Platforms PC, PS4 (reviewed), PSV
Developer Gust
Publisher Koei Tecmo
Release Date March 7, 2017

Review code provided

Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey is the latest entry in the long running Atelier franchise and the second game in the “Mysterious” series. It follows Firis Mistlund, a young girl living in a mining town literally built inside a mountain. She dreams of exploring the world beyond the door that separates her from the sky. When Sophie (the protagonist of the previous game) blasts her way through the door she begins her tutelage, learning the art of alchemy and exploring the wider world.

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Whether you’ll enjoy yourself while playing Atelier Firis will probably depend on your answer to two very important questions. Do you like JRPG’s? And do you like crafting? While the game itself is obviously more complicated than that, this is essentially Crafting: The Video Game. As an alchemist in training, you’ll spend a huge amount of your time gathering crafting materials and throwing them into a pot to make the huge variety of items needed to complete quests and equip your party for combat against the monsters that roam the world.

At its core Atelier Firis is low stakes, lighthearted fun. After a brief tutorial that introduces some of the characters and the general concept of alchemy, you’re presented with a vibrantly colourful world. Firis is sent forth to secure letters of recommendation from professional alchemists that she’ll need to gain access to the Alchemist Exam, which takes place one year from the beginning of the game. That’s not an arbitrary time limit either – it’s a literal one.

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The first half of Atelier Firis is a race against the clock. You need to gain these letters and pass the exam before the year is out, otherwise Firis will fail in her quest to become a real alchemist and be sent packing back to her sheltered mining town, there to live out the rest of her days inhaling ore fumes and pursuing a career as a living dowsing rod. From the get go you’ll be intensely aware of time passing you by thanks to a constantly ticking clock. And boy, does that clock move fast.

This time limit mechanic has been employed in the Atelier series before, so its inclusion here isn’t really anything new. The problem with its usage here is that it places the mechanic at odds with the theme of the story. Firis has dreamed her whole life of getting out into the world and seeing what lies beyond her quaint little mining town. But as soon as she steps foot outside she’s placed in a foot race against time itself. Racing against this clock gave me new appreciation for what the bad guy was trying to say in Star Trek: Generations – I really could feel time stalking me like a predator.

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Because you’re constantly against the clock, literally every action you take consumes a portion of your time. Even just wandering off the path to collect some flowers could potentially eat up hours that you may need later on. The knock on effect this has on the way you play really hampers the first half of the game. The various citizens of the world will instantly recognise Firis as an alchemist, frequently stopping her to beg that you solve their problems with some concoction or another.

But if it isn’t part of the main story path then the chances are that you’ll probably ignore most requests. Valuable days could pass while you converse with these people, gather the necessary materials to make whatever it is they want and then deliver it to them. By forcing you to manage your time, and by having that time move quickly, Atelier Firis strongly discourages activity that isn’t actively pushing you towards getting those precious letters or recommendation.

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It doesn’t help that it can be difficult to discern what you’re actually supposed to be doing at times. As you blaze a trail across the world like you’re some kind of Anime-inspired Jessie Quick, you’ll probably miss some important cutscenes that point you towards your objectives. The first half of Atelier Firis pushes you to rush, lest you run out of time and see your journey end prematurely. It also pushes you to slow down and explore to ensure you find what you need to successfully reach the exam. The odd typo’s in written dialogue don’t help matters, either.

It’s enough to drive you mad, basically. It’s a push-pull that never lets you feel particularly settled. What’s even more maddening is that once you’ve passed the exam the game drops the time constraints, allowing you to freely explore the world without the pressure of worrying that you’re wasting time by talking to the dude who needs some medicine for his daughter. Once it ditches the clock and allows you to explore the world, Atelier Firis becomes a pretty cool JRPG.

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While the characters and story never really have much depth to them, there’s a certain amount of charm in the relentlessly optimistic nature of the characters and the world around them. Atelier Firis borrows heavily from the standard set of Moe tropes – constant cheerfulness, unceasing earnestness and a wide-eyed protagonist are the stars of the show. All of these tropes fit the theme of the game and the world that Gust have built around it.

While it never threatens to be earth shattering, Atelier Firis is a good time for fans of the genre once it lets you loose. It’s helped no end by a deep, detailed crafting system that goes several steps beyond what you’d traditionally find in an RPG. It’s not enough to simply gather some bits and bobs from your travels and mix them all together. I mean, you still have to do all of that, but it’s more complicated them combining items in a menu.

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To craft something you’ll need to select your ingredients and combine them on a grid. These grids have marks that, if filled, will grant bonuses to the stuff you create. Each ingredient will have its own shape and size, meaning you’ll need to put thought into what you mix together to craft your items. Anything you start making will inevitably be fairly poor quality.

Keep making specific items, though, and you’ll level up your Item Experience. The higher the experience, the better the quality of your crafted items, which can unlock bonus effects and improved attributes. It’s a fascinating system that constantly forces you to actually think about what you’re mixing in your cauldron. Combat is less in-depth. Atelier Firis features a fairly standard but incredibly basic turn-based battle system that rarely offers up any sort of challenge.

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There are a couple of neat features here, such as the Link Gauge that, when full, allows party members to chain attacks together if they act one after another. It’s a pretty cool idea in theory, but it takes ages to actually fill up and is something that you’ll rarely use outside of a few longer boss battles. Most fights are decided by your crafted items anyway, which makes sense given the game’s laser focus on crafting.

Summary

Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey is a strange beast. It spends its opening hours piling on the pressure, leveraging an annoying time limit to force you to rush through its otherwise fairly open world. You’ll end up blowing past everything that seems unnecessary to the main task in an effort to not screw up and find yourself wasting your time on an eventual game over.

Once Firis has passed the exam and the game drops the time limit, Atelier Firis turns into a pretty good JRPG with some deep crafting mechanics but a fairly lacklustre combat system. To get to this point, however, requires a fairly substantial time commitment. Exploring the world without time constraints is a good time and there is some charm to be found in the game’s characters and stories, but getting to this point requires a certain level of investment that may put some people off.

6v2


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