Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey Review – An Unusual Journey (PS4)
The Atelier series is one of the longest running JRPG franchises with a total of 18 major entries over 20 years across a plethora of platforms. Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey is the second entry into the Mysterious storyline and the sequel to last year’s Atelier Sophie. The events of Atelier Firis happen shortly after Atelier Sophie and the predecessor’s protagonists, Sophie and Plachta, play very well into the Atelier Firis’ narrative.
Coming of Age
You play as the game’s titular character, Firis, a young girl with the special ability to sense minerals and ore. Firis has spent all her life living in a mining town but dreams of seeing and exploring the outside world. Sadly, because of the benefits her ability brings to the town in addition to the objections of her parents, she is unable and prohibited to leave. But when unexpected visitors, Sophie and Plachta, literally explode into town, Firis is introduced to the wonders of alchemy, which she realizes could be her ticket to the outside world. The succeeding events, which include Firis asking Sophie to teach her alchemy, ostensibly leads to the game’s first major chapter.
Like previous Atelier games, there are quite a number of characters featured in the game, some of which can join your party. The characters that you can add to your party each have their own storyline and set of side quests you have the option of following. Only a few of the game’s main characters are actively involved and contribute in the game’s central narrative though including Firis’ sister Liane, Sophie, Plachta, and genius young alchemist Ilmeria. This makes it easy to forget about the stories of the rest of the characters, some of which aren’t as memorable as the characters from previous installments, unless you actively follow them.
The Atelier Firis’s visuals feature a mix of cel shaded 3D characters and conventional 3D environments and monsters, which is typical of many titles from the genre. While the visuals all look quite dated, the cel shading for the game’s main characters are still impressively done with great lines and coloring. The art style and design of Atelier Firis is undoubtedly one of its strengths which the game features quite a bit as, much like previous titles, Atelier Firis features an incredible amount of dialogue and cutscenes. While many feature interactions that are significant to the story, a large number of are meant to purely add more color to the experience and aren’t central to the game’s main narrative.
Take Your Time
The time limit feature of older Atelier games, which was removed completely in series’ past two entries including Atelier Sophie, makes a partial return in Atelier Firis. Both the opening chapter and the first major chapter of the game must be completed within a specific number of in-game days. Most of the player’s actions in-game expend time so players are forced to consciously plan their actions and not spend time needlessly. The game doesn’t make doing this any easier though as many of its quest events or quest-important areas are only triggered or accessible during the day. After completing the first major portion of the game though, the time limit is removed and players are then free to explore to their hearts’ content.
Atelier Firis is able to fit the partial return of the time limit system into its narrative pretty well. It also represents a good compromise for previous fans who liked the challenge and pressure of having a limited amount of time to complete an objective and those who prefer to be able to play freely and get sidetracked from the main objective. Nevertheless, the game is very generous with the time limit and most players won’t have trouble completing the chapter’s main objective as well as do quite bit of exploration and side quests within the time limit.
Atelier Sophie also introduces an LP system that acts as Firis’s stamina. Travelling, collecting materials, and fighting all consume LP and when it reaches a certain point players start suffering penalties. LP is regained either through resting or performing alchemy. Alternating between gathering materials and going back to the Atelier to synthesize them and restore LP will be something that players will find themselves often doing, leaving resting in bed to restoring HP and MP after battles. The game also gives Firis a wide variety of outfits to wear throughout the game, each with its own set of benefits such as improved alchemy. The outfits are also important to the game’s current environment, such as a winter outfit in cold and snowy areas, as wearing the wrong attire for an area will lead to faster LP drain.
Alchemy Is Gold
While crafting and collecting materials is usually a secondary mechanic in many RPGs, it is core to the Atelier experience. Like the previous titles in the series, most of your time in Atelier Firis will be spent gathering materials and performing alchemy. The new title makes quite a number of changes to the alchemy system from previous game. Synthesizing new cauldrons have been removed in favor of catalysts and a new item experience system. The grid system found in Atelier Sophie, which allows you to unlock item bonuses if all the marks of a specific type on the grid are filled, makes a return but this time the marks and bonuses are instead determined by the catalyst used.
The bigger change in the game’s alchemy is Item Experience. With the new system, synthesizing items for the first time will always lead to less-than-ideal quality results. But as you make more of that item, similar items, or other items that use the item as material, your Item Experience for it grows and will eventually lead to you making better quality versions of it that will come with more and improved attributes. Item Experience ranks include bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. The new system frees you up to first create sub-optimal items and save your best materials for when you reach platinum rank with that synthesize.
Discovering and learning new recipes are similar to Atelier Sophie wherein Firis comes up with new recipes through flashes of insight triggered by completing a list of hints. Hints are unlocked by doing several things such as collecting new materials, finishing or starting a quest, visiting an area, and using or crafting an items, among many others. Firis also collects Idea Points throughout the game which can be used to instantly unlock recipes as long as she’s already gotten at least one hint for it. The system is a good approach to acquiring new recipes that helps the game flow better as you naturally learn recipes as you go through the game’s narrative.
With alchemy taking the center-stage in Atelier Firis, the game’s combat feels more like an afterthought. While this has always been the case in the Atelier series, Atelier Firis feels like it takes a step back in the combat department. Battles feature the typical turn-based combat system still seen in many JRPGs. There’s a Link Gauge that can be filled up by performing actions but can also be expended by having party members defend Firis from attacks. Once the Link Gauge is filled up, party members who take consecutive actions will chain their abilities. And if a secondary gauge is filled up in this mode, the last member in the chain will perform their super move.
While the link system adds another element to the game’s battles, the time it takes to fill up the Link Gauge makes using it quite a rarity, especially when players need to regularly use it to guard Firis from damage. The only times when players are able to make full use of the link system is during the game’s boss battles. Regardless, most battles are usually better and easier won using crafted equipment and items, which is usually the case with Atelier games.
Atelier Firis is able to pull off many of its elements pretty well while at the same time falling short in others. While some of the things the new title tried to change or introduce were improvements from its predecessors, such as the new alchemy and partial time limit systems, others felt like a step back for the series, including its combat system and lackluster characters. While fans of the franchise and the new Mysterious series will undoubtedly appreciate this new entry, newcomers may find many of its elements too tedious. Atelier Firis is an undoubtedly good attempt at an Atelier game but may prove to be too niche for others.
Review code for Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.