Lulua: The Scion of Arland will make its entrance next year to reintroduce us to the world of Arland, so if you've never had much contact with the series, there's still enough time to try the original trilogy, which has been remade and re-packaged as Atelier Arland Series Deluxe Pack. The total amount of games in the series is quite overwhelming, but just to be clear, the games that make this particular set are Atelier Rorona - the Alchemist of Arland DX; Atelier Totori - The Adventurer of Arland DX; and Atelier Meruru - the Apprentice of Arland DX. And these three young alchemists can still entertain even after all these years (the first came out in 2009).
A big question with these kinds of packages is whether or not existing fans can get much mileage out of revisiting them, and for this one, it very much depends on the individual. The Atelier Arland Series Deluxe Pack doesn't really deliver much novelty aside from a slight graphical boost. Naturally, the games are complete with all the expansions, but to someone already familiar with the world of Arland it still might not be enough to compete with other, more enticing titles on the market, even within the same genre. It can be confidently claimed that the Deluxe Pack stands less as an individual instalment and more as a reminder of a series with a long history and convoluted story, then.
Rorona, Totori, and Meruru are the names of the three protagonists that lead us through the magical series, and although the games are connected by the same universe and consistently tied by plot, its construction theoretically allows players to enter any of the games without knowledge of the others. Theoretically. The world of Arland continuously evolves over the course of the games, and you'll be most satisfied experiencing all of the connections yourself by playing them in chronological order. If you decide to do so, make sure you have a lot of time on your hands, as the entire trilogy is easily deep enough to take over 150 hours to complete.
Under the cover of the cute, innocent, anime-ish faces of the main characters hides one hell of a well-made JRPG, in which most of the focus was put not into turn-based combat, but instead the creation of items: the iconic alchemy. While each of the protagonists has her own motives, each strives to become the land's best alchemist, while also solving problems of the common folk with the gift of alchemy itself. Simply put, between sections of the story you'll be gathering ingredients, running all sorts of errands and - if necessary - fighting various beasts.
Each of the tasks you undertake will require a set of materials - some you can find out in the open, while some are rewards for defeating enemies. Our skills will improve under the keen eye of a mentor (or, in Meruru's case, her father, king of the lands). The thing is that each task, brew, or even a journey takes a set amount of time, and those asking for your help won't wait forever until we're done, meaning you're given limited time to fulfil each assignment, be it a week or a month. It's the time management that becomes an essential part of the gameplay, almost as vital as it is in the Persona games.
Despite all of that, the series is far from being too challenging. The accessibility of the series makes it perfect for people who seek some relaxation, peacefully going through a casual, simple, yet charming adventure. Typical to the genre, turn-based combat poses no threat either and rather serves as a sideline activity between tinkering with brewing pots. We enjoyed that though, as it gives the series its own style instead of copying generic elements from other games.
For a game that debuted in 2009, the visuals are satisfying. It can't compete with high-end titles released right now, for sure, but it isn't ugly, and the soundtrack adds to the charm; it's lively but relaxing at the same time, perfectly painting the atmosphere of the magical world of Arland. The dubbing, on the other hand, is pretty poor, but luckily every game in the series allows us to switch the audio to original voices. Those unfamiliar with Japanese voice acting should be careful, as some of the voices are as cute as they are squeaky, fulfilling well-known Japanese tropes with style.
Atelier Arland Deluxe Pack is definitely worth a try, and it's hard to mistake it with any other; it's full of its own charm and distinctive style. Those familiar with the trilogy won't find anything revolutionary here, rather it's a peaceful experience across three games that are slightly boosted versions of the originals, but if you miss these three alchemists and want to revisit their adventures, there's no reason the hesitate. Except maybe the price (it's between £70 and £80 on Steam and the PS Store). Newcomers, on the other hand, will find themselves playing through a trio of enchanting adventures, which should hold their attention for just long enough before Lulua makes her appearance in 2019.