The Atelier series is one of the more complex JRPG series that I’ve played over the years. The mixture of puzzling Alchemy, familiar JRPG combat, and interpersonal relationships between characters is a blend that I’ve seen very few franchises attempt. Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey is the second title in the “Mysterious” saga of Atelier games. Atelier Firis also brings a new sort of perspective and gameplay to the series, providing a more nomadic tale rather than one tied to a singular setting and location.
Atelier Firis puts players in the role of Firis Mistlud, a young girl from a secluded town who yearns to see the outside world. After a life of isolation, Firis learns of the “Alchemy Exam” and decides to journey on her own to the outside world. The journey takes you and Firis across a massive world that has environments, towns, and locations that are larger than any Atelier game to date. Sadly, you are given a time limit of 360 in-game days to reach the proper skill level and pass the alchemy exam. I’m not normally a fan of time limits, so I wish they had left that out and continued on with the freedom you were given in Atelier Shallie (or even Atelier Sophie.)
Alchemy in Atelier Firis also has evolved from what was presented in Atelier Sophie. The most notable change is that Firis can do alchemy anywhere and this all thanks to the Alchemy Tent that allows her to set up her atelier wherever she pleases (more specifically anywhere there is a campfire or town.) The puzzle based Alchemy from Atelier Sophie has also been improved becoming much easier to understand how bonuses work, and how to get the effects you desire.
Recipes are acquired exactly the same way they were acquired in Atelier Sophie. By performing various tasks and fulfilling conditions, you can unlock new recipes. By making the same recipe (or recipes from similar items) you can level up your skill in crafting those items, allowing you to make better quality versions of them. You also gain something called Idea Points through completing objectives. Idea points can be used to unlock recipes without fulfilling their requirements, as a way to bypass something you find too difficult. Idea points take a while to accumulate though, so it is wise to save them up until you need them.
The grid based system of Alchemy in Atelier Sophie has changed to allow simplified Alchemy. Instead of bonuses appearing more frequently as you place ingredients, bonuses are now tied to Bonus Lines which provide a myriad of effects if filled. Bonus lines change shape, color, and effect with the use of catalysts, materials, and items that change the way bonus lines work on your alchemy board.
Additionally, instead of the doll-make feature from Atelier Sophie, Firis can utilize the “Atelier Making” feature, which allows her to decorate the inside of her atelier, personalizing it with items that can help her on her quest.
Most of Atelier Firis is done through the completion of quests. Quests are goals that Firis has, that shift and change depending on the choices you make. Atelier Firis is one of the first Atelier titles to provide choice as a mechanic. Depending on how you approach different tasks you may find the environment, enemies, or even the overall storyline changing. As you explore, quests may pop up either from talking to people, completing certain objectives, or merely just from exploring. Certain “Chain Quests” will provide new quests as you complete them. The subsequent quests may change depending on how you complete the previous quest in the chain, which provides a unique possibility for a variety of quests depending on how you play.
As you fight, explore, and gather items Firis loses LP. Much like in Atelier Sophie, LP is a commodity that lowers your stats the farther down it goes. LP is essentially the measure of how tired Firis is. While I like that it is only tied to Firis (instead of Atelier Sophie where each character had their own LP) I am a little annoyed that LP now affects gathering as well as battle effectiveness. LP is either gained by synthesizing things in your atelier, or through resting on the bed in your Atelier. The problem with this is that since you do not heal up fully upon entering the Atelier you waste time healing up and resting, which could be used attempting to succeed in your goals.
Also like in Atelier Sophie, Atelier Firis has a day, night, and weather cycle. The time of day affects the type of enemies that spawn, as well as the type of items you can find out in the field. The weather can affect all sorts of things, from gathering to enemies. In the case of fog, it actually prevents you from seeing the entire mini-map properly.
Combat in Atelier Firis is familiar and yet different as well. Unlike Atelier Sophie, all characters can utilize items equipped, however you can only equip a limited number of items at a time. Support Guard also only protects Firis and so it cannot be used to protect other characters in the party. Other elements of the Atelier series have returned, such as the chain burst and chain attacks. Uniquely, combat skills are now tied to your weapon, making it important to choose your weaponry wisely so you have the skills you need to face your foes. I like the changes they’ve made to items but I am not a fan of the change to making Firis the only one to be protected. I especially detest this when you get into rough fights where you may need one of your heavy hitters to survive instead.
Exploration is also a little different. In Atelier Firis takes on a more open-world approach instead of a world map style like in previous games. You may find landmarks, quests, and caves scattered across the open world. Caves function uniquely as if you do not have a suitable light source then you won’t have access to your mini-map. This can lead to you easily being lost inside a cave. With the 360-day time limit imposed on Firis, I think it is possible that if you aren’t careful, you may find yourself running out of time JUST from wandering, fulfilling quest objectives and gathering items. I’m not certain if that is possible, but if you are someone who wants to explore and do everything in a game, it may be helpful for you to use your time wisely. It’s rather frustrating because it discourages you from playing how you want to play–or from suffering from the fear of not experiencing everything. It reminds you it’s a game with this time limit imposed on you and in this case, that’s not a good thing. This prevents you from being able to explore as much also leads to a constant break in immersion because of how aware you need to be of this gameplay mechanic. The end result of your journey (as well as your choices) most likely factor into multiple endings, providing replay value and incentive to keep trying to get a better outcome.
My feelings about Atelier Firis are somewhat scattered. Overall I love it but as a fan of the series, I feel like there is a weird sort of disconnect. The open-world concept for Atelier Firis is fantastic and certainly a concept I greatly enjoy, however with an imposed time limit of 360 days, the open world brings a sense of dread for people who want to experience everything the game has to offer. Without the world map being structured like in previous games, you have no real concept of how long it takes to explore an area, making budgeting your time somewhat difficult. Atelier Firis’ alchemy is fun, but it takes a while to figure out the nuances of it so that you can master it properly.
The time limit takes away from the experience for me, but overall I enjoyed Atelier Firis and its gameplay. Any fan of the series will no doubt enjoy it, but it is very much a blend of old concepts (the time limit being the main one) and new concepts. The new way of working with Alchemy and its materials is new, interesting, and fun while the time limit certainly is not. Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey is a fantastic experience that is one hundred percent worth your time in spite of a few flaws.
A Playstation 4 Review Copy of Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey was provided by Koei Tecmo for the purpose of this review.