Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey is the latest in Gust's Atelier series and quite honestly one of the best so far. Set after Atelier Sophie, join both the new and old protagonists Firis and Sophie through a wonderful and open-conceived alchemic journey.
Firis' adventure starts up after the end of Sophie's. Trapped behind the closed door of her underground hometown that protects its people from the outside it isn't long before Sophie simply blows it off of its hinges because she couldn't open it. Isn't alchemy amazing? Offering to teach the girl who was behind the door alchemy, Firis starts off her quest to learn enough in order to survive the outside world and be allowed to leave the town she so desperately wishes to.
Because what I wanted to link to isn't currently available, bear with me for a moment because what I need to say has an important enough of a bearing on why Firis' adventure is so great.
Prelude to FirisHaving recently gotten a hold of both the PC and PS4 versions of Atelier Sophie, I felt that coming into it after reviewing Atelier Shallie Plus was originally disappointing. The Atelier series has a long history of implementing features and if they don't work as well as expected then they are re-designed into something that does on the next. As such, loading up Atelier Sophie and seeing that a lot of what made Atelier Shallie so great felt a bit like a slap in the face as it seemed that most, if not all, of it was gone. This was of course until the whole of Sophie came into view in which that disappointment evaporated like nothing more than a failed Alchemic Recipe.
Atelier Shallie did away with time. Time to move between areas. Time that it takes to pick up ingredients. Time to do quests. It did away with all of this and Sophie took the idea of time back. Having started with the series back on the PS2 with the Iris Trilogy I had been ecstatic to see the "time restrictions" gone. It wasn't until a couple of hours in that I realized that time for the most part was not there as a restrictive element but simply as one that helps shape the world one day at a time and for this? Atelier Sophie was all the more amazing for it.
Graphically Sophie's adventure is beautiful. The city, the landscapes and the people are all pretty to look at. The city could have had a bit more variety with its randomly placed people as the same skin is pretty much used for the non-important townsfolk, but the ones that are used are visually well designed. Compared to some of the previous iterations, the current one feels alive making it a joy to explore the city and its surrounding lands. With the day and night system in place there's a more organic feel making the experience flow better than it otherwise would have especially with the fear of returning impending time limits.
FirisAtelier Firis takes the concepts of Atelier Sophie and brings them one step further. As you may have noticed, I despised the time limits that have been around for awhile now. Surprisingly, I won't say that they are unfortunately back but, the time limit did make a return but in a very loose sense. Given several weeks in order to learn enough Alchemy to be allowed to leave her town it isn't long before Firis blows past the expectations and is allowed to go outside the gate for the very first time. This comes with a very strict condition. If Firis can pass an exam and obtain her alchemist license, she can stay out for as long as she wants. If she doesn't? She's to come back home and that's to be the end of it.
Once Firis walks out of that gate she has a year in order to obtain at least three recommendations from licenced alchemists and then make it to the city that administers the exams. That is the only rule. There are no other time limits. If there are? I haven't seen those as even after finishing the adventure and moving onto a time free limit mode, I've still got a lot of side questing and exploring to perform.
That is the beauty of this latest entry. As soon as Firis and her sister Liane leave their town, they are free to explore as they please. This was also something different but in a good way in that Firis isn't alone or asking a close friend to tag along. This is an adventure of family bonding more than friendship which was a nice change as Firis gets to go adventuring with her sister who's already been outside and acts as a hunter for the village. As even Liane has never been past a certain point, the two of them start off a journey of adventure together heading off towards passages to the South, East and North in order to make it across the lands to find recommendations that will allow Firis to take her license exam. Firis knows where she comes from and with her map she knows where she's going. How to get there though is a mystery and the fun of the journey.
The environments range in size with the larger ones containing a fair amount of rest points for Firis and her party to take a break. The best part? These rest points also act as quick travel points alongside various points of interest in order to quickly move back through an area if you are simply looking for something in particular. There is a world map but unlike the rest of the series it acts only as a visual guide. This time around, walking or running around is the way to go until the credits roll. Once those roll however a magic broom can be made to allow for faster travel by flying quickly between the waypoints and the transition points to other areas. It would have been useful over the course of the main journey but then the main point would have been lost.
Flying with a broom saves time, and may if you think about it, make people mistake Firis for a Witch instead of an Alchemist. Sadly it is a stereotype but in either case, time will move along regardless. Standing still, walking around or picking up everything in sight in order to turn it into something new will all move the clock along. With twenty four hours a day, there is more than enough time to simply explore the landscapes and pick up whatever is needed as an ingredient to make something new.
Normal movement doesn't affect the passage of time as much as picking up ingredients does but it does so regardless and while looking for Alchemists in order to obtain your recommendations sometimes dilly dallying isn't the best course of action even if you really want to explore that cave and collect all of the resources inside. Had the broom been involved early then the end location could have been reached much faster but the exploration of the world may have taken a bit of a hit.
What was fairly neat is that picking up ingredients wasn't just simply walking over and hitting the "X" on the controller. Oh there are a ton of points on the map in which this can be done from picking up apples, unis and flowers, but there are also rocks that have to be smashed and trees that need to be hit. Hitting these with Firis' staff can be long and painful to watch as breaking a rock open could take an entire day but that's why pickaxes and bombs exist to crack these right open. Both of these can be made with alchemy and the low price of a bit more of that time on the counter to the end of the journey.
As important as the exploration and the collection of materials is, alchemy is the name of the game. Keeping an eye on the days remaining is extremely important especially when mass producing items either for later or because you need them in order to put a few new pieces together. I say this because even some of the most basic recipes such as an iron ingot can take a day in other to synthesize. A full day. As Firis gets better more than one can be made at a time but in the beginning stages a bit of a worry can set in as the clock simply counts down. At least it's just a day. Certain items can take days!
Alchemy can be used to create healing items, attack items, or base ingredients to create new equipment for your party members. Recipes to do so can either being picked up in a store or learnt throughout the journey. One way can be quite costly while the other simply fits into the overall experience. Picking up these ingredients or fighting monsters and obtaining them that way will eventually give Firis an idea in which she can later put together in order to create something fantastic.
These ideas can be seen inside of her recipe book as as the idea evolves and as they get closer a better idea of what is needed will come into view. "Hit ten trees", "take out xth amount of said monster", "pick up said number of frosted covered apples". Each of these will unlock the recipe needed in order to synthesize the item but if you really don't want to have to go through all of that? Points that are obtained simply by journeying and trying out different things can be used to unlock this recipe right away so that it can be used "now".
One point that I had against the combat from Sophie is that battle went into a you chose your party's actions and then everything plays out according to character and enemy initiative. This could sometimes wind you up in a bad spot because how were you supposed to know that every enemy on the field would attack one person and now you're not even sure you can heal them in time. Combat has gone back to a per-person turn basis in which all actions follow the initiative counter. It's much smoother and brings it back inline with other entries of the series allowing for actions to be calculated out in advance in order to make the most of even a bad situation.
Because picking up ingredients and combating monsters can take a toll on a person, Life Points make a return but unlike the previous entry there are a total of one-hundred to work with from the very beginning. Any and all actions taken will reduce this pool of points and in order to get these back Firis will need to rest up. Resting can be done from either walking or quick travelling to any of the rest points and setting up her Atelier. Wait. What? Ah yes, it seems that I may have forgotten one of the most important aspects of Atelier Firis. Her alchemic lab? It isn't rooted in a specific physical location.
Atelier Firis took a few chances to the overall design and the free floating Atelier is one of them. Instead of always having to travel back to town and waste your LP that way, you simply need to go to a rest point. There are two ways to get it back with the first being the obvious and sleeping it off just as it will restore both a character's HP and MP. The second is to simply perform alchemy. If you don't need to sleep for a few hours simply make something that you know you'll need for later and then head back out there. Having the freedom to do this without having to always worry about backtracking especially when your inventory is full was refreshing.
The atelier wasn't the only chance that they took as in certain cases it can feel like the overall story took a bit of a hit but it ramps up as Firis makes her way closer and closer to her end goal of writing the exam. Party members for the most part are there as extras for battle more than they are for story as they never really make an appearance for more than a tiny cutscene between resting up and performing loads of alchemy. All main plot points are basically "reserved" for Firis, Liane and some of the other characters that are pertinent to the main storyline. Some of these people join up before the credits while others will join after once the adventure is free from its time limits. It works though as a good deal of the story is in the details of how Firis got to her exam in which, it is an exam, and you should pay attention as you basically needed to "study" for it. Well played Gust. That exam had me sweating more than my final exams in college!
Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey has been a great next step for the Atelier series. Yes the "dreaded time limit" made a return but it added a bit of flavour instead of adding stress and worry about not being able to finish the experience the first time around. There were times where I thought that I may not get to the end in time but the next thing I knew I was soaring along the next area with recommendations in hand.
Sony PlayStation 4
Provided by Publisher
Article by Pierre-Yves