Atelier Firis: The alchemist and the mysterious journey – review

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  • Format: PS4 (version reviewed), PC, Vita
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Koei Tecmo
  • Developer: Gust
  • Players: 1
  • Site: http://www.koeitecmoamerica.com/firis/
  • Game code provided by the publisher

The Atelier games, if you’re not familiar with them, have been going for about twenty years now. In fact, they’ve been going for about twenty years even if you are familiar with them. Anyway, series fans will be pleased to hear that the latest entry doesn’t rock the boat in any unpleasant ways, and they can be sure that they’ll enjoy it. For those who haven’t played an Atelier game before, or did but didn’t like it… well, never before have we played a game that does so much right yet ends up so difficult to recommend.

You play as the eponymous Firis, a young woman living in a secluded town inside a mountain because why not. She dreams of going out into the big bad world like her big sister. One day, a pair of travelling alchemists force their way into the town by blowing the door up (as they do). Firis becomes an apprentice alchemist, proves herself self-sufficient enough to leave town by solving people’s problems with alchemy, then goes on a journey – a mysterious journey, some might say – through the outside world to become a fully-fledged licensed alchemist.

Ostensibly an RPG, complete with NPCs doling out quests and monsters to kill via turn-based combat, Atelier Firis is more about the alchemy side of things than anything else. While walking around the world, you’ll be picking up and digging out materials. A lot of materials. You’ll then use these in your atelier – which you can summon into existence at any campfire spot you come across – to make things. Alchemy really is the heart of the game. There are certain things you need to make in order to progress the story but, more generally, you can also create healing items, weapons, ingredients for other recipes, and more. Git gud at alchemy.

You level up your party through combat, but Firis also has a separate alchemy skill level that increases through cooking up all these bits and bobs. Some items require you to hit a minimum alchemy level in order to create them and, besides, the more you make the same items the better they will slowly become. A healing salve may level up to restore more health, or a weapon might deal more damage and have additional effects. You’ll discover a few new recipes by completing quests, but most of the time Firis comes up with a new recipe simply by creating, exploring, collecting, and generally taking actions until she has a “Eureka” moment (with no obvious rhyme or reason behind it).

This is about as exciting as it looks.

Simply walking around the world slowly drains Firis’s number of ‘LP’ points and, if this hits zero, she won’t be able to explore any more. These points can disappear at a quite frankly alarming rate, but can always be restored by returning to the atelier and sleeping. Although this can be slightly annoying at times, the game is pleasingly full of warp points, including campfires for setting up the atelier.

In addition to plentiful warp spots, the game continues to be user-friendly by employing a simple and easy-to-understand combat system. Even if you’d never played a turn-based game before, you’d be fine here with attacks, skills, and effects plainly explained and effective/ineffective attack-enemy combos crystal clear. It’s also neat to be able to use a weapon/explosive you’ve crafted yourself to take out an enemy. At times, the game seems to be going out of its way to make itself accommodating and welcoming. But, well…

Atelier Firis is really dull.

Dull. That’s the word that we’re drawn to whenever trying to express what’s wrong with the game. The graphics are sub-average PS3 fare, complete with frame rate problems, but that’s merely a warning klaxon. The concept of a hyper-naive individual thrust into a complex world isn’t a new one, but gives the writers plenty to play with. Unfortunately, the idea is never really explored beyond Firis saying how she likes the feel of rain (every single time it rains) and having her punctuate the script with “Ee-hee-hee-hee!” far too many times for our liking.

“ee-hee-hee-hee!”

The problem isn’t just with Firis. Every single character is a bland cardboard cut-out of a fantasy NPC, with nobody ever even threatening to carry the story. The story itself, in fact, is… well… dull. The telling is no better than the overarching plot, resulting in an utterly uninspiring script that never comes close to making you care about what happens to the world or any of the people that live in it.

Gameplay outside of the atelier almost seems to be an afterthought. Walk, pick up materials, fight, pick up materials, deliver something you’ve made, pick up materials, pick up materials, return to the atelier to restore LP, pick up materials… you get the idea. Frustratingly, the map/quest screen is amazingly inconsistent in how it guides you. Sometimes – most of the time, to be fair – it points you in the exact right direction, or at least gives you enough to work things out for yourself. Other times, it will guide you part way through a quest then seemingly abandon you completely, leaving you to stumble across the right location or material by chance. Not that you’ll have much motivation for getting there.

Despite all this, it’s actually not difficult to see why Atelier games have their fans. It’s obvious that a lot of time and effort has gone into the alchemy aspect, which has depth yet can be learned by anybody willing to put a little time in. There’s even a non-annoying minigame of a sort, whereby you decide the best way to fit each ingredient (represented by a shape) onto a grid to maximise your creation’s effects. The fact is though that not nearly enough effort has gone into the rest of the game and, as a result, there are piles of other titles more worthy of your time and money.

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Written by Luke K

He plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. He doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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