Running around the fields as a 13 year old loli alchemist girl was the best idea GUST had and would ever have.
You see, I didn’t care much about GUST before the Arland trilogy. I can only recollect one really good game by them and that was Mana Khemia. Its alchemy system and how you strengthen your characters are so addictive I can’t tell you how much time I wasted. But like every other GUST games, it is, well, lacking. Its story and characters are disappointing despite its impressive technicalities. MK1‘s easy difficulty makes every gameplay mechanic almost pointless. I had no fond memories with GUST’s other games: The Iris series makes Final Fantasy X a deep game.
So I wasn’t terribly excited to buy Atelier Totori. People also told me to skip its predecessor, Rorona; such warnings kinda worry me. Because I’m a spoiled child, the only JRPG games I can play are good ones. When I can’t get into one, I just give up and move on. It makes my wallet cry.
I started Totori at 10pm.
Ah, I think I need a toilet break. Oh, look at the clock: it’s 10pm again. Hm.
There are two miracles that happened here:
- I didn’t pee for 24 hours straight.
- I played Totori for 24 hours straight.
While this sounds phony, this did happen. I was playing Totori non-stop. I played it during a weekday and didn’t go to college. This has never happened to me before and I was cured of video game addiction years ago. The only works that immerse me that much are 50 hour long visual novels.
And Totori was no VN; it’s just a cute Atelier game.
Without a doubt, the gameplay mechanics seem a bit shabbier than Mana Khemia. The traits/effect system is cool but I find the quality system in Mana Khemia way better. Battles in Totori are so simple the only interesting bits are using the items you crafted; yet, you don’t need to use bombs to progress because all the monsters are way too easy to kill. That’s because you are also given the second strongest character, Melvia, for your starting party. You can plow through the first three years of the game in a mere year. Everything screams out of balance; stuff like this should annoy me a lot.
So how the hell did I waste that much time?
Because exploring the world as Totori Helmond is so damn fun.
Something about Atelier Totori‘s atmosphere really sticks to me. I like cute girls doing cute things. But I also like fantasy settings where dragons are totes mcgotes not moe. Works like Homer’s epic, The Odyssey, illustrate beautiful scenery in my head. Adventuring through unknown territories will be a feast for my eyes. And anyone who guessed I have traveled to a lot of countries will be right; I have been to all parts of the world sans South America and Antartica. I find exploration a crucial theme in many RPGs and often feel disappointed in it.
But Totori’s a bit different: its setting isn’t even revolutionary nor unique; it’s just a typical fantasy setting done well. You get mines that have crystals that glow as if they are radioactive. There are a lot of fields to go through as well. Totori herself lives in a fishing village at the outskirts of Arland. So really, the setting is basically beautiful countryside scenery. Nothing loud and rumbling. You can run and jump around without the nuisances of civilization as a little girl. And that’s something I really like. Maybe this appeals to my lolicon sentiments but something about it feels different. It makes the world of Totori feel big and you want to explore every tidbit of it as much as you can. The areas are so well-designed I remember every nook and cranny of it. Strolling through the ruins and jungles feel different.
And this atmosphere is enhanced by the strong soundtrack. At first glance, it doesn’t sound strong. “Totori no Atelier” seems to sound boring at first; it just feels like a cutesy accordion-laden track you hear in any Atelier game. But as the track goes on, the woodwinds burst into the bridge. You sense you’ll create something big and worthwhile in this soothing atmosphere. “Ashiato o Tadotte” and its other variants, the exploration themes, sound typical at first. But it blends into the setting way too well; I noticed I start humming when the violin plays.
“Crystal Waltz” and “Shizuka no Ato” are beautiful tracks each played in only one dungeon. Yet, they’re so melodious that they appeared in Meruru‘s prologue to introduce Totori’s chapter in the Arland trilogy. With “Crystal Waltz,” it tells her story in a fantasy fashion; with “Shizuka no Ato,” it feels like a poetic adventure (an epic) of one little girl against the entire world. These tracks form a mist that enshrouds Totori as not a typical adventurer but a courageous one.
And you get to explore the world while you see Totori mature. Her motivation to become an adventure is to find out if her adventurer mom is alive. And she does try hard. From a clumsy apprentice to an expert adventurer, Totori is so badass she actually explored lands the Guild hasn’t touched and areas off the mainland. She later finds out her dad used to build ships and her mom went out to the seas to fight some dragon no one has fought before.
So she asks her dad to build one pretty please so she can smack that dragon herself.
What a badass.
And this is of course unbelievable and awesome at the same time. You’ll have to suspend your disbelief so hard it will probably become a zombie at that state. And you might have to kill your disbelief as well when you realize Totori can make alcohol from fish. Totori’s badassery is just hilarious; she can duplicate items, even strong heal-all elixirs, at will. I’m surprised no one hasn’t written a guide to solo-ing Totori yet.
I also got into the whole yuri relationship between Totori and Mimi. I didn’t care much about lesbians until now (and I’m a Saki fan so go figure). Mimi’s tsuntsun antics and Totori’s silly innocence to the whole ordeal just makes my heart flutter. Their tight relationship is so sweet it makes me want to nosebleed.
Lovely, endearing lesbian relationships broke the cold, logical “i-hate-everything” Kastel.
And why do I still like this game despite the batshit logic it sometimes take? Because I was so immersed and emotionally connected to Totori that I didn’t give a damn. I only cared about it when I started writing about it (like right now).
I know it’s obvious GUST is pandering to people like me. But whenever a company tries to pander, the illusion can be easily broken once you realize it. In Totori, I can’t. It’s a magical work for me. I know it has flaws but I don’t want to talk shit about it. In my head, it’s a perfect work. A masterpiece.
Totori is to me as Santa Claus is to kids. Maybe people who have their favorite works’s flaws known to them and yet they still love it anyway will know what I am saying. It’s just that. Nothing but pure affection to that work.
Unsurprisingly, I’ve tried playing Meruru but I didn’t get engaged to it; it just doesn’t feel like Totori. Like Mana Khemia, Meruru is a legitimately good game. In many ways, it’s better than Totori. But I can’t honestly say it’s a better work because it didn’t immerse me like Totori did. Nothing about it makes me want to play more than three hours, let alone 24. It’s fun but not as engaging.
No other games are just as good as Totori for me; I can play that without a break. It doesn’t matter if a work has flaws as long as you can replay it with ease. If you don’t find anything annoying in successive playthroughs and can play it without realizing the time, that is the sign of a great video game.
And Atelier Totori is a great video game not for technical reasons but for experiencing emotions one never knew one had.