When I was told to review what is essentially a 20th anniversary love-letter to the Atelier series, I jumped at the opportunity. After all, what better way is there to prove the legitimacy of a Role-playing series then by having a complete stranger jump in to review an anniversary title? Fortunately, I decided to start with Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists ~Ateliers of the New World~ (yes, that is the full title), a game that has some aspects in common with older titles while also possessing a fair bit of completely new elements.
Nelke isn’t an alchemist herself, but rather, an administrator, meaning she’ll be building a thriving town with the help of a slew of characters, magically transported to the village of Westwald for no reason other then “let’s see what happens when the alchemists from across the Atelier series meet.” Needless to say, having hundreds of characters name-dropped and tossed your way can be a bit daunting, as a newcomer. How was I able to handle this town simulation RPG? Read on to find out.
The Legendary Alchemists is a town-building Role-playing game centered around the usage of alchemists in order to concoct a stable economy and steady expansion. Because of this, what one might consider to be the familiar elements of the Atelier series take on new meaning. Making sure there is food to sell and medicine to distribute means transmuting these objects from various other gathered materials. Gathering itself comes in the form of direct and indirect action. There are some concepts that remain the same, however- even Nelke is bound by deadlines given by her father, so the player will be required to complete certain win-or-fail-state tasks by a certain turn. The Ateliers run by a specific character are similar in function, though far greater in number.
Primarily, The Legendary Alchemists is divided into two separate forms of management- a planning stage and a holiday stage. The duties performed by Nelke mostly have to do with assigning the many members in town to certain tasks, as well as scheduling expansion via construction. The player is given access to only a single sector of the town of Westwald at the start, though this small strip of land can be expanded further, and in time, more sectors will be unlocked for further construction. Players can place a variety of structures on the grid: shops, ateliers, farm and garden spaces, roads, and even smaller aesthetic charms, which will boost the passive effects of the surrounding buildings.
It is important that the face of each building is connected to a street, so managing space becomes an area of focus immediately. A single character may take up residence in each structure built, and though alchemists are most useful in ateliers synthesizing new objects, the ever-expanding cast of characters from across the series means that you’ll soon have citizens of all sorts offering to lend a hand. Some possess proficiency in specific types of structure management, though all of them work for a price. As stated prior, their hire rate can be lowered thanks to decorations placed in their sector, but this is an element to be considered.
Though ateliers are used for synthesis and the various orchards, gardens, and the like can be host to a number of natural resources, many more can only be found in expedition routes. Characters can also be sent on passive expeditions in order to gather these resources for use, creating a vicious, if not satisfying cycle of supply and demand on all fronts. Gathering leads to synthesis, which leads to distribution, followed by profit that is used for construction of more facilities to increase production and wealth. Characters will earn experience working in any and all fields, so slotting an alchemists into a gathering slot isn’t necessarily a waste, especially if you don’t have the funds for a new building.
However, this planning phase is only one half of the experience, as holidays can prove just as, if not more important than town planning. During holidays, Nelke has a limited amount of time and/or energy she can expend, but she does so by either speaking with citizens or going on expeditions. Speaking with members of the town can lead to small experience gains and expedition party unlocks, friendship growth, or citizen requests, which are micro deadlines based around more manageable objectives that award extra money and contribute to the overall satisfaction of the town. Groups of alchemists can also join together once they’ve reached certain friendship levels in order to research- this can offer new material recipes for synthesis that are important to the town’s growth and development (really, REALLY important). If you have time to spare, you can go on expeditions into the area surrounding Westwald, where a party of playable characters may tag along, gathering resources and battling enemies during an auto-run sequence.
A far cry from the more free-form exploration found in other Atelier titles, these expedition sequences can feel somewhat lacking in depth. Gathering is triggered randomly, with encounters rising based on tiered unlocks that can be synthesized in-town, but on the whole, gathering in expeditions is simply a way to nab bonus materials. Enemy encounters are also a mixed bag- featuring a Grandia-like turn-based gauge, characters wait to attack in a specific order, with certain characters being able to lap allies and enemies alike based on their speed grade. I say “grade” because characters don’t really have specific numbered stats outside of HP and attack, instead possessing a letter grade for certain areas. Characters have their own specific strengths, with Nelke, her maid Misty, and a select few others acting as more interactive and traditional combat-oriented characters.
Each of these traditional characters has their own specific weaponry and skills they can use, with a skill point system for casting special abilities that remains constant across battles throughout the expedition. Alchemists take on a mage role, however, attacking with more potent attacks every turn and possessing a strong magic-based skill point ability that is often for longer engagements. Shared across characters is the burst gauge, a meter that fills with each successful hit and is tied to specific character skills. When filled, the player may activate burst, greatly boosting party turn speed and attack power for a brief period of time.
That’s more or less the entirety of the combat system. There are some elemental affinities for skills and enemies, and certain alchemists have abilities that heal or deal damage to multiple enemies. Characters can also utilize certain items synthesized during the planning stage, but this is the extent of the depth of combat. That it is one of the more minor sections of this review says a fair bit about its level of importance.
Narrative and Aesthetics
Once again, as a newcomer to the Atelier series, a narrative largely based around characters from multiple titles interacting with one another means that there’s a fair bit of nods and references that will be lost. While I don’t feel it’s necessary for me to understand the nuances of every alchemist in order to appreciate this title, the game does a fairly good job at introducing and expanding upon each of these quirky individuals. Likewise, I might not pick up on the various references to characters and moments from specific games, but the game certainly makes its cheeky references overt, emphasizing the moments where common ground is found and reveling in the comedic scenarios it creates.
As an Atelier game, the dialogue and characterization is mostly very tame, with much of its dialogue revolving around faithfulness, friendship, and working together. Outside of these alchemic interactions, Nelke’s own narrative has a bit of time to develop, and for the most part, she’s a strong-willed, if not somewhat bland protagonist. To be fair, however, she needs to serve as a mediator to an entire series of alchemists, as well as their respective bit-characters. The explanation for this massive crossover has a great deal to do with Nelke’s own main quest, which revolves around the Sage Relics and the Granzweit Tree, and all the mysterious powers that these objects hold.
This main narrative thrust is also the cause for all of the other alchemists and their casts joining Nelke’s mission, so it serves as a silly MacGuffin and a serviceable excuse for an anniversary game. Nelke’s own cast of side-characters get their share of development, and the protagonist even ends up in an unexpected romance throughout the game. It’s wholesome, it’s comfortable, and it’s all relatively low-stakes, meaning there’s little else here to stress one out aside from the town simulation elements.
And speaking of the genre, an important element of simulation titles is that buildings and elements much look distinct, and for the most part, The Legendary Alchemists delivers with a series of unique structures. The game is still surprisingly large, however, which may be due to a swath of detailed character models or art featured throughout, but it doesn’t feel very justified when the enemy designs are simplistic and the areas for development are extremely limited. Event cutscenes don’t even feature very complex animations or effects, yet the game still manages to have middling performance in both handheld and and docked mode- the latter of which running worse, if you can believe it. While The Legendary Alchemists doesn’t wow from a visual or narrative standpoint, the resulting aesthetics are very much in-line with a cozy and agreeable Role-playing experience.
Impressions and Conclusion
It is important for any Atelier fan to understand that The Legendary Alchemists is not a classic Atelier game from a design standpoint, though this also serves as a saving grace for series newcomers. While a great deal of the game adheres to the series’ standards of Alchemy, the central storyline involving Nelke and her particular cast is easy enough to follow from both complexity and objective standpoints. Ultimately, the main narrative of The Legendary Alchemists is a series of tasks that must be completed within time limits, so keeping a keen eye on your resources and objectives is the easiest way to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Even so, as a simulation title, the game frontloads a fair amount of its tutorials to its opening chapters, and if you should miss a detail here or there, it may lead to an untimely end early in the campaign.
This is particularly harmful to the enjoyment of the game, as a fail state in the earlier moments will lead to a save-file reset. It is crucial that the player keeps multiple save files on deck if they want to avoid losing all of their progress, though the game attempts to make a fail state campaign as manageable as possible. If the player should restart their game due to improper saving or an inability to progress, a multiplier is applied across the board to money and experience accrual, which is nice, but still a bit too slight to heal the loss of thirty-to-forty turns of town-building. Obviously, I’m speaking from experience, which is a bitter pill to swallow. Being unfamiliar with the series, it’s a lesson I had to learn, so that you don’t have to. Save your game, y’all.
When push comes to shove, however, The Legendary Alchemists is more than competent at being a town-building title, and the alchemy angle of the game makes item production and economy very straightforward. Even so, some of the objectives that the game offers to the player can be a bit obscured by all of its mechanics. The Legendary Alchemists demands a slow and deliberate pace, and if any detail of its exhaustive tutorials is overlooked, you might find yourself paying for it down the line.
Again, save your game.
If you’re not much of a fan of the Atelier series and feel that you’d be missing out on some of the context behind certain character interactions, that’s understandable, but the game is far from inaccessible or exclusive. In fact, it is relatively welcoming to newcomers, as it spells out the specific traits and quirks of each title alchemist before throwing them into absurd scenarios. The dialogue is mostly used as a way to diffuse tension after intense concentration and resource management found in the planning phase, as well, so players can either look forward to it as a reward for dedicated play, or skip it entirely. Still, if you choose to overlook the very charming and low-stakes world of the Atelier series in favor of the town simulation elements, perhaps there is a better simulation game out there for you on the Nintendo Switch. For fans of the series, it may not be what you’re expecting, but it still provides a bit of the Atelier atmosphere you know any love. I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists for what it is, but that does require a fair bit of tempered expectations and caveats along the way.