March 10, 2017
The Atelier franchise has been around for 20 years as of 2017. I was exposed to it some 11 years ago with the Atelier Iris trilogy, but haven’t really had a chance to get to know the new generation of titles. I was excited to see just how much the series had evolved through the lens of Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey and discovered a whole new world through its eyes.
Firis Mistlud is a young girl who dreams of the world outside. Having grown in a secluded mining town that only a privileged few are allowed to leave her entire life, her wanderlust knows no bounds. A giant door bars passage to the rest of the world, one that she checks daily for any kind of goings on. A sudden explosion tears the door apart one day, revealing two strangers at the threshold of her prison; Sophie and Plachta. Sophie quickly introduces herself as an alchemist and proceeds to repair the door with her craft. Firis’ curiosity isn’t sated until she tries alchemy for herself, and after proving her talent for it to her village elder, is presented with her quest. In order to be granted free leave from her stony imprisonment she must become a fully certified alchemist. If she doesn’t, she will be bound forevermore.
The time management system of previous games has reappeared in Atelier Firis and will guide you at first. You are basically given of in game time to get Firis through her trial before being able to enjoy everything at your own pace. While this generates a certain urgency, it’s not my preferred method of play, and being forced into a very linear play-style raised my hackles to begin with. You are given a taste of this in the introductory part of the game to get used to it.
The world of Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey is beautiful, and the more open world like style compliments the game in both name and scope. Firis has never been beyond her hometown, and everything is a new discovery for her. Simple things that we may take for granted, like the wind, trees and lakes are filled with wonder for her, and it is refreshing to see the world through her eyes. Your atelier is mobile in this game, and can be set up wherever you find a campfire. It can also be customised to your liking. These changes lend a certain freedom to the game, as earlier iterations saw you having to return to a base in order to use your alchemy pot which didn’t change in appearance. The towns in this game are by far the most impressive in the franchise also. There are several dotted across the land which Firis must discover and each are unique.
I love how the alchemy system has developed. Instead of just having a standard synthesis where A + B = C, you can make things of varying quality by using higher grade base materials. The puzzle like mini game (introduced in Atelier Sophie) that allows you to do so has great flexibility, and the perks of getting it right are great, especially if the desired item has multiple precursor step. What has been added in this game are the additional effects of items that are unlocked by using ingredients of the same colour.
They way in which you learn recipes has also changed. Instead of having them rewarded to you as part of quest, players are given hints as to what materials will result in the right mix. You also earn idea points through various actions that can be spent to learn recipes immediately. Major towns also have a new library called the Observation Institute. Here Firis can submit information about recipes, landmarks, items and more in return for cole (money) or items. Given the grind that accompanies most Atelier games, this is a great addition that breaks up the monotony.
I found that the inevitable fetch quests are spiced up a bit as a result of this system, which isn’t an easy challenge to overcome for developers. You gather various items from mineral and vegetable nodes across the world, which can offer you different items based upon how you harvest them and what time of day it is. For example, breaking a rock with your staff vs blowing it up with a bomb yield different items. I dislike that you have a limited inventory space for gathering that forces you to go back and forth from the atelier in order to store what you have and then go back for more. I also found it a little frustrating that you couldn’t craft new weapons and armour straightaway, but that’s more a personal gripe than something with the game itself.
A new stat called LP has also been introduced, which depletes as you take action in the field such as gathering or fighting enemies. The lower your LP, the lower the efficiency of your gathering actions. You can restore LP by either synthesising new items or resting.
Combat hasn’t changed much since the earlier days of the Atelier franchise. You are able to take four people into battle with you at any one time in this iteration, and the order of attack is shown on the right hand side of the screen. You can affect the order with certain actions, and exploiting an enemy’s weaknesses can result in them skipping a turn. The Chain Burst Guage fills up after successfully landing attacks and is depleted when taking followup actions or guarding. When it fill, a Chain Burst is automatically initiated. After deciding what actions to take they are performed in sequence and can sometimes increase overall Linkage rate, resulting in a more powerful attack.
- Fantastic multi-faceted alchemy system
- Beautiful world to explore
- Time mechanic that actually works
- Forced linearity of gameplay to begin with
- Female Heroine is potentially a bit vulnerable
While not a true open world title, this game shows off just how far Gust could take the next installation with minimal changes to the core gameplay. The alchemy system is gunning ahead and is great for experimentation which is everything it should be. The characters are lovable and mostly sweet, although I do feel that the main protagonist in this one can be a bit too vulnerable at times. Regardless of this, the overall mix is a success, and for anyone looking to indulge in a niche JRPG, I highly recommend this game.