Conflict drives story. It’s a core idea in storytelling that most JRPGs take up to 11. Teenagers use the power of friendship to kill their enemies, mercenaries work against a tyrannical king bent on world domination, hero rises to battle timeless evil. Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey is decidedly a far lower stakes story from what’s usually accepted of this genre, and the more personal story it tells keeps a more relaxing, unique pace for it.
Firis Mistlud lives her simple life within a small mining village, concealed within a cave and cut off from the outside world. Firis’ wanderlust begins to be too much to bear, and she dreams of seeing the outside world that her sister so often enjoys while hunting. A surprise visit from a face series fans would be familiar with sparks a chain of events that sees Firis on the path to becoming an alchemist, able to handle herself in the wilds, and earn her freedom. She has one year to become a respected alchemist before she must return.
The characters don’t evolve past their archetypes, and even though the game and series aren’t as much about the story, it’s frustrating to see so little to invest in. Being a genre that can usually succeed at that on some level, if I’m supposed to be investing in the journey of this young woman, I’d like to see her grow from her experiences. Annoying voice acting brings a level of irritation to the audio design, and childish sounding clips repeat ad infinitum, turning Firis in particular into a character I didn’t care to spend time with.
"The series has in the past been called out for fan service, and while there are undertones of that within Firis’, dare I say, “Kawaii-ness”, it’s never overbearing in that regard."
Even within the simpler story the game intends to tell, I had a hard time getting past the caricature levels of personality exhibited by the cast. Firis is the wanderlust young girl with lots of naivety. Her sister Liane, the doting big sister who is way too interested in Firis’s well being. Sophia the peppy senpai, teaching the ropes. The series has in the past been called out for fan service, and while there are undertones of that within Firis’s, dare I say, “Kawaii-ness”, it’s never overbearing in that regard.
Firis’s, and thus your ultimate goal of the journey is to pass the Alchemist license exam, master your craft through practice and experience the world ahead. The larger world marks the biggest change to the series. As Sophia drills into your head during the prologue, Alchemy is about inspiration. As Firis explores the world, talks to people, collects new materials and levels up her abilities, new recipes for alchemy will become apparent to her. Having different areas to explore and find new materials within is a welcome addition, and brings a lot of variety to the otherwise wearisome adventure.
"The strategy in getting the most out of your mixing becomes the central system of the game, but I soon found it becoming tiring."
Alchemy is the core of the entire game, and how you’ll resolve most anything from quests to battles. Most any useful item is a sum of the pieces of the environment, from simple flowers and dirt to gemstones and fruits, taken back to your home Atelier to conger up anything from healing items to bombs to quest items. The strategy in getting the most out of your mixing becomes the central system of the game, but I soon found it becoming tiring.
Quests often follow a chain system, where you’ll make choices on how and when to solve them, using your alchemic skills. While these can vary in context, in content by nature of how you solve them, they’re usually fetch quests, limiting engagement and rarely offering an interesting challenge.
Though the idea of variety being the spice of life is a nice one, the end result will usually be a repeated cycle of talking to as many people as possible, picking up everything you come across, and fighting whatever you feel you can get away with. It all feels without much purpose, all intended to feed back into your alchemy. LP dictates how far you can go into the world before tiring out, mandating that you return to home base before you receive penalties such as lower material yield or even passing out. The inventory of Firis as she gathers her materials is already fairly limited, and more naturally suggests to the player when enough is enough. The LP restriction becomes a cheap way to cost the player time on the in game clock, and doesn’t feel earned.
"The system of adding an additional item as a catalyst to change how the board is laid out can add additional layers, but the end result is still just a run of the mill crafting system. In a post Minecraft world, this no longer sets the Atelier series apart."
There’s only so much to experiment with before you’ve got a pretty good setup. Perhaps for a quest you don’t particularly care for the quality of an item you’re giving away. The system for crafting is deep enough to be compelling on a surface level. Deciding on your items compared to your other ingredients, arranging them on the grid, matching colours to receive bonuses, and arranging it all to pull out the best effect can be fun. The system of adding an additional item as a catalyst to change how the board is laid out can add additional layers, but the end result is still just a run of the mill crafting system. In a post Minecraft world, this no longer sets the Atelier series apart.
When exploring the field, Firis and her party can come up against monsters, though the battle system is one of the most basic I’ve encountered. Atelier Firis does very little different in battle over a classic Final Fantasy, being turn based with basic attacks, special moves that drain MP and team shielding.
One interesting change against other battle systems is that attacks with an area of effect are clearly bordered out while targeting, and though any enemy outside the immediate blast radius isn’t as hurt, they do get hurt nonetheless. Battles tie back into the Alchemic loop by making items your most powerful forms of attack, for example, hurling a bomb. You can’t rely on them as limited use items, but you’ll likely always be able to replenish at the Atelier.
"Battles tie back into the Alchemic loop by making items your most powerful forms of attack, for example, hurling a bomb."
Running through the whole game is a somewhat dated feeling engine, even if it’s not entirely bad looking from an art style perspective. Character models have the most polish, somewhat reminding me of the Tales series. Animations falter, with stilted movements repeated constantly, and sometimes no lip syncing at all. Environments keep some of the colour the characters exhibit, and once you leave the starting town it becomes brighter. Textures in the places you visit never get too sophisticated, but at least you’re moving at a fast enough clip to not get to repetitive.
Barren almost feels like the word for Atelier Feris: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey. The core alchemy system has some depth around it thanks to the many materials and ways to mix them with catalysts. The environments it takes you to are colourful and nice. But the combat has few interesting ideas and systems work against you to feel like busy work. There isn’t enough substance to this concoction to really go deep.
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 4
Well developed crafting system the game revolves around is polished further from Atelier Sophia. Opening up the world compared to the previous game adds plenty of variety. Great art style.
Characters, combat and story do little to support the crafting core. LP system is artificially limiting. Crafting like this is no longer unique to the series. Poor visual details such as stilted animations.
Atelier Feris: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey is sometimes charming, but frequently feels a bit vapid in execution. The core of Alchemy is done well, but the things around it don’t hold up. I can praise it for telling a more personal journey, but not much else.
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