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Preview - Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg

by Jean-Karlo Lemus,

While the Atelier series has seen a recent rise to fame, courtesy of the Atelier Ryza trilogy games, the franchise has always enjoyed low-key popularity among RPG enthusiasts. Its origins can be traced back to 1997's original Atelier Marie: The Alchemist of Salburg. While the 1997 original was never released in the United States, Gust is currently working on a remake of the beloved RPG. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to try out an advance copy.

What we were expecting when we sat down was something along the lines of the Atelier Ryza or Atelier Sophie games: an RPG with a local town hub where you explore nearby areas to fight monsters and collect reagents. However, what we got instead feels much more like an old Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons game by way of the Princess Maker games. Marlone (“Marie” to her friends) is in danger of flunking out of alchemy school, so her tutor gives her an atelier and five years to synthesize an item of astounding quality, or else Marie will be expelled. These "five years" is actual in-game time. “Okay, no big deal,” we thought, “that's plenty for us to do stuff.”

So, here's where the penny drops: Atelier Marie emphasizes the simulation aspects from Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons: almost anything you do takes up a whole day. We realized that just collecting reagents from the Nearby Forest (that's its name) could take us the better part of a week. Making multiples of any item would tack on a corresponding amount of time to the synthesizing process (“synthesization”?). And that was just a jog down the street—several areas we could explore took several days to travel to and back. So right away, we knew that many of the things we took for granted in newer Atelier games weren't going to cut it: this is a low-key adventure, but Marie still has an assignment to finish, and “only” five years to do it.

What we also didn't expect was how combat was de-emphasized in this game. Much like gathering items, fighting monsters in dungeons takes up a whole day. While it can get you some rare reagents like Puni Balls from the series' iconic Punis, it's not the most effective use of your time. But more importantly, combat was quite pared down. We expected a cadre of very loveable and personable folks in town that would join us for our adventures. We got that, to be sure: from Mu, the adventurer from the South, to Enderk, the seasoned knight, and Schea, the sickly childhood friend. But these people would request money to join us in combat. And, curiously, each only has one ability in fights. So it's less like the newer Atelier games and more like Radiata Stories: each character has their own in-depth story to pursue at their leisure, with one singular ability to use in combat. In a way, this too felt like an old simulation game, like Riviera: The Promised Land; this is less an RPG and more like a simulation game or a visual novel with a combat system you occasionally dip your toes into.

So with all these limitations set out for us, we ventured into the Nearby Forest. Aware that doing anything would take days off our schedule, we focused on getting only the ingredients we needed before hurrying back to the Atelier to synthesize some explosive Crafts. It was here, we learned that the process of synthesizing is also a bit more in-depth than in newer titles, particularly because of the Fatigue system. While there is plenty of art of the Atelier protagonists sleeping in bed, Atelier Marie makes this a full-on mechanic—Marie accrues fatigue while she is synthesizing items. Working too hard for too long will begin to interfere with your work, increasing the odds of an experiment blowing up in your face (and losing those ingredients you worked so hard to gather). It's important to balance Marie's work with letting her rest. There are also lab tools you need to acquire, like filters or centrifuges, to make certain recipes easier for Marie.

Earning new recipes is also handled by actually learning them. There were many times when we had to go to Marie's academy and spend our hard-earned cash, made from satisfying requests at the local bar, to buy reference books. Exploring the town was also helpful as the locals have much information. It was conversing with the locals we learned about a gang of bandits in a cave to the southeast. Exploring this cave did lead us to encounter this gang, and we had to fight them. Defeating this gang led their leader to visit us at our Atelier one week later in an attempt to turn over a new leaf.

As we explored the town to gather gossip from the locals, we also learned that there's a very fun “calendar” system in this game. Much like the Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons games, there are in-game events that occur on certain calendar days, such as local festivals or the local King's birthday. It's entirely possible, for example, to spend a whole month traveling to a distant mountain to collect reagents, then spend a whole week trying to make distilled water and miss out on several of these holidays because you were keeping your nose to the grindstone. It's worthwhile to try and balance Marie's work and personal life, as the Atelier series' signature character moments come from many of these holidays, wherein our party members' personal lives and backstories are fleshed out in visual novel-esque cutscenes. Through these events, we learned about the tragic survivor's guilt afflicting one of our party members, and the laid-back easygoing nature of another.

While these may seem like tense limitations, I'm selling it short: this game is more about learning to take things at your own pace and not trying to do everything at once. You have limited time (five years is a "short" period), but aiming for pure productivity denies you actual storytelling and does nothing but fatigue Marie. Like the newer Atelier games, the key is to enjoy your locales: speak to your neighbors, listen to their requests, and stop to smell the roses. Maybe then, you can truly become a great alchemist.

And so, we spent our preliminary year in Salburg. While the mechanics were much more defined and different from what we expected from its descendants, Atelier Marie is shaping up to be a cozy, laid-back adventure starring a misfit alchemist and her best friends: that's what we come to the Atelier series for. We're excited for more, and anyone looking forward to trying it out can expect its release on July 12th for the PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, and Steam.

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