Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World on PS4
A long time has passed since the release of the first Atelier game. Atelier Marie: The Alchemist of Salburg launched in Japan all the way back in 1997, and few JRPG series have spawned so many games over the course of so many years.
Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World is the celebration of that legacy, and of the many characters that have accompanied the fans across over 20 years of history.
This time around, the protagonist is actually not an alchemist. Nelke von Lestamm is an aristocrat tasked by her father to liven up the village of Westwald, while also taking upon herself the task to investigate the ancient legend of the Sage of Granzweit.
As she takes residence in the administrator’s mansion, many alchemists and their companions from a variety of alternate worlds start to appear in front of her out of nowhere, all conveniently deciding to settle in the village.
While the premise to squeeze a gazillion of historical Atelier characters in the same story may feel a bit weird, the overall story is actually rather enjoyable. And while it’s not a masterpiece of depth, it provides a good diversion from Nelke’s administrative duties.
It’s delightful to see all of the series’ primary (and many secondary) characters come back and interact with each other, and they’re enriched by high-level voice acting in Japanese with English subtitles. Considering the number of high-level actors involved, Nelke is certainly remarkable in its audio production values.
If you’re familiar with the Atelier series, you will feel right at home with the game’s visuals. While the technology isn’t anything to call home about, the game is still pleasing to the eye thanks to the franchise’s traditionally adorable art style.
Considering the wealth of characters, we’re also treated to a metric ton of beautiful 2D artwork featuring pretty much all the talented character designers that gave the Atelier franchise its unique and charming looks. You could easily say that this is the highlight of the game’s visuals.
Examining Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists’ gameplay places us in front of an interesting and unusual proposition: the sheer amount of characters, the time management aspects, and the combat and exploration parts feel very much like a mobile game.
As a matter of fact, while playing the game I have been having this lingering sensation at the edge of my consciousness that it may have originally been envisioned as a mobile title. I know many of you are already scoffing right now, but the interesting thing here is that instances in which we’re offered this kind of experience on consoles without all of the annoying mobile free-to-play limitations and gachas are very rare.
We get over 100 characters in the package and they’re added to our roster simply by playing the story without having to go through any gacha hoping to unlock our favorites. This sets Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World apart from most of the “franchise mashups” titles we see on the market, which are indeed free to play for iOS and Android, with all the annoyances that come with that.
The gameplay loop is strictly turn-based, split between weekday turns and weekend turns.
During the weekdays, the player has to take care of the development of the village, which is pretty much the core of the game. You can build facilities, expand your districts, assign characters to run them, decide what kind of goods your alchemists will produce, and which ones will be sold in your shops.
At the end of your weekday phase, you’re provided a rather detailed breakdown of your performance, which will determine whether you ended the week in the red or in the black. Paying attention to this report will give you the tools to do the necessary adjustments the following week.
During the weekends you can socialize with your citizens to boost their relationship with Nelke, conduct research for various materials and consumables, and go out in the wilderness to explore, gather more ingredients, and kill monsters.
Exploration is quite simple. You invest in a location to open the ability to explore it and to unlock various optional bonuses. Then you select your party and start automatically walking down a linear path.
As long as you keep walking, your characters will both gather materials and fight against monsters. You can opt to run in order to reach the end of the path faster (your time will be limited depending on how long you spent being an adorable socialite), but in that case, you’ll just encounter monsters and won’t do any gathering.
Success in this phase is decided by your ability to balance social interaction, walking, and running. It’s not rocket science, but it’s satisfying enough when you get it right.
Combat is also rather simplified compared to most JRPGs, so much so that you’re provided “semi-auto” and “auto” options that will let you get back to growing up your town faster.
There is no doubt that the most relevant part of Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists is the city-building portion, and probably the JRPG elements will be a bit too sparse for the most demanding fans of the genre. Yet, as long as you don’t go into it with monumental expectations and you enjoy the banter between classic characters, it isn’t all that bad.
Building up your town is remarkably interesting and possibly addictive: while it doesn’t reach the level of complexity of hardcore entries in the genre like SimCity or Cities: Skylines, I often unexpectedly felt the “one more turn” pull that dragged my play sessions way into the wee hours.
The first couple of hours are deceptively simple, but they’re just designed to ease you into the game. As the number of characters increases and your hamlet grows into a city, the amount and granularity of tasks become more and more demanding and interesting. There is a ton of room for micromanagement, and running a tight town can be very satisfying.
That being said, there are a few nags here and there, and the game isn’t the most efficient in presenting data like scarcity of ingredients or products to sell. This may lead to brief moments of frustration, especially when the moving parts become numerous.
On top of this, you have to keep track of requests from your villagers (which are a major source of income and should not be neglected) and from the lord, wider tasks provided by Nelke’s overprotective father, which serve as pace-setters for the overarching gameplay.
Ultimately, if you want a solid dedicated JRPG focused on adventuring and combat, this probably isn’t the game for you. You’re better off waiting for Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland, which is just a couple of months away.
On the other hand, if you’re on the market for a competent and interesting city builder with some casual JRPG toppings sprinkled on, adorable artwork, great voice acting, and a veritable celebration of the legacy of the Atelier series and of its many characters, I can definitely recommend giving Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World a try.
Score: 3.5/5 – Fair
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