One of my favorite things about the Atelier series is watching the series evolve. Each new game sticks to the basic formula but gives it a unique twist that sets it apart from the previous entries. Obviously, this is to keep the series from getting stale and I applaud the game creators' willingness to tinker with game genres despite the possibility of alienating fans. It's something other larger franchises, like CoD for instance, seem terrified to do. Thus, they grow stale over time. Atelier, does not have that problem, and this one really mixes up the formula, introducing the concept of a vast open world for the first time.
In Atelier games, you play a ridiculously cute girl wearing a ridiculously cute outfit. She runs around a ridiculously cute fantasy world fighting monsters (that are often cute, as well), gathering materials and taking them back home to create new items through the magic of alchemy. Level up, fight stronger monsters, get better materials and make more powerful items. That's the basic "carrot on a stick" formula the series adheres to.
While all Atelier games have cuteness and alchemy in common, each one brings something new to the table. Atelier Meruru (I love that name!), is a world-building sim where you must use alchemy to make materials to build towns, inns, marketplaces, etc within a certain timeframe. Atelier Escha & Logy was more like a traditional RPG. Alchemy is used to grow stronger and unlock the story. And in Atelier Sophie, you didn't know what was going on! You had to fill in the memories of a magic book by learning more alchemy to get its memories back.
The twist on this new game is that it takes place in a big, bright open world! That's a huge difference from previous games, that had smaller more compartmentalized worlds. Heck, some even have you moving around on what looks like a board game to get to the area you want to explore or gather materials. Atelier Firis has sprawling open areas teaming with monsters to kill and materials to grab. Forests, plains, desert, there's a nice variety of different land types to explore. There are also weather conditions and a day and night cycle. This is a huge departure from previous games and truly feels like the series has "leveled up," if you will.
But you'll have to plan your excursions carefully as you only have a limited amount of stamina each day. To get it back, you can rest at sites where you can put up your portable house. You can also get it back by doing alchemy and raising your level. I preferred to do that so I didn't waste days on the scary "days left" clock. Yes, the return of the countdown clock! We haven't seen that in a while. Firis only has a year to prove herself to her family that she's a real alchemist by getting three signed recommendations by three established alchemists. This is the driving force of the game and what motivates you to seek out new areas. There's plenty of time to get it all done, though. It's not a hard game.
Combat hasn't evolved much from previous games and the monsters are either super easy or insanely hard. There's pretty much no in between. The main difference is other characters besides the main one can carry items, but it's still a very basic turn-based format.
Since this is the first game in the series developed specifically for the PS4 and not a PS3, the graphics are significantly better than previous games. This game has more detail, better textures, lighting and everything just looks a lot nicer. While the graphics are still fairly simple by AAA game standards, if you are a longtime fan of the series you will be impressed.
With the upgraded graphics and the big open world, it looks like this series is finally growing up a bit. While I admit, I do kind of miss the intimacy of the smaller previous games, this is a leap forward. Of course, the next game might throw all this away and do something totally different. Which I'd be fine with too!
Hint: The Tetris-like mini-game when you're doing alchemy is back! Spend the extra time rearranging ingredients to get the bonuses—it's worth it!
by Urian Brown
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