Gust’s long-running Atelier series has been going for nearly 20 years now, with the newest entry in the franchise, Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey, being the eighteenth entry in that series. Unlike most other JRPGs, the Atelier series is noticeably more laid-back in its approach, utilizing a blend of traditional JRPG gameplay for traversal and battles, a more calming story generally that focuses on the characters and their development more than the events themselves, as well as the crafting and alchemy system that the series has become renowned for. Of course, as technology progresses as the consoles and handhelds get more capable and powerful, the series has done so with it, but the core still remains through and through.
So now with Atelier Firis, the company has decided to shake things up a bit by playing with and in some cases eschewing the traditions fans had come to expect even with the last game in the series, Atelier Sophie. And while the core mechanics, such as crafting and the character-driven focus remain, is this a good change for the series?
One thing that should be mentioned at the outset of this review is that for anyone who’s coming into this series and is worried that they’re missing out on narrative due to the long-running nature of the franchise as a whole, this isn’t an issue. While Atelier Firis is the second game in the “Mysterious” trilogy (for a while now, each batch of three games tend to stick in their own trilogy), each game is mostly standalone and any references are more meant as callbacks for returning players. If there is something key that’s important, the narrative tends to provide a good refresher for new players for the important details, however.
Going back to Atelier Firis, the game has you playing as the game’s namesake, Firis, a young girl living in a cave town who’s been wanting to see the world outside her boundaries for as long as she can remember. She’s impeded by a giant sealed door blocking her way from the outside, but one day an alchemist arrives via destroying said door and then repairing it using alchemy. It turns out said alchemist is Sophie (whom players of the last game will remember as that game’s protagonist), and she ends up teaching Firis alchemy. The next few hours of the game involve the player as Firis learning the alchemy mechanics and gathering materials so you can convince your parents and the village elder to leave.
Tying into the “journey” aspect of the game’s title, once you reach the outside is where the game starts to deviate from the previous games in the series in a major way. Previously, you would use an overworld map to go to smaller maps to gather materials to use for alchemy and battle monsters along the way. Atelier Firis, on the other hand, is set in an open-world style approach where the vistas have branching paths to explore. The catch, which might make some veteran players remember get flashbacks of older games in the series, is that the timer is back in play as you’re set with a 365-day timer the moment you reach the outside world where you must collect three alchemist recommendation letters and pass the alchemy exam. As you gather materials, fight enemies or craft you will expend time so you need to spend your time wisely.
This system is is a bit of mixed bag. On one hand, once I fully completed it I realized it was pretty simple to pass and the timer wasn’t as bad as it initially seemed. The issue is that how to get to the goal isn’t that clearly defined, unlike the “timer” when you’re inside the initial town where you have an easily definable goal. And once you get past this 365-day timer section, it’s almost like another arc of the game as you unlock a bevy of new options such as fast travel and there’s no limit imposed so you’re free to do whatever you want. It almost seems like they were worried players, especially those new to the series, might have been overwhelmed if the game was open-ended initially once you reached the outside world. They could have easily had more mini-goals with more clearly-defined goals (but without a timer) or some other mechanic instead of what eventually ended up in the game, and it’s a blemish on the rest of the mechanics once the timer is removed.
A new mechanic to this entry is LP, which is consumed when you perform actions on the field such as fighting enemies or fathering materials. The lower this stat, the less materials you can gather at a single point. You can recover LP by synthesizing new items or resting at a bed in the atelier. But once it hits 0, you’re forced to rest and it’ll interrupt whatever you’re doing.
The day/night cycle from Atelier Sophie also returns again, with its six distinct time periods where specific enemies and material gathering points appear based on the cycle. Weather also becomes a factor, as you can have sunny, cloudy, stormy and even foggy weather. The latter two are important, as they can actually affect how battles play out.
If you’ve played Atelier Sophie, you’ll recognize many of the aspects of this game’s alchemy system. It’s still the same core “obtain recipes and increase your rank to create better items” flow you’re used to, but with some minor changes and tweaks for the better. It keeps the Tetris-like synthesis system, but adds bonuses which are shown via colored lines on the grid. As they’re filled using components, you’ll unlock bonuses that’ll increase the item’s effects. Later in the game, catalysts are added to the mix which require components of the same color to have an effect also.
There’s a bit more found in the customization aspect of the game this time around, also. Previous games let you change up the costumes, mainly for decoration purposes, but in Atelier Firis you’ll actually get bonuses for doing so. You also have the ability to customize certain aspects of the atelier workshop, which provides special bonuses while crafting.
As far as the combat goes, there’s some minor differences but it’s generally the same as what was found in Atelier Sophie. That said, those mechanics were pretty solid and the game really doesn’t focus on this much with the require missions unless you purposefully go for them, so it’s not a issue that not much focus was put into changes with this aspect.
Graphically, it’s what veteran players tend to expect from the series. Serviceable environments that are detailed but not super-highly detailed, but with character models that steal the show. The one aspect Gust clearly put work into with this entry above all else is the facial models, as it’s noticeably improved over Atelier Sophie. Unfortunately, the frame rate is another story entirely as it’s inconsistent at times. This doesn’t happen that often (at least on the PS4 version we had access to for review), but certain areas it’s exceptionally noticeable. Perhaps this is due to the necessity of the Vita version tagging along, but it’s something I wish Gust would have been able to fix by now.
The music, as expected from Gust, is another standout aspect of the package. You can tell they experimented a bit with some of the music and it shows, and the English dub is actually pretty good in this entry. Of course, for those who wants the original Japanese voices you have that option as well.
While the timer does dampen the mood a little bit until you realize it’s a non-issue later on, the overall package found in Atelier Firis is still exceptionally solid. The open-world style gameplay approach and the modifications to the traditional Atelier formula provides a good path forward for the series. I’m interested now to see how the eventual third game in the series closes off the “Mysterious” trilogy, using this as a base.Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey was reviewed using a digital copy provided by Koei Tecmo America. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
|Facial model work is noticeably improved over the previous games.|
|Costumes now have bonuses attached to them, so there's a reason to switch between them.|
|The new additions and features provide a good path forward for the series.|
|The middle arc of the game could have been paced better, as the goal isn't that well-defined.|
|If you wanted improved battle mechanics in this entry, it's relatively the same as Atelier Sophie with a few minor tweaks.|
|Even in the PS4 version we had to review with, there was a few noticeable areas where framerate drops occurred.|