A pinch of turn based combat, a dash of achievement hunting, and a handful of cute characters gets you Atelier Rorona Plus, a game about a young girl, Rorona, and her alchemy workshop. Just an apprentice, she takes on a great deal of unwanted responsibility when the Kingdom of Arland threatens to close down her unproductive establishment. Your uninspired master inexplicably steps aside, trusting Rorona to save the workshop by her lonesome. Over the course of several years, the kingdom will ask Rorona to gather requested ingredients, brew specific potions, create bombs, and craft special materials so that she may prove the necessity of the workshop.
Failing to meet the described quota within the allotted 90 day intervals will end the game on the spot, and this immediately overwhelms Rorona with stress. However, sympathetic to your challenging task, Sterkenburg, a stern but kind knight of Arland, lays the missions down for Rorona at a gentle pace. You’ll have time to talk to townspeople, shop for gear or any reagents useful to your cause, and hire friends to join your gathering party. When ready, you may step out of Arland and select from surrounding areas on the travel map, all home to unique ingredients, as well as dangerous wildlife, monsters, and demons.
These low-budget environments are small and enclosed by invisible barriers you’ll run into frequently, with their pathways leading you to separately loaded areas that cost days to travel between. It’s important, then, to make the most of your excursions outside the town. You’ll always want a full basket of mushrooms, flowers, minerals, and whatever else you find in the gathering spots in each environment. However, it’s crucial to leave enough time to actually brew those ingredients back at the workshop, as each recipe takes a number of days to craft as well. It may sound like a great deal of planning, but Atelier Rorona Plus really just requires an existing consciousness of time in order to pass its many trials.
Still, it’s a lot of pressure for a girl like Rorona, a very humble and insecure character who is always out of breath, demonstrably naive, and easily startled. The constant “WAHHH!”s and “I’m so sorry!”s and other exclamations of humility do beg for a quick finger, as much of the grating dialogue is skippable. But as the days pass, Atelier Rorona Plus becomes tolerable, quirky, and humorous. Rorona is a ditz, and others tend to gleefully harp on her stupidity as the game is aware of its own airheadedness. It’s cute stuff, and if you become partial to any particular character, you can overachieve and seek out multiple endings that affect your relationships with them.
But if you don’t have an innate thirst for over completion, Rorona Plus gives you little other incentive to develop one. The driving mechanism of its alchemy system is the ‘Quality’ modifier on the ingredients you collect. Mixing higher quality ingredients will yield a better product with better stats and everything else. Sterkenburg stresses this to the player with each mission, saying you will be graded on quantity as well as quality in the items you turn in. But while quality certainly scores you more points, you’ll just as easily pass by simply flooding Sterkenburg with a certain quantity of the wanted item. In one mission that has you brewing pastries in your cauldron (yes, you can do that), you can conceivably just go next door and buy a ton of low-mid quality food items and hand them over to Sterkenburg for instant completion.
Does Atelier Rorona Plus want you to be that lame? Of course not. But it’s admittedly a terribly odd template in that case — one that hands the player victory over the most pressing obstacles in the story, only to leave you with arbitrary achievements to hunt instead. For example, Sterkenburg always gives a list of side items you can complete. He’ll reward you with powerful items if you manage to, say, complete 5 battles, gather ingredients 5 times, or slay X amount of this creature. There is virtually no difficulty to these tasks. You just go through the motions and get a very strong party as a result.
Thus, when you do start meeting wolves and ghosts that hit your characters hard, you’ll have more than enough armor and firepower to deal with it. With a weakly animated swat from Rorona staff, you’ll get a preemptive attack against those creatures in the ensuing battle screen. From there, a skeletal turn-based system feels more introductory than anything else. You wack little green puddies, griffons, and bandits, targeting whichever baddie is up next on the turn order shown on the side of the screen.
The battles are truly just a space to admire any of the cute characters you befriend in Arland. Hire the melee prowess of his frying pan and Iksel, an owner of a local restaurant, will toss plates of healing grub as his special ability. Rorona’s bratty friend, Cordelia, will summon her butlers for a rifle barrage, and Esty, the adorable blonde haired Knight, will dice things up with her dual blades. Dispatched foes will fade away with the faint flap of a farting noise, and you’ll want to clear areas entirely to maximize the amount of experience, money, and items you get from an area. After all, it cost you time to get there.
But you’ll always end up with plenty to spare. And if you resist the shallow achievements laid before you, collect what’s necessary and earn the powerful freebies, you’ll save the workshop and end the game with a satisfying enough ending. Heck, you can sleep on the couch at the workshop to pass the days by and shorten this ~20 hour game a good deal. Special monster targets do put up extreme challenges toward the end game, but again, it’s optional and you’re on the path to victory, anyway. Completionists might go for these extra objectives, but completionists, by their own label, do just about everything in games anyway. It’s not exactly a compliment, nor a high standard to set a game by, to say that Atelier Rorona Plus is fun because there’s “a lot to do.” As Sterkenburg says: quality over quantity.