The Atelier Franchise – What To Expect
“New” can be scary. While some people thrive on the unknown, it can strike fear into others, especially when it comes to making investments. And what investment is more important than that of video games? Sometimes, it can be difficult tapping into a new franchise. You get used to a certain look and feel, then become hesitant when faced with something that breaks that (comforting) mold.
Most recently, I’ve noticed this from other people looking at the Atelier franchise. Although it has very much been a thing since the early ‘90s, it has only recently attained somewhat of mainstream popularity thanks to the success of 2019’s Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & The Secret Hideout. Now I’m not going to act as if I’ve been in the franchise’s trenches since day one – quite the opposite, considering my first exposure was through the Arland tetralogy starting back in 2018. I did, however, share those same concerns and fears associated with diving into something new. But boy, am I sure glad that I took the dive.
Atelier has quickly become one of my favorite RPG franchises to date. I’ve seen a lot of people inquiring about various Atelier games and whether they’re worth picking up. While that very much remains a decision you must make yourself, my hope is that this article puts your mind at ease when it comes to what to expect from the alchemy-based franchise. Please keep in mind that this is geared towards what to expect from the Switch-specific releases (Arland and onwards) rather than an analysis of their entire catalog.
What Is Atelier?
Atelier is an RPG series that emphasizes crafting – or alchemy – as it’s primary gameplay and story component. These games typically star an up-and-coming alchemist, whose personal growth and story progression are tied to the synthesis of various items. Alchemy is done by gathering ingredients from around the world via gathering nodes, enemy corpses, and even through certain sub-syntheses. Upon acquiring all the proper components, the player can then return to their Atelier and perform syntheses based on the recipes they’ve acquired.
Alchemy is the lifeblood of any Atelier game. Not only is it key to properly equipping your party for battle, it also plays an integral role in progressing both main and side objectives. The art of synthesis is somewhat of an anomaly in most of these worlds – an ancient trade from a bygone era. Most people embrace its usefulness, while others aren’t as confident in it. As they say, “with great power comes great responsibility,” and the same can be said for Alchemy over the years. The stories in these games often play off this by labeling the art as humanity’s saving grace, or even it’s downfall. A strong, recurring theme is that the player – the alchemist – wields an incredibly useful skill that can do as much bad as it can good. Regardless, many of the game’s problems are solved through synthesis.
With alchemy playing such a large role in the gameplay loop, it is fortunate that it is always so well done. It is so much more than simply gathering materials and pressing a button – they have a lot of depth for those that want to get the most mileage out of their creations. Various properties and traits can be added, combined, or otherwise carried over to other items, giving the player an impressive amount of customization over their loadouts. No two syntheses will be exactly the same.
While this level of attention to detail isn’t always necessary to beat the base game, harder difficulties and post-game content can be incredibly challenging even for those with intimate knowledge of its inner-workings. Truth be told, Atelier alchemy has the potential to convert even the most zealous of crafting naysayers due to its intelligent (and meaningful) design. Alternatively, you will have a horrible time with the entire franchise should this core system not “click” with you.
Atelier games were once notorious for time limits that forced the player to be efficient with every action. Various story events and sequences would require the player to fulfill their demands before the “time was up,” and crafting, gathering, and traveling in general would collectively advance the hands of time. On one hand, this race against the clock would make achieving things all the more rewarding and meaningful, but it was also a potential turnoff for those that prefer a more leisurely pace.
Time management has become less of a focus (or in many cases removed entirely) since Atelier Shallie, vastly lowering the barrier to entry for brand-new players of the franchise. The time limits, again, have their benefits, and could certainly be enjoyed from either the get-go or after a base level of Atelier knowledge has been established, though. Admittedly, it can be difficult going back to the earlier games after experiencing the more streamlined components found in Ryza, for example.
So…What About Combat?
Atelier games have plenty of combat, but it isn’t emphasized quite as much as alchemy. Enemies may attack the alchemist while they are gathering materials, and there are generally plenty of bosses to dispatch at certain story points. Atelier has very much been about turn-based combat up until the debut of Ryza, which then shifted towards an action-oriented system.
This design shift has been more or less praised, and rightly so, as it has certainly made for a more dynamic and engaging combat experience overall. That’s not to say that the turn-based games are bad – far from it, really – but it was nonetheless a solid move on their part. Whether action or turn-based, however, Atelier typically throws in some subcommands that prevents it from ever becoming boring or monotonous.
What About The Story?
With the same fervor as Alchemy, Atelier games prioritize storytelling and especially character development. Before Ryza, it was pretty rare for an Atelier game to not have multiple endings based on the completion of various subevents. While this new approach may reduce one’s desire to play the newer titles multiple times over, it also means you don’t have to stress over missing one obscure subevent that prevents you from getting the “ideal” ending. Instead, character arcs are typically resolved at the conclusion of their final subevent rather than affecting the main story in a drastic way.
The actual main stories in these games are, well, hit or miss, but your mileage will vary. To me, the Atelier series narratively is more about the journey rather than the destination. The development of characters and the relationships they build hold far more weight (in my eyes) than the actual stories themselves. Across their library of games, Atelier features an impressive smorgasbord of characters that are sure to grow on you with each and every release. And yes, some of them have accentuated thighs (among other…qualities), if that is your thing. There is obviously a certain level of “fan service,” anime cringe, and tropes throughout, but there are a lot of genuinely entertaining and interesting things here, too.
The maturation of these characters requires some effort and patience on your part, however. While some of their development is done naturally through story progression, the bulk of it is conveyed through the multitude of aforementioned substory events. These are usually optional, but add invaluable dimensions to each character. They are reminders that individual characters have their own dreams and desires despite being united as a group for a common cause.
In Ryza 2, the main story may conclude with a general resolution for all parties involved, but you won’t experience the full scoop without making an effort to help Clifford uncover that fabled treasure he seeks, for example. In earlier entries, these subevents were often easily missable due to the constant progression of time, and were also key to unlocking specific endings. While that urgency is lost in newer titles – good riddance, I say – their importance remains.
And The Hare
Being crafting-focused, story-driven experiences, Atelier games are notoriously slow going in the first couple hours. There will initially be a lot of exposition and tutorials thrown at you, but the setup is important with both aspects being focal points. While a tactic that’s clearly marketed towards newcomers, it can be equally refreshing for fans that simply don’t want to be tossed to the wolves right out of the gate. The series is pretty good at providing ways of speeding up this process for the truly impatient – text speed-up and skippable events – but it becomes easy to appreciate the process when you realize there will be many layers revealed even after dozens of hours into the adventure. In short, Atelier adventures can very much be “gifts that keep on giving” right up into their twilight hours.
Not Afraid Of Change
Atelier games may always be centered around alchemy, but that doesn’t make them creatures of habit either. These games are notorious for tweaks, adjustments, and even drastic changes over time. Interestingly enough, Atelier games don’t shy away from making changes even between sub-releases, like Ryza 1 and 2. Both games have an action combat system, but ultimately play and feel quite different from one another, and the differences aren’t exclusive to combat.
One of the more drastic examples of this would be with the “Dusk” trilogy, where Ayesha was one of the last entries with traditional time management, Escha & Logy somewhat relaxed it, before Shallie more or less removed it entirely. I don’t know about you, but it says a lot to me when a developer acknowledges and subsequently acts on the need for change and iteration within a decades-old franchise – all without losing that “Atelier essence.”
With all that in mind, I hope that you have a better understanding as to what to expect from the Atelier franchise. It is one that I’ve grown to adore over the past few years, and I hope that more and more players decide to give it a chance. Have more questions, or additional tips? Feel free to respond below or hit me up on our Discord!