Way before Atelier Sophie introduced me to the franchise in 2016, and even further before the first 3D adventure Atelier Rorona came out in 2009, a little game called Atelier Marie: The Alchemist of Salburg arrived for the PlayStation in 1997. Despite being a quaint, simple, 2D game about managing an in-game calendar and a supply of craftable materials, it went on to launch one of the longest-running JRPG franchises in history. Now, to celebrate over 25 years of Atelier, the game that started it all has been remade, and despite being a decades old experience, it feels like a fresh step forward for the franchise.
Atelier games are generally comparable to Kiki’s Delivery Service in terms of narrative depth, introducing you to a new bright & cheery protagonist with simple motivations and heartwarming goals each time. You aren’t solving a world-ending conundrum or fighting an ancient evil, you’re just trying to become an alchemist, in different but equally endearing ways each time. Atelier Marie Remake strips everything down to it’s most basic element, though. It’s set in a world where there are demon kings and chosen heroes, but none of that concerns us – we play as the inexperienced and foolhardy alchemist-in-training Marie, who has five years to alchemise an item to a high enough standard for the Royal Academy of Magic to recognise her as an official alchemist.
You get that info in a brief opening cutscene, but it’s also pretty much the only cutscene you’ll ever see. Atelier Marie Remake is incredibly light on story. You’ll get brief dialogue interactions with other characters like Marie’s best friend Schea or the know-it-all academy classmate Kreis, but they’re minor, standalone scenes that never contribute to a larger, chronological narrative.
Instead, the game has way more of a farm-simulation vibe – it’s less linear JRPG, and more Harvest Moon. Your calendar is more important than ever in this game, with days, months, and years flying by based on every action you take. Certain story scenes and seasonal events will pop up based on your when and where, but also on how much you’ve developed your friendship with the various recruitable characters in the game.
When I first booted up Atelier Marie Remake it offered me an unlimited mode, where I could choose to continue playing the game after five in-game years had passed rather than the game forcing an ending on me as it normally would. Coming from the Atelier games I’m used to playing, where the meat of the experience is in the narrative progression, the character bonding and the alchemic min-maxing, this seemed like a worthwhile feature. I ultimately opted to go with the Normal Mode, though, and I’m glad I did. The calendar is the heart and soul of this game, and partly because the features I usually come to these games for aren’t as expansive in this version.
Alongside the lack of significant linear story, alchemy is also as simple as it could be here. Rather than dealing with grid-matching mini-games or quality-graded materials, alchemy is simple menu maintenance. If you have the recipe, its specific ingredients, and the required Utensil, you will craft the item and time will pass. There are no statistical variants, and while you get fatigued from crafting too much, all you do to remedy that is rest in bed. Calendar days are your currency in Atelier Marie Remake, but they’re also your driving force. Once you get into the zone, you’ll be plotting out the amount of days it takes to visit a nearby forest, the days spent gathering, your days spend crafting, and min-maxing them to align with an important seasonal event or the deadline for your next task.
You still have environments to explore for gathering materials and enemies to fight on the way. Combat is equally simple in Atelier Marie Remake, but there’s a minor added layer of strategy thanks to character recruitment. You have a handful of potential party members who you can find and hire in the city, all with different stats, gear, and levels. Every time you return from exploring, they need to be paid a salary – your best friend Schea works for free but fights with a literal window-duster, while Schwalbe the ex-bandit king will only work for a hefty fee. You can power level any character and make the wages moot in that sense, but if you find yourself wanting to increase a characters Friendship level, you’ll need to take them into battle constantly, adding to the several regular drains on your funds.
A lot of what I’m describing here sounds more like busy work than any other Atelier game, but I still enjoy it so, so much – that Stardew Valley vibe of always being on your toes with time management is a blast. Still, it hurts how little story and character dialogue there is in this game, and it’s mostly because of how beautiful every character is. Much like the 3DS remake Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, this game features breath-taking modern illustrations of characters that scream the 90s. Giant pauldrons, glossy bulbous armor, and badass older women are all over Atelier Marie Remake – and the fact that I can’t get to know them nearly as well as I’ve been able to bond with other modern Atelier crews hurts.
Atelier Marie Remake modernises where it matters, though. Visuals are beautiful, and the strict time-crunch gameplay is matched with modern quality-of-life tools that help you track your goals and keep Marie on top of everything. It’s a noticeably different flavor than previous Atelier games, but after a trilogy of steadily iterating Atelier Ryza games, it’s also pretty exciting to have such a different take on the usual Atelier formula, even if it is mostly a blast from the past. Hopefully, ideas from this remake and advancements from the modern entries can come together to create something really special for the next original entry in this constantly evolving alchemy-infused franchise.