Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg Hands-on Preview – Classic, charming, and calming

Posted on May 13, 2023

Saving the world from a grand evil? Nah, there’s crafting to do! Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg is a reimagining of the first title in this long-running series of cosy JRPGs. Released on the original PlayStation in 1997, this title launched a franchise spanning multiple decades and dozens of entries, all focused on providing a more laidback RPG experience. Other than an unofficial fan translation of its PlayStation 2 port in 2018, Atelier Marie Remake marks the first time that this game will be available in English, making this an important milestone for series diehards.

After thoroughly enjoying myself with the most recent entry in the Atelier Ryza arc of the series, I was keen to jump into the original title and get a feel for the franchise’s roots. Older Atelier titles are framed by time limits, with Atelier Marie taking place across five years. For this preview, I was able to play through the first year of protagonist Marie’s cosy little journey. So far it feels charmingly faithful to the vision of the PlayStation original, with a modern coat of paint.

The story of Atelier Marie Remake begins with the titular Marie (short for Marlone) lamenting that she is in the bottom of her class at school. In a last-ditch effort to prevent her from being expelled, her teacher gives her access to an Atelier – a workshop where items can be crafted using alchemy – and tells her to craft something impressive within the next five years. After a brief conversation with Marie’s best friend, you’re pretty much free to go about this task however you see fit. Along the way you’ll get to know the citizens of Salburg, and gradually explore its surrounding woods, mountains, and caves for vital crafting materials. There are monsters around that trigger turn-based battles, but fighting them is not the primary focus. Rather, you’re incentivised to improve your combat abilities so that you can gather better ingredients for alchemy.

A defining feature of the original title is its five-year time limit, and Atelier Marie Remake leans into this with every mechanic. The seasons change as time passes affecting which crafting materials are available, and story events trigger at specific times in the calendar. Almost every significant action you perform will require “spending” a number of remaining days: tasks such as crafting, travelling to locations, gathering materials, and fighting enemies all use up varying chunks of time. This leads to a surprisingly gentle friction between the pressure of the time limit and the game’s relaxed atmosphere – much like in a casual playthrough of Stardew Valley, there’s just enough incentive to pay attention to the remaining days as a resource, without feeling like you need to hyper-optimise every action. Additionally, the remake adds an Unlimited mode that ignores the time limit, though this comes with the downside of skipping certain story sequences.

Right away compared to its predecessor, you’ll notice that Atelier Marie Remake does away with isometric 2D spritework and instead adopts a colourful fairytale aesthetic. Characters are rendered in a simple chibi-style in the overworld, while cutscenes are played out in visual-novel style with lovingly drawn character portraits. I was impressed with how faithfully these portraits remain to the original title – even the unnecessarily buff shopkeepers are accounted for. Enemy models are simple but full of personality, and there are plenty of modern lighting and post-processing effects such as focus blur to add vibrancy to the world. The style feels sort of like if The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening’s Switch port had been developed for the 3DS – high quality, but simple and full of colour.

In addition to the visual glow-up, Atelier Marie Remake adds the ability to freely roam around Salburg and gathering locations, rather than simply navigate from place to place via menu. This gives you more control over the kinds of materials you’ll gather while out on an expedition, and lets you choose when to initiate combat with foes in the overworld. A more traditional experience is available with the Simple Gathering system, which randomises the loot and encounters similarly to the original title.

There is also a fast-forward feature to streamline combat, as well as an auto-battle toggle that plays through the turn-based fights for you. This is useful for grinding, since other than in tougher boss fights, combat is pretty simple. If you’re friendly enough with certain characters in Salburg, you can hire them as party members. Each character can perform a basic attack, defend, cast a special ability, or use an equipped item on their turn. In the spirit of embracing the laid-back vibe of the series, I left auto-battling on for most fights in the first in-game year and didn’t find myself missing the combat mechanics. That being said, a notoriously tough boss fight with a Wind Spirit did leave me spending a few days grinding and upgrading my gear at one point.

While the story doesn’t seem to be a major focus, my first in-game year did herald a few notable events. After hearing rumours of a bandit leader plaguing a cave near Salburg, I headed out to defeat them. Later, they showed up in town as a potential party member (though they hate Marie too much right now for me to hire them). I also made a few friends, unlocking a quest to make a Sun Pendant for my bestie Mu and a cute cutscene with retired knight Kugel who gave some solid life advice. A few events also triggered on the road between Salburg and some gathering locations, including a whack-a-mole minigame to bash gold out of Punis and a Pac-man chase sequence to avoid hungry bears.

I was initially taking on quests from the tavern with deadlines and tried to mentally map out exactly how long I had to complete them, but after missing a few deadlines (and in the spirit of cosiness), I gave up and ended up only picking up quests I could complete immediately. This was much more pleasurable. The alchemy system is in its most rudimentary form here: you collect recipes, equipment, and ingredients, and simply make things. Different equipment you buy at the academy can increase your odds of successfully crafting more advanced items, or reduce the number of days it takes to use alchemy. It’s just complex enough to be satisfying, without any sort of mental taxation.

So far, I’m really enjoying the simplicity of Atelier Marie Remake. It has the charm and laid-back air of a 3DS RPG such as Miitopia or Fantasy Life, but with a vibrant HD finish. It’s also worth noting that Atelier Marie Plus – the PlayStation 2 version of the original title – will be bundled with some versions of this remake, making it attractive for collectors. I’m looking forward to continuing my quaint little adventure in Salburg when Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg releases on July 13.