The Atelier series is one that has acquired many fans over itstwenty years of releases. However, the series began gaining a larger fandom during the Arland trilogy on PlayStation 3. This is largely due to the leap to 3D characters and environments, as well as the focus on friendship and discovery. Since then, each game that followed built upon the mechanics set forth from the Arland trilogy in terms of battles and alchemy, but the series never saw the dramatic change that it needed coming into the current generation of hardware.
Now, with the release of Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey it seems Gust may want to push the series in a new direction to utilize more powerful hardware and not rely to heavily on its predecessors. In most ways these new additions pay off to reinvigorate the long running franchise, but I can’t help but feel the game could have benefited from a little more time in development.
Atelier Firis begins with on of the best openings of the series that I have experiened. We are introduced to Firis Mistlud, a sheltered girl living in a mining town/cave called Eltona. Most of the towns people, Firis included, have never even seen the outside world and so they are constantly trying to maintain their ore output. However, there are town’s people, including Firis’ sister Liane Mistlud, that get to leave and hunt for food to bring back to the town.
One day the large door that keeps most of the citizens from leaving is blown up by no other than Sophie and Plachta from the previous game, Atelier Sophie. Sophie teaches Firis about Alchemy and the outside world which makes Firis want to explore.
In my eyes, this is the proper way of doing a direct sequel with a new main protagonist. Sophie essentially passed the torch to Firis and sends her on her way. I respect this approach to story telling and would like to see it done more in future entries, albeit in other ways.
The premise for Firis’ journey is ultimately to become a licensed alchemist and prove to her parents that she can accomplish traveling in the outside world. To accomplish this she must receive three letters of recommendation from licensed alchemist and then take an exam.
After exiting Firis’ hometown the game introduces us to the most noticeable new update for the Atlier series, the open world. The game does very little hand holding from here and leaves you to explore and find your way. For those who’d like extra help, there’s an encyclopedia in the menu to assist any questions you might have about exploring.
Atlier Firis keeps the traditional item collecting, but adds another lair of obtaining items. Rocks and trees can now be searched by either using Firis’ staff to hit the obstacle until it rains items or use a pickaxe item made with alchemy. Additionally, it’s possible to use bombs to destroy the rocks in one go rather than put time into hitting the structure over and over again.
The battle system has also gone back to its turn-based roots, which differs from the full party input system from Atlier Sophie. Additionally, party members surround Firis and can protect her if she is being targeted by an enemy. Even though this is her first time in the world, Firis is by no means a dead weight. She holds her own by using items created by alchemy and skills that pack a punch as well as buffs the party’s stats.
Party members can be switched in and out by speaking to them in Firis’ mobile atelier. However, sometimes the game is unclear of how to find these party members. For example: Revy Berger comes along asking for a key to be made and offers his services in return, but after the event he disappears. Coincidentally, I found him hours later in a bar while I was back tracking to complete some unfinished quests.
Side missions are found by talking to NPC characters. These missions vary from task to task and include: finding items, clearing out monsters, or creating items using alchemy. The difficult part is finding which NPC offers a side-mission and which don’t. These characters aren’t marked on the on the map so I had to basically talk to everyone in every town to see which actually had a mission. This includes going into every private home and speaking to the tenants.
As stated before, Atlier Firis is not good at hand holding which makes it extremely unapologetic to newcomers. So finding missions and figuring out how to add party members is sometimes left up to the player. This also includes navigating the large open maps which connect to form an entire continent.
This takes us to the return of one of the most controversial features in the Atelier franchise: Time limit. Yes, it’s back, but subtly tweaked to not be too demanding on the player. Basically, Firis has a full year to get her Alchemist license if she wants to continue to stay outside of the village. Time passes as the player explores the land, gathers items, and fights monsters. Day and night cycles advance while the weather changes periodically.
This creates a sense of urgency to acquire the recommendations and compete the exam. Even though the time changing felt sped up at times, there is more than enough time to explore and level up. There’s also fast travel that is essential to speeding up the process of completing missions and exploring old areas. Even though time passes during fast travel, it is the easiest way to get around. There’s also other options for travel such as a ship that is acquired during the story.
There’s a new LP gauge that depletes as the player explores and participates in battle. If this runs out Firis will faint and suffer a time deduction as she rests. To regain LP players will need to synthesis items or rest in the bed. This gauge restricts the time players spend outside the atelier exploring, but it makes sense since Firis is technically new to the open world so perhaps she gets tired easily.
The alchemy system is easier than its ever been this time around. Each item clearly tells you whether: you don’t have the materials, you need to create an item, or your level is too level. Often times I forget all the items I can synthesize to produce other items, but with the new feature I’m not endlessly searching through the encyclopedia to see whether it’s an item I can find or one I have to synthesis.
Another addition to the alchemy system is every item has its own skill level that raises each time the item is created. This allows certain skills to be attached to the item after creation such as Attack+, Area Increase, and so on. For those who have played the past entries, they will feel right at home with these new systems and appreciate the added functionality.
Sadly, Atleir Firis’ open world creates one of the biggest draw backs for the game when being critiqued. Even though its size and design are incredible, the draw distance and anti aliasing are reminiscent of games we have seen on the PlayStation 3. There are dead ends and empty paths scattered throughout which makes exploring the entire world feel unrewarding. However, with that said, let it be known that this world is no joke and offers huge towns, hidden caves, and time specific rare items. It’s always exciting when you turn a corner and find a small town that you had no idea was there.
Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey is by no means the best Atelier game in the franchise, but it does take the most chances. The story is driven by a purpose the player can easily get behind while the party members support Firis’ growth during her adventure. The game offers so much to do and see throughout with even more that opens up after the first act.
I admire Gust for delivering a product outside of their comfort zone. However, even though the open world is the most exciting new addition, it also tends to bring the most problems with it. Atelier Firis will surly impress fans of the franchise, but could feel dated to modern RPG fans.