Gust has gotten quite a reputation for itself for filling in the gaping void that is the JRPG scene on modern consoles, with the Atelier series being their most popular works.
The series has an interesting history in the US, starting with a huge misstep with the heavily focus-tested “Atelier Iris” series which got rid of most of the unique staples of the series in hopes of courting the international market. However, the PS2 JRPG library was too strong and thus a generic by the books JRPG like Iris really couldn’t keep up with other companies that can throw much more money and talent at the genre, so by the time the PS3 rolled around, Gust went back to the basics with the Arland trilogy of Rorona/Totori /Meruru which eventually led to the series critical acclaim by most review sites nowadays. If there was ever a success story about not selling out and keeping what makes you unique, this would be it.
In 2011, Gust announced two collaborative works with two other companies: Atelier Elkrone, which we will not be covering today… or ever, was a collaboration with Idea Factory’s otome game department to create a female-targeted Romance Visual Novel in the Atelier universe.
The other, Atlus’s “Nora to Toki no Kōbō: Kiri no Mori no Majo” for the Nintendo DS, helmed mainly by the staff of Atlus’s famous dungeon-crawling RPG “Etrian Odyssey’, will be the feature of today’s post.
For all intents and purposes, Nora and the Time Studio is an Atelier game under a new IP. If you haven’t played any of the “traditional” games in the series, here’s a quick summary:
The Atelier series is a Life Simulation RPG focused on crafting, and the purpose of these games is not to embark on epic adventures partaking in orc genocide, robbery and deicide, but rather a low-key, laid-back relaxing game where you simply craft, fulfill requests from the town and its citizens for constructive development, and build up your relationship with your friends. It’s one of the few non-linear RPG experiences amongst the generally overly linear experiences that JRPGs usually offer.
Think something like Recettear, minus shopkeeping and adding more crafting.
So what’s Nora’s addition to the formula? Well, the title of the game should give you a hint: Time Manipulation.
No, this isn’t some kind of Chrono Trigger epic journey where you have to travel to the Jurassic age to harvest dinosaur fossils (wait, that sounds like a pretty cool game anyway), but with Nora’s time studio, she can not only speed up the growth of time localized to an object, but also reverse time for an object.
One of the fun parts of Atelier games is trying to mentally “work out” how you’re intended to craft an item when you’re given a request. If you’re given a request like “Spiced Meat”, for example, you can figure out that you probably need Meat, probably from killing an animal, and some herbs, which you can forage from forests. Then you combine them in the alchemist pot and boom: “Spiced Meat”
With the addition of time manipulation in Nora, you can approach your problems from different angles. For example, you can time reverse “burnt firewood” back into non-burnt log, a still-living plant… or maybe even seeds, depending on what you need!
And outside of direct time manipulation, the normal process of time passing is also a part of the gameplay. Plant seeds in the ground and they will grow and mature over time. Put your cheeses and meat in the sun to allow them to dry and be smoked. Let out your pets and they will consume plants and… uh, leave interesting droppings. Or you can just leave a bunch of stuff around the house in order to decorate it.
For the traditionalists, the “tool-based” crafting of the Atelier series such as needing a cooking pot to cook, cleavers to break up firewood/butcher meat and etc are still in the game so gaining access to tools which will increase your crafting prowess is still a gameplay factor.
While there are several Atelier games where you actually have to explore dungeons for materials, Nora simply asks you to play a simple point and click mini-game to gather your crafting materials. Difference sequences will result in either an increased/decreased item gathering, monsters spawns or maybe even effects like a complete randomization of all the items you have already gathered in your basket!
Did I say monster spawn? Yup, that’s combat in the game. Don’t let the Atlus name fool you though, this isn’t some kind of teeth-grinding, gritty dungeon crawler. Combat in Nora is a traditional turn-based affair which is done on a simple 3×3 positioning grid to allow things like row/line attacks, but you really shouldn’t expect some kind of tactical combat masterpiece from it.
It gets the job done for a game based off crafting I suppose and it’s not a complete cake-walk, for anyone who cares about combat difficulty.
Unfortunately, it appears that the game never did really well in sales, although the reason why is up to speculation. Perhaps it’s simply too derivative from its source material on a console overflowing with good games. Or perhaps its cutesy image and casual gameplay just doesn’t fit Atlus’s reputation as a “hardcore” game company.
Still, it’s a pretty solid and well-polished entry to the genre. If you can’t get enough of Atelier games, check this one out. It’s probably better than Gust’s actual attempts at making Atelier games for the DS.