The World Is Her Oyster
HIGH Finally getting revenge on that Dragon-Man!
LOW The English Dub is… well, they pronounce it ‘At-Leer’. Let’s leave it at that.
WTF Another Weissberg? Is this a message to me?
It’s crazy that every single year – for six years in a row now – there’s a new Atelier game that can be called the best title in the series. Without fail, each new entry feels fresh despite holding fast to the same material collection and alchemy gameplay that defines them. However, the devs always manage to find a new twist that feels so perfect that I’m shocked they’re able to keep improving. Speaking of which, I’ll spoil the ending of this review right now – the Atelier series once again has a new best.
Where the last game’s protagonist, Sophie, was tasked with reinventing the very concept of alchemy in a tiny corner of the world, Firis, the new main character, is a dedicated student. The story opens with Firis living in the isolated cave town where she’s spent her entire life, dreaming of the larger world outside. A chance encounter with Sophie inspires her to chase her dreams, and she finds herself up against one of the series’ classic deadlines – in this case, she has a year to learn alchemy and pass the licensing exam, or she’ll be forced to return home and accept her destiny as a mining supervisor.
This iteration’s big twists are the lack of an overworld map and home base. Scattered throughout the world are campfires where Firis can set up her TARDIS-esque portable Atelier, meaning that there’s almost never a risk of becoming overloaded with supplies or being too badly beaten in combat. Unless they’re inside a dungeon, players will always be able to fast-travel back to the closest campfire to unload their goods and craft a few more bombs.
The ‘student’ structure is a great way to build the narrative, which has Firis walking from town to town, searching for established alchemists willing to sign letters of recommendation for the exam at the end of the year. It gives players a chance to see the whole world and meet the large cast of characters. By opening up the entire world rather than offering a hub city, players get to experience Firis’ journey, with no particular destination feeling more important than the others. The exam only requires three recommendations, but I personally found five different alchemists, each with their own quest chain and letter to offer. This was the most open and free experience I’ve had with an Atelier game, and it’s a perfect fit.
The alchemy itself has also experienced an overhaul. It continues the system from the previous (Atelier Sophie) but they’ve stripped it down and added a puzzle aspect to the creation process that’s both more user-friendly and satisfying.
The only change that wasn’t completely better is the combat. There’s now an easy mode which is nice, but the big shift is that levelling up has a paltry effect combat effectiveness – characters get just one extra attribute point in each stat per level, with all meaningful upgrades happening via better equipment. Even special attacks are tired to the weapons – it’s important to forge the best possible, otherwise characters will be completely ineffective, no matter their level. It’s obviously an attempt to focus the game on item use rather than straight combat, but it adds an extra level of complication to combat prep that took a while to get used to, especially after the comparatively smooth systems of the last few entries.
While I complimented Atelier Sophie for getting rid of the time limit and giving the player a chance to fully explore its world, I’ll admit that I was happy to see it back in Firis – especially the way it’s used.
Firis’ one-year deadline is a constant countdown reminding players to see as much of the world as fast as they can, lest they miss something when the buzzer goes off. The ever-approaching licensing exam does a great job of putting the player inside Firis’ head, and as she’s learning to be an alchemist, they’re learning how play the game. I won’t spoil what happens after the exam ends and the credits roll, but suffice it to say the developers have found a clever way to use the time limit to again focus players on the story without limiting the experience.
Another year, another fantastic game in the Atelier series. Wonderful characters, an expansive story, a great big open world to explore… never once has it felt like this series has rested on its laurels. I see similar themes and callbacks to earlier games, of course, but fundamentally each Atelier series looks at what came before and builds something new and beautiful atop it – and Firis is no exception. I feel like I say it every year, but I honestly have no idea how they’re going to top this. And yet, I’m fairly confident that they’ll manage it somehow.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Gust and published byTecmo Koei. It is currently available on PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 60 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Fantasy Violence, Language, Partial Nudity, Suggestive Themes and Alcohol Use. Harmless violence, a little swearing, and some scandalous costumes — are those anything to get upset over? Of course not. Seriously, this is about as tame as JRPGs get – at least ones that aren’t specifically aimed at children. Yes, there’s a bathing scene, but it’s remarkably unsexy considering other entries in the series.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are visual cues to go with every audio cue, and all dialogue is subtitled! It’s fully accessible!
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.