A Happy Anniversary Indeed
I’ve been saying for a while now (if only to myself) that the Atelier series needs to re-invent itself a bit. I’m not sure exactly how they would go about doing that, of course, and now isn’t even really the time to talk about that. I’ve just felt like it could use a little more spice. Something to mix it up, as it were. So I’m sure that you can imagine my surprise when Nelke & The Legendary Alchemists ~Ateliers of the New World~ was announced. Not only was this going to be a gigantic 20th Anniversary crossover, but it also wasn’t going to be a normal Atelier game. In fact, it was going to be a town-building sim of all things. It looked different, very different, but not in a bad way. I was really looking forward to playing it.
You know what they say about hype, right? Get too excited, and a game’s sure to let you down. Well, that didn’t happen this time around. Nelke & The Legendary Alchemists deviates a good amount from the standard Atelier formula, more so than I had ever expected to, but I think that that ultimately ended up being one of its major strengths. It’s nice to see GUST branch out a bit. And, while I’m painfully aware that we’ll probably never get another game in the Atelier franchise like this again, I’m happy that we were at least given one in the first place.
You, Me, and the Granzweit Tree
As with most Atelier games, Nelke & The Legendary Alchemists begins with a young lady interested in alchemy. And this time, that young lady just so happens to be a young, well-to-do aristocrat, and recent graduate named Nelke. But that’s where the similarities end, friends. You see, unlike with every other Atelier protagonist, Nelke… well, she kind of sucks at alchemy. Like, a lot. She has plenty of book smarts, but no natural talent. And, as we all know, natural talent is absolutely essential for alchemists. Nelke isn’t one to give up, however. Throughout her studies, the young alchemist-wannabe hears of the Granzweit Tree — an alchemical tree whose fruits, when consumed, are said to grant wondrous abilities. The good news? The tree is supposedly located on a piece of land near the town of Westwald — both of which are under Nelke’s father’s rule. The bad news? As an aristocrat, Nelke isn’t about to go randomly waltzing off into an adventure a la Firis. Things aren’t all bad, though. Nelke’s father, having heard Nelke’s wishes, cuts a deal with his daughter — develop the nearby Westwald into a flourishing city, and she is free to explore the areas surrounding it in her free time. With no other choice at her disposal, Nelke agrees — thus beginning an adventure which would prove to literally be worlds apart from any other.
Despite being a town-building sim, Nelke & The Legendary Alchemists‘ strongest points lie within its narrative. That isn’t just due to the game’s story, however. Yes, it’s good, but it wouldn’t be anything special on its own. What allows this game’s narrative to really shine is its cast of characters. As I’m sure you already know, Nelke & The Legendary Alchemists doesn’t have a ton of new characters itself. Rather, it makes use of every single leading lad and lady within the Atelier franchise for the past 20 years. From Marie (who we Westerners never formally met) to Lydie and Sue, and everyone in-between, the gang’s all here in Nelke & The Legendary Alchemists — and oh what a gang it is.
Having as many protagonists crammed into a single game as Nelke & The Legendary Alchemists does is a recipe for disaster, but this game somehow turns it into a work of art. Characters aren’t relegated to talking with the Nelke originals and their same-series compatriots; rather, this game goes out of its way to explore the “what-ifs” that would occur should these varying characters actually met (which they finally have!). There’s a lot that I could say about this specific part of the game (well, more than I already have), but for brevity’s sake, I’ll keep the rest of it to one word; amazing. No, I’m not being hyperbolic. There’s no way that you won’t fall head-over-heels for this game’s writing if you’re an Atelier fan, and the older the fan you are the more you’ll enjoy what this game has to offer. On top of that, Nelke & The Legendary Alchemists seeks to expand the Atelier canon, officially confirming multiple worlds (well, even more multiple worlds), and even spilling some of the goods on series staples like Hagel and Pamela (who is especially interesting in this game). Really, the only things that bring the story down are its lack of an English dub and scattering of typos — other than that, everything ends up being very satisfying.
Go West(wald), Young Woman
There are a lot of things within Nelke & The Legendary Alchemists that set it apart from more mainstream city-building counterparts. At its core, however, the game still manages to revolve around three primary elements that should sound very familiar; growth, management, and profit. Growth, the first of these elements, should be fairly self-explanatory. As the administrator of Westwald, it’s your job to take what originally barely qualified as a town, and turn it into a sprawling metropolis. And to do this, you’re going to need to build. For better or worse (I personally lean toward “better”), town-building is very straightforward in this game. There isn’t any need to build things like housing districts, water sources, or sewage systems. Instead, most of Nelke & The Legendary Alchemists has the player focusing on has to do with Westwald’s economy. From production areas like groves and fields to various stores to the all-important ateliers, production and consumption are key in this game. Fortunately, you’re not locked entirely into this. Players are also allowed to build roadways (which are actually necessary) and can add in extras like plants, benches, and, later on, special monuments which, while not necessary, both look nice and give your town a little boost.
Alongside building up your town, you’ll also need to manage your resources and, of course, make a tidy profit as well. By and large, resource management is the most Atelier part of the game. Materials, not surprisingly, are what make the world go ’round in grand old Westwald. By harvesting at resource points that you’ve created in town, and by sending characters off on expeditions, you will acquire new materials each week. And what do you do with materials in an Atelier game? That’s right, synthesize them! By building an atelier and assigning one of the many alchemists that you’ll accrue to it, you’ll be able to start synthesizing items. Synthesis, of course, isn’t as complex in this game as it is in others, functioning in a way that feels similar to the PlayStation 2-era games (minus material quality), but it still takes a lot of time to get everything down. Because of things such as material scarcity, and good old supply and demand, you’ll probably be spending a good portion of your time frantically shuffling around which items you want to make that week in between your ever-growing collection of ateliers. If you aren’t familiar with Atelier games, there’s a good chance that this part could get frustrating — especially as you get further into the game. But, for those of us used to the madness, it’s actually very fun and satisfying.
Fortunately, selling items isn’t nearly as difficult as making them. Almost every item that you collect or make in the game can be sorted into one of five different categories — such as food or medicine — with each store specializing in the sale of a specific item type. The profit that you make is dependent upon several factors — such as what item you’re selling, and the person who’s currently running the shop. It’s also important to consistently check your stock every week. Because the game will inevitably have you making a bunch of different items for varying reasons, it’s easy to accidentally run out of an item without changing what you’re selling in your stores. Fortunately, it isn’t the end of the world if you do make this mistake. Recouping small losses is easy, and the game is very vocal about letting you know whenever you’ve run out of anything.
A Little R&R
Town-turns also alternate with what are known as “Holidays”. However, despite what the name implies, they’re anything but restful. Rather, Holidays are used to accomplish yet another three primary things; relationship-building, research, and investigations. During Holiday periods, Nelke is allowed to spend some of her time visiting one of Westwald’s VIPs (most of whom are alchemists), in order to learn more about them and build up a relationship with them. Truthfully, I’d love to spend another few paragraphs talking about how great these events are, because GUST put a lot of time into ensuring that they were meaningful, relevant, and expanded each character’s lore, but I’ve already talked about the game’s narrative so much that I’ll save you the trouble of having to listen to me do that again. Good writing aside, however, relationships are important, as they unlock new research opportunities.
Research itself is essentially a special synthesis. By gathering enough of the specified materials and meeting the relationship requirements, Nelke is allowed to issue specific synthesis recipes to be completed. These recipes don’t interfere with an alchemist’s normal work and are important to moving the story along, unlocking new building materials, and improving your arsenal of battle items, so it’s important to get through as many of these as possible as quickly as possible.
Last, but certainly not least, are investigations. The closest thing you’ll ever get to going out on an adventure in this game, investigations allow players to send Nelke and up to four other characters out in order to battle monsters and collect materials. Investigations are necessary for a number of reasons, all of which should be obvious, so it’s important to investigate regularly lest you fall behind. Unfortunately, this mechanic did feel a little shallow. While it’s really cool watching your customized party run around together, the fact that you can’t actually control them is somewhat disappointing.
Surprisingly, Nelke & The Legendary Alchemists has combat. Even more surprisingly, it’s actually integrated well. Occurring during investigations and specific parts of the story, battles are much simpler and faster than they are in other Atelier games. While functioning in a familiar turn-based manner, most of the game’s other mechanics have been very toned down. While players are capable of forming 5-man parties, with the option to recruit plenty of different characters, players are only allowed to directly control the four Nelke-exclusive characters. The rest function as “Support” characters who, while boasting a much more unique range of moves than Nelke & co. cannot be directly controlled — an unfortunate decision in my opinion. Skill and item use has also been streamlined, with the overly simplistic Drive Point System replacing MP, and items only being able to be used once per expedition (although they infinitely restock). And, much to my (happy) surprise, players are able to now manually activate Burst — something which I’ve always wanted. Personally, if I had the option, I would have made things a little more complicated when it comes to battles as they’re a little too easy. I do understand, however, that battles aren’t at the core of what this game’s at, so I’m happy that combat wasn’t cut entirely at the very least.
A Recipe for Success
As strange as it might sound, Nelke & The Legendary Alchemists ~Ateliers of the New World~ is one of the most ambitious titles that I’ve seen from GUST in a while. By branching out of their comfort zone in many aspects while still holding onto what it truly means to be an Atelier game, Nelke & The Legendary Alchemists makes for a very enjoyable time and is absolutely wonderful as far as celebratory crossovers go. Here’s to another 20 years!
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Switch, PC ; Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games Co., Ltd. ; Developer: GUST Co. Ltd., Koei Tecmo Games Co., Ltd. ; Players: 1 ; Released: March 26, 2019 ; ESRB: E10+ for Everyone Ages 10+ ; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Nelke & The Legendary Alchemists ~Ateliers of the New World~ given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.