As I dipped my toes into the Atelier series with the release of Atelier Sophie last, I fell in love. The unique balance of traditional JRPG gameplay, a soothing Ghibli-esque storyline and a simple yet intricate crafting system led to one of my favorite JRPG experiences ever. It’s a formula that Gust have been using for nearly 20 years. Over time, of course, the formula has changed a little bit. A new feature here, a different kind of story there, some leaps in console technology, the Atelier series has tried a lot of things and each game always tries to shake things up a bit from the last.
With Atelier Firis, not only do Gust introduce the biggest shake ups the series has seen in years, but they blend them in with a lot of classic Atelier systems and mechanics, leading to a game that feels very different than the one that came just a year before it.
Though Atelier Firis is the 18th game in the long-running series, there’s no need to play all of those in order to get started with Atelier Firis; each game in the series is mostly standalone. Atelier games tend to come in “trilogies”, but they still mostly remain unconnected beyond character cameos and light references. Despite being the 2nd entry in the PS4 Mysterious trilogy, you won’t be lost at all if you start here, though you will obviously get more out the story if you have played the recent entries.
Atelier Firis sees you playing as Firis, a young girl in a cave town who’s yearned to see the outside world her entire life. Firis constantly tries unsuccessfully to open the giant sealed door that separates her from the rest of the world, but one day, an alchemist arrives in Firis’ town, and she arrives by destroying that giant door with a bomb and then immediately repairing it with alchemy. That alchemist happens to be the protagonist of the previous game, Sophie, and after being introduced to the world of alchemy by her, Firis gives her all to study alchemy, get to the outside world, and have the journey she’s always dreamed of.
Initially, you spend a few hours in the cramped, narrow underground town that Firis was born in, gathering materials and performing alchemy trials in order to convince your parents and village elder to let you leave. Once this happens, you’re into the actual meat of the game, and never really see that cave town environment, or any environment like it, again.
Previous Atelier games had you using an overworld map to travel to a variety of small, connected environments to gather materials and fight enemies. Atelier Firis breaks the mold and gives you, essentially, a vast open-world Atelier games. Each area is wide open and full of different paths, NPCs, treasure-filled caves, and more. It creates an amazing sense of scale and wonder compared to previous games, and you’ll be tempted to simply wander around and take in the sights. Unfortunately, that isn’t really an option.
When you get outside, you’re immediately given 365 days to reach the edge of the map, collect 3 alchemist recommendation letters, and take an alchemy exam to prove that you can handle yourself in the outside world. Atelier games of yore had time limits like these, but it was a feature omitted from the last few games. Time passes quickly on it’s own, as well as when you gather materials, fight enemies, and perform alchemy. All of this meant I never felt comfortable taking my time and exploring the game’s side-opportunity. I focused on nothing but heading toward the next main quest, and I could never tell if I was doing the right thing or unnecessarily rushing myself.
I don’t mind the idea of timed goals, but I would have preferred a series of shorter time-limits with clearly defined goals, which they only did once with the short 30-day time limit in that opening section of the game. Even weirder, once you complete that year-long trial, there’s no more time limits after that. You’re done. The game isn’t over at all, you simply don’t have any time limits any more, and even unlock fast-travel and a fast-moving witches broom. The sudden switches between a short time-limit with a clear goal, to a huge time-limit with vague goals, to no time-limit at all, are so harsh and sudden, it feels more like three separate game experiences than one, concise package.
Thankfully, despite being a major fault, the sloppy time-limits and pacing of the game are probably my only real complaints. I still had such a great amount of fun with this game. The cast of characters are fun and unique, with beautiful designs and character models. Atelier Firis isn’t a major step up graphically from the previous game, but with the minor change in art style and the switch to vast, open environments, everything seems just a bit sharper and magical.
Just like the visuals, alchemy isn’t hugely changed from the last game, but has definitely been tweaked and twisted a bit. Exploring the world and performing various tasks will inspire Firis with new recipe ideas, which you then take back to your atelier to alchemize. In this game, you have access to a portable, TARDIS-style atelier tent that you can put down at any campfire, giving you access to your homebase wherever you go. You’ll perform alchemy here, using those recipes and selecting from a variety of materials to bring items to life. One big change sees items now having ranks, which increase the more you craft that type of item. Increasing these ranks will improve the quality of your crafted item, on top of allowing you to assign more bonus traits.
You’ll craft items for a number of reasons. Maybe an old lady needs medicine for her back, or a miner needs a new pickaxe. Sometimes, however, you’ll be bringing these items into combat. Combat is just as fun as it was in the last game, with minor changes to refresh things a little. If you want to engage in difficult encounters or boss battles, though, you’ll need to seek them out for yourself, as the main series of quests hardly features any mandatory combat encounters.
Another great little feature is the costume system. There have always been costumes and accessories in Atelier games, but they were usually just DLC/new game+ bonuses. In Atelier Firis, you come across a variety of different outfits as you play, and each one gives you different stat bonuses and abilities. You’ll have to bundle up in cold areas and dress down in hot ones. It’s a really fun system that gives you an excuse to explore all your outfit options, instead of sticking with one favourite.
I loved Atelier Firis. It features my favourite group of characters in an Atelier game, while the vast, open world environments add something unique over the rest of the series, with a huge amount of options and quests to explore. Unfortunately, it isn’t until you pass the time restricted first half of the game after dozens of hours of playtime that you’ll truly be able to appreciate any of this. Combining timed quests with free exploration is an interesting idea, but its flawed execution ruins leads to some awkward pacing. Atelier fans and curious newcomers will still have an amazing time, as long as you don’t let the intimidating timer put a damper on what should be a magical experience.
Version tested: PlayStation 4