The Last Alchemist Review — 90 percent running, 10 percent Tetris

Reviewed July 12, 2024 on PC

Alchemy is like a puzzle; you often put two compounds together and see if you achieved the desired outcome. It’s not glamorous work and you often run into failures, requiring perseverance before you succeed. The Last Alchemist takes this concept and runs with it, letting you experience the joys and frustration of potion-making. Frustration is the common feeling before joy arrives, but the joy is definitely worth it.

Making essences involves lots of puzzle-solving skills and experimentation. Exploring the surrounding area for ingredients lets you make new discoveries that are genuinely motivating. However, the story is short and there aren’t many side quests. Unless you genuinely want to build your ultimate home, there isn’t much to do. Experimenting is also frustrating because you must spend time earning Insight to avoid mistakes. The Last Alchemist is great for puzzle fans, but goes for the jack-of-all-trades approach instead of focusing on a few strengths.

A plague has ravaged a local village and only one survivor remains. The survivor goes to a local alchemist for help but they cannot suppress the plague’s effects. After leaving the alchemist for several years, the survivor returns as nothing else has worked. With old research notes and new mushroom assistants, the survivor becomes the titular last alchemist.

The story is simple and sets up the narrative quickly. As you progress with your research, you learn more about the land and its history. You also learn about the mushroom residents and the remaining humans. It’s nice to have details revealed to you, making discoveries after working hard on the puzzles. You feel motivated to cure the alchemist because beating the plague would help everyone.

However, the story is threadbare and there isn’t much exposition. Apart from learning about personal history and the impact of the plague, there’s not much to the characters. Side quests in the game are few and short, blocking off most of the exposition. Most of the game’s story is told in the second half after making breakthroughs on the plague cure. Once you finish the game, you might feel that your efforts weren’t worth it since you likely know how the game will end.

The real charm of the game comes from crafting essences. You don’t make traditional potions, instead creating essences that serve a variety of purposes. Creating your first few essences is easy but eventually, more factors become relevant. You must consider the essence block shapes, what essences combine, and what the possibilities are. Putting random essences together is a waste of time and often doesn’t get you the result you want.

It’s a true test of your puzzle skills as the essences you need to progress the story have increasingly complex requirements. You must plan and consider all the options available to you. If you are stumped, go outside and search for more ingredients because you might have missed something. Analyse your components to make sure they produce what you want. These tasks aren’t easy and force you to think, and plan out moves in advance.

To ensure that you aren’t working only in your brain, you can pin diagrams for easy reference. This doesn’t seem important at first, but when you start harvesting ingredients, you can’t let any go to waste. Harvesting ingredients isn’t hard but you must wait seven days to harvest them again. If you can’t find another harvesting spot, you must wait before you can experiment. Treating every resource carefully is crucial as The Last Alchemist punishes mistakes with this wait time. You immerse yourself in alchemy when you think and plan, making sure you utilise everything.

“Treating each resource with respect doesn’t mean you can’t make mistakes, but knowing that tomorrow is another day.”

Fortunately, The Last Alchemist isn’t too punishing. While waiting a week for new resources is long, it also guarantees that you can always recover from mistakes. Some resources are non-renewable, but you can purchase new copies if you run out. Treating each resource with respect doesn’t mean you can’t make mistakes, but knowing that tomorrow is another day. You won’t cure the plague in a day and not everything works out. There’s always next time and you shouldn’t lose hope.

If you get tired of creating essences, you can always build furniture. Creating and customising your perfect workspace takes some time, but it helps reinforce your skills. There’s enough room in the alchemist’s tower to customise and try something new. Some side quests also help you learn about different essences that may be useful later. If you enjoy decorating or building furniture, it’s the perfect customisation distraction.

What The Last Alchemist succeeds in is padding out its length with obstacles. Harvesting ingredients is easy to do when it’s just plants. However several areas are blocked off with various types of rock. These rocks require unique essences to break down which means you must create them. Sometimes you must create essences to harvest ores that allow you to break down obstacles.

This happens frequently as many areas are blocked off from the alchemist. It signifies progression as you gain the proper ingredients and tools to harvest them, but it is frustrating. It’s easy to lose track of your goals because you are constantly creating essences to make the one you need. Even after you break down the first obstacle, there’s always something blocking the way later. It quickly becomes frustrating when you realise this is where most of your puzzle-solving goes.

If you don’t perform research, you won’t always end up with the right essence configuration you need. Not every essence you create is vital for the story and you must have the right configuration. Unless you are great at puzzle planning, you must research every essence combination. It takes up a lot of Insight, meaning you must sell resources for Insight and wait for them to regenerate.

The combination of frequent blocks and Insight spending highlights the padding because there actually isn’t much in-game. The story is short, only a few essences are relevant, and there’s not much to do. Without forcing you to find ways past obstacles, there isn’t much to do in this game. It’s a shame since the side quests could be expanded upon and features like gardening have potential. But none of them are necessary to finish the game and aren’t long enough to take up time.

The Last Alchemist has great puzzle-solving potential, but most of it is spent overcoming obstacles. You think and plan, making sure you treasure each resource like a real alchemist would. But it feels like there is untapped potential that was never pursued. Puzzle fans will enjoy the challenge of finding the perfect essence configurations with slight distractions. But without much to offer outside of puzzles, it may not appeal to others.

6.5

Decent

Positive:

  • Captures the experimentation of alchemists well
  • Creating essences tests the limits of your puzzle-solving
  • You can always recover from your mistakes

Negative:

  • Game length feels extended due to padding
  • Finding the right essence is difficult
  • The world doesn't get much exposition

The Last Alchemist has some good puzzle-solving which immerses you in the life of an alchemist. Experimenting and treating every resource with respect is part of the charm. But it feels like the game relies on padding to extend its length. There aren’t many activities to do in-game and the game length is short. The puzzles are certainly interesting, but there isn’t much to do outside of running around and finding essence ingredients.