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Atelier Rorona: Alchemist of Arland

Chef ‘em up.

Videogames often mirror the values of the culture they emerge from. Tetris' Eastern blocks must be stacked and tidied with Soviet efficiency, the endgame payoff a rocket ship - that highest of all Russian technological ambitions – finally setting off for the moon.

Lara Croft embodies the imagined adventuring spirit of the British aristocracy: old money funding trinket tourism, the pilfering of foreign tombs to bring back Elgin treasures with which to furnish our great nation's stately home museums. Master Chief, meanwhile, is the all American hero, riding a warthog through the apocalypse to bring about the universe's salvation, planting flags to mark the occasion with imperialistic glee to the applause of his square-jaw, five-starred general superiors.

So too does the Japanese RPG reflect the cultural values of its nation, with endless tales of adolescents charged with saving the world via a strong work ethic. If there were any doubt as to the message to young Japanese players that glory is born of industry, in Atelier Rorona, the metaphor is made explicit.

Rorona, the girl who you play as, is charged with reversing the fortunes of a failed village chemist. She is given 12 assignments to complete over a three-year period, at which point the council will decide whether the shop should keep its premises and continue its work, or be closed down, its staff deported from the land. It may not be the most scintillating premise, but Atelier Rorona may be closest a videogame has ever come to articulating The Japanese Dream.

Before synthesising any item Rorona will comment on the proposed recipe, giving a hint as to how likely it is that she will successfully complete the order.

As is right and proper for any young Japanese female, Rorona does not seek such responsibility but rather has it thrust upon her. A nervous and somewhat panicky girl, voiced by the sort of helium-voiced, simpering American actress who routinely gives voice to this anime archetype, she works for Astrid, the owner of the chemist.

Astrid, who wears a clutch of test tubes on her utility belt like some sort of Chemistry-themed action hero, is a lazy and disliked public figure in the community. At the start of the game, following the council's pronouncement, she hands the business over to Rorona - who, despite having worked there for some time, appears to know nothing about how it all works.

Her lack of experience and knowledge is, of course, a device to allow Gust to explain the game's systems to new players. The core objective of the game is to increase Rorona's alchemy proficiency by harvesting ingredients from the local fields and woods and making recipes, or 'synthesising', in a giant cauldron.

Rorona earns experience for every recipe successfully completed and when she levels up new recipes become available. The system is an expanded, more convoluted version of that found in many JRPGs, from Star Ocean to Dragon Quest. But here cooking up items is the primary focus of the game instead of a sideshow event.

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Atelier Rorona


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Simon Parkin


Simon Parkin is an award-winning writer and journalist from England, a regular contributor to The New Yorker, The Guardian and a variety of other publications.