Atelier Annie: Alchemists of Sera Island is a role playing game that's been brought to North America by NIS America. At its core, it's a traditional role playing game, but Atelier Annie also has some really interesting underlying management simulations that keep things fresh. Trying to blend two genres together doesn't always work, so how does this fusion fare?
The story goes as such: There is a lazy young girl named Annie who essentially wants everything to come to her without actually trying for anything. She just lays in bed all day dreaming about getting married. Her grandfather hires a fairy to send her away to an island to follow in his footsteps as an alchemist. Annie is then entered in an alchemy competition on Sera Island and her task is to build a large resort on the island. It all sound pretty cheesy and well, it is. It's just that building on this premise makes the game more than just a basic, boring RPG.
At first Atelier Annie seems very traditional, with cutscenes involving long and drawn-out chats between characters. In fact, Atelier Annie probably takes about a half an hour before there's any real gameplay. However once the main introduction to the game has passed all of a sudden a lot of interesting gameplay elements start to pop up to play around with. Some are essential to the story, some just on the side for some extra cash or materials. There is a whole resort management sim built in with the RPG elements that serves as a great, refreshing option to use as a break from grinding or as an alternate way to do so. There are all sorts of different parts of the resort to build which can then be micromanaged to optimize income and to expand the park. There are also quests that can be done to raise fame for the resort and bring in more people. The nice thing with the management is that it's also setup to be very bite-sized and can be taken in for as long as is provided to play.
Gameplay wise at first everything seems very short, but over time it becomes very clear that this is deliberate. This game is a handheld title which one would assume is used for playing on the go for short bursts without getting into long stints of gameplay. The layout is a true merit for handheld titles, especially since it's something that is taken for granted all too often with portable games. The combat is very reminiscent of a traditional RPG as everything being turn-based and there is a team of up to three players. There is also a bit of difference in the layout as there are two fields to fight in, up front boosts attack, and in the back boosts defence. The battles for the most part are quick and random, but the battles only take place in specific places which make it pretty nice to have that random occurrence that doesn't borderline on frustration.
One of the bigger gripes with Atelier Annie is that the visuals are not all that appealing. For example, the levels are just small paintings and everything is just art. There is one animation past the opening sequence and it lasts for all of three seconds. The sprites are also about three frames of animation a piece, so looking at the game can get a little stale at times. The sound of the game does help quite a bit though since it's a pretty lively soundtrack with well composed little tracks that are catchy and not too repetitive. Another note on the sound is that there is a ton of voice acting in the game; it is all in Japanese but still quite a feat for a DS game by any means. If the voices get annoying, there is always the option to turn them off, but they do get a little easier on the ears over time as well.
Surprisingly, the game actually has quite a lot of playability. Just playing through the story will see players clock around 20-25 hours, but for those who want to literally do everything in the game, they are probably a good 40 plus hours. It's actually quite fun too so, players will find themselves doing lots of micro-management and side quests anyway.
At the start, Atelier Annie seems to be a bland, cookie-cutter RPG to be thrown into a pile of obscurity, but once past the introduction of the game the great little extras shine through to show off a great little hybrid of a game. People who are looking for a fresh twist on the genre or those who don't want to worry about investing four hours on an individual quest, look no further. Beyond the rough edges of this game there is still enough fun to be had to warrant picking Atelier Annie up.