Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey Review (PlayStation 4)

Written by: Alexander O. Cuaycong and Anthony L. Cuaycong

Title: Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey
Developer: Gust Co. Ltd.
Publisher: Gust Co. Ltd., Koei Tecmo
Genre: RPG
Price: $59.99 (PS4) / $39.99 (PS Vita) / $59.99 (Steam)
Also Available On: PS Vita, Steam

The Atelier series has always had a soft spot in the hearts of lovers of Japanese Role Playing Games. Instead of focusing on universe-ending disasters or on savage demons bent on conquering the known world, this JRPG series starts off its stories small and simple. Featuring light-hearted characters and compelling gameplay mechanics, games in the series are refreshing takes on the genre, showing that you don’t need a deep and dark story to be invested and engrossed. Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey is no exception. As the 18th game to be released in the main series, it offers very little deviation from the formula followed by the other Atelier games.

Atelier Firis starts off with Firis Mistlud, who dreams of a day when she can leave her home and explore the outside world. A chance encounter with Sophie Neuenmuller, the protagonist in Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Book, gives Firis an idea: By asking Sophie to teach her alchemy, she would not only be able to defend herself should the need arise; she would also have the perfect reason to leave her home and satisfy her wanderlust.

This is Atelier Firis’ story and, overall, it works very well in tandem with the gameplay. Explore the world, make items, and defend yourself against monsters as you look for new recipes and ingredients. Create a variety of potions and equipment to better prepare yourself for the journey ahead. Use items to poison and damage enemies, or give yourself and your allies buffs to make fights go smoother.

A core mechanic of the game is that items are not just run-of-the-mill potions and store-bought equipment; while those do exist, a majority of what you’ll use are objects crafted by Firis herself. These items are dependent not only on the type of material used, but also on the quality of the ingredients. For example, rain water might have a marginal effect on your potion, but spring water from the mountains can give out buffs and defensive boosts during battle.

This type of crafting system allows you to customize the items you make, and there’s a real sense of fulfilment when you manage to create a powerful item made by combining high-tier ingredients together. It not only encourages you to explore, scavenge, and create; it also rewards you for taking the time to pore through each location thoroughly. It makes discovering new dungeons a joy, as the items gathered on the field aren’t just fodder to sell off to the nearest merchant, but are actively helpful in your recipes. It gives off a constant feeling of progression as Firis’ alchemy gets more and more refined and she is able to create more effective items to use in battle.

However, as good as the game is, it does have its flaws. For one, the system encourages grinding and serves to slow down the gameplay. While not explicitly bad in and of itself, it can sometimes feel like padding as you trudge through the dungeon, hunting for specific items over and over again. For another, the story suffers greatly from lack of pacing. While players are originally given a time limit, this is set aside for a large part of the game. There is more than enough time to hit most major story bits even for those who like to dally. In fact, the time limit goes away halfway through the story, and Atelier Firis starts to favor a more open-world type of gameplay to let you explore at you own pace. At this point, story bits come few and far between, feeling like an afterthought. While the game does feature multiple endings, it doesn’t disabuse you of the notion that the story has taken a backseat to its gameplay.

And as for the open world? While the maps are large and fun to explore, and a variety of quests exist to give the player meaningful and concrete goals, eventually, due to the nature of the game, you’ll hit a point where a large part of it feels empty and lifeless. There are no random events, and while the game does incorporate a day-and-night cycle, it affects the battles more than anything, and time in terms of gameplay becomes essentially meaningless.

All in all, Atelier Firis is a good JRPG, but little else. It’s got a simple story, stylish art, and good game mechanics, but it suffers heavily from its elephant-walk pace and an inevitable need to grind. Fans of previous Atelier titles and of the genre will find a lot to like about it, but those who prefer more story-driven games would do well to stay away.

  • Wonderfully drawn environments
  • Cute art style and characters
  • Big and open world with plenty to explore
  • A wide variety of items to craft with varying effects 
  • Good game mechanics
  • Multiple endings

  • Grinding cannot be avoided
  • Simplistic and oftentimes slow-paced
  • Large maps that are often empty

RATING: 7.5/10