear a whole area of monsters”. It’s worth noting that neither Development quests nor Guild quests have a time limit, though I’ll talk a bit more about time management later.
Development points alone aren’t enough to succeed though, and there’s another method to increase your population; the popularity of the princess. I actually neglected this aspect on my first play through and ended up failing the third year goal – which isn’t actually that bad since you get a clear save game and new side quests. The popularity of the princess can be increased by doing jobs from the Adventure Guild of Arland, which vary from “create item x” to “kill monster y”. Don’t think boosting the popularity to max is enough to prosper though, either. If you don’t do new quests now and then; your popularity will plummet and result in a lower amount of new citizens per day.
Items are created by alchemy, or better said by synthesizing them. This involves taking at least one item and creating something new out of it. Those items vary based on ingredients for further alchemy over heal items to bombs which can be used in battle, but most ingredients can be either found in gather spots in one of the many areas of the world or as a monster drop.
In synthesizing an item, you will need two things next to the ingredients; time and mana points. If the mana points reach zero, Meruru will pass out for a few days.
Time is something very essential in the Atelier series cause of the time limit you have, nearly everything takes time. Sleeping takes time, but does so to recover your health and mana points. The other major consumption of time is travel across the kingdom, though it’s definitely not the only use of time.
Another thing that takes your time is gathering items from one of the gather spots, with one day taken for gathering three items. The only alternative to gathering is to buy items from one of the many shops in the city (which may not have the item you want at a price you can afford).
The gather spots exist in two variants, normal gather spots and rare ones. Rare ones are found to have a yellowish background with Meruru hugging an item as an icon. The only issue to take into account when gathering items is that your basket can only hold up to sixty at a time, with the only other possibility to store items being the container in your atelier (which can store up to 1999 items but isn’t portable).
In the gathering areas you will also find monsters which you have to fight, but thankfully you don’t have to fight alone – you can always take an escort with you. An escort always consists of two people, who you can choose from Meruru’s vast amount of friends. Those friends sometimes even have quests for you that increase the friendship level, giving a higher reward than normal quests would. They’re always missions that take one of your creatable items, but luckily they have no time limit. Once you’ve increased your friendship level, two things will happen; you’ll see more events with that friend and the chance of them assisting in battle goes up. Assists vary from taking a blow for you, to starting a big combo after using one of your crafted attack items.
While battles themselves are round by round, you can change the time when a character or an enemy can attack (much like in the battle system of FFX). This can be achieved various ways, such as using/throwing a skill or items that decrease/increase the speed of the target. In the case that you should die in a battle, the game will fast-forward four days and you will wake up in your atelier – with 1 hp. Losing a battle means losing time, so make sure you’re prepared. Should you be able to reach the goal by year three, the game won’t end… but something else will happen.
Later in the game (by year two – to be exact), you can also use one of your two homulus, which are humanoid creatures. You can either send them collect items for you or synthesizing a said item for you, it’s even possible to say them if quality, rarity, traits or surprise, which is random function I think. This function is useful if you want to more things than one at a time, seemingly they even use their own materials, all in all a very welcome function. Sadly they can’t craft all possible items, so you will still have to do some things yourself. Also they are time bound, meaning that they will need a few days to gather items before finishing the product.
Other than new characters like Keina; her personal maid and childhood friend and Lias; who’s somewhat like her bodyguard, you can also recruit other friends to help. Totori, Mimi, Gino and even Rorona are available to help on your missions – though she’s now an adorable eight-year-old girl due a faulty youth potion. To say it in Astrid’s words; “Who wants a 30 year old Rorona? I don’t. So I made a youth serum to make her 14 again, I tested it on me and it worked… but I think I went a little bit overboard with it.”
Those aren’t the only characters from prior games though, there are characters you can’t recruit – like Filly, a shy woman who takes a job as a tavern receptionist for the guild of Arland. There is also Hagel; the bald weapon shop owner who moved to Arls cause of Totori – and even Pamela the wholesale shop owner is from Arland.
Visually, the game looks very good and it seems like most of the frame-rate issues from Totori are gone. That said, now and then a few clipping errors were apparent (especially during cut-scenes).
The audio element seems very good as well, with the music fitting perfectly to any given scene.
While the music is quite catchy though, there aren’t many songs that I would want to listen to outside the game. Lip-sync is another thing completely. If they speak in a 3D model, they definitely did it wrong; even in the Japanese dub. And yes – like Totori Plus, Meruru Plus includes the original Japanese voiceover as well.
Another plus point is the prologue option, which gives new players a short tour through the prior games of the Arland Arc. Though this is a good option for those who don’t plan on playing Atelier Rorona or Atelier Totori (or those who need a refresher), it might not be a good idea to access this if you plan on playing the previous titles in the series. While each of the games can be enjoyed in their own regard, the character development is the main driving force in this game. By missing the development of Rorona and Totori, you’re missing out on some great facets of their characters. Also, if you’ve got an Atelier Totori Plus save game on your memory card, you’ll receive special items for Totori to use in Atelier Meruru’s game play – such as a stronger staff. It’s a bonus for those who have completed the previous entries in the series.
On the title screen is also an option called extra, which allows you to see the different picture of the games, like backgrounds and face sets. Another thing you can do is access the music and movies of the game. There is also a model viewer, which allows you to see all 3D models of the character of the game and last but not least; the dressing room in which you can change the clothes of the in game model.
Additionally, if you acquire the game before the 1st of October you will receive an exclusive DLC. The DLC includes a cute Mushroom Princess Swimsuit and a Small Straw Hat for Meruru.