The second installment in GUST’s “Mysterious” Atelier series, Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey returns gamers to the world of cute girls living slightly magical but otherwise ordinary lives. Much like the Tardis-esque, portable Atelier that makes its debut in this game, Mysterious Journey is a small and simple slice of life RPG on the surface that actually has a lot more going on once you’re inside. That’s not to say that the game isn’t straightforward in its gameplay and quaint in its story, because it is, but that just adds to its slow and steady charm.
Firis Mistlud is the protagonist of Mysterious Journey. Adventurous and naive, she longs to leave her isolated little mining town of Ertona to experience the outside world. After finding she has an affinity for alchemy, the trade becomes her ticket out of dodge. To make her dreams of traveling abroad a reality she must pass the annual alchemist’s licensing exam. And so, the story and core game mechanics are neatly woven together, establishing the timed mechanic of reaching your goal by a deadline, while leaving players free to explore the world as they wish along the way.
Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey gets off to a slow start as the game establishes its premise and acquaints players with the basics. It’s a bit ironic really how it ambles along at a leisurely pace even though the entire game puts players under a time crunch to achieve their goals. Players may initially feel stressed to get to their final destination by the deadline, but the game gives you plenty of time to get where you’re going with time to spare. In truth you could rush through the entire game, leaving plenty of time left on the clock (and missing most of the content) and still be able to finish the game satisfactorily.
However, it’s more fun to take your time and experience as much of the world as you can, because there are a lot of NPCs to meet, different environments to explore and alchemy recipes to learn. A bigger pressure than time is energy, called LP, that is used up with nearly every action you take. Running out of LP will exhaust Firis and send her back to the Atelier, possibly taking you away from the area you needed to be in and wasting more time than necessary.
This slow pacing allows the game to tutorialize players efficiently. As new mechanics are introduced a quick explanation will pop up, and more detailed information is saved for the encyclopedia to peruse at your leisure. The slow introduction of simple concepts helps build the foundation for the more complex mechanics lurking inside alchemy and combat.
Alchemy, as the title of the game may suggest, is the backbone of gameplay. A combination of gathering the right resources and combining them in the most efficient way on a grid makes for successful and skilled alchemy. Alchemy seems simple at first, but there are a lot of factors to take into account once you really get into it, and the whole thing can get a little confusing if you’re not paying attention. The more skilled you become in alchemy the better your items will get allowing you to choose their traits and eventually perform “mass synthesis”.
Mass synthesis is a new feature to the Atelier series that allows players to create large scale items, like bridges and boats, that can help them traverse difficult terrain. The concept is exciting but it’s sadly underutilized in the game. Finding recipes for larger items is much rarer and while it can open up new areas to explore, it is hardly necessary at all to make progress or do well. It seems as though mass synthesis is a mechanic best used on subsequent playthroughs, which makes it feel not fully incorporated into the game proper.
One way to gather resources for alchemy is by fighting monsters. Alchemy can help in combat too by making weapons, healing items or damage dealing items that can be used in battle. For those that prefer alchemy to combat it can seem tempting to just avoid enemies. There seems little consequence to this strategy at first, but a quest will eventually pop up that requires combat, and being under-leveled will cause some massively inconvenient level grinding. Luckily, being able to make high-tier battle items will help if you’d rather spend your time crafting than battling but the opposite is not applicable.
With a team of up to four, combat is a straightforward turn-based format with some typical JRPG mechanics such as a gauge that fills up and allows characters to perform special moves when full. The ability to choose who will guard Firis from enemy attacks allows players to juggle damage between their party. There’s a nice sized cast of NPCs that can be recruited to join your party and switched around in any major town, their primary purpose being to aid Firis in combat. All these little elements combine so that players can create their own strategies and find what works for them.
Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey has a lot of little things going for it that make it an enjoyable experience. One being that the game is fairly customizable (like choosing what costume you want Firis to wear) and gives players a lot of choice in how they achieve the simple goals presented to them. Many quests can be completed in a variety of different ways, such as patronizing merchants versus crafting different items. Another is that the game may not be graphically impressive but manages to be really pretty with what it has. The music is very pleasant to listen to, and smaller factors, like collected items being immediately sent to storage when you return to the Atelier, contribute to the game’s ease of play and enjoyability.
There are some small annoying elements weighing the game down. While the inclusion of weather and a day/night cycle in the game is a nice touch, the weather specifically seems to exist to both make navigating the map difficult and to have players run into wandering monsters they’d rather avoid. When it comes to story progression, there are quite a lot of quests that boil down to “go back to the Atelier to trigger a cutscene and progress the story” which gets very tedious and seems like a waste of time. Other quests involve performing assessments to gauge your skills on the way to becoming a licensed alchemist, but many of these are not really a matter of skill. Instead, they're just a rote exchange of goods, and they don’t do much to prepare you for the final exam.
Speaking of the final exam, the ending sequence of the game is a little frustrating. While the actual story ending is satisfying, whether you pass or fail the exam, the final events leading up to that point are less so. When you reach the destination you’ll be unable to leave the town if you intend to move on with the plot. Any time left on the clock can be spent completing quests around town that supposedly will help prepare you for the big test. Not all resources to complete these quests are available in town, so unless you arrive super prepared, it’s tough to earn some final alchemy levels and recipes before the end.
When the big day finally arrives, players will be tested not only on their prowess with alchemy and in combat but also on their knowledge of the game itself. There’s no indication that remembering trivia like ‘What enemies live in this specific location?’ will ever be needed, so this portion of the examination comes as a bit of a surprise and will likely be the toughest portion of the final test for most. When tested on battle, you won't have the benefit of the party members you've been leveling up this whole time making combat seem a bit tacked on in the end. However, you won't need their help for the test so it's not a big deal. Of course, on top of everything else, the whole thing is timed.
Once the exam is completed, Firis will return to her hometown of Ertona only to set out on another journey to visit her friends. With an alchemy license now under your belt, you can embark on a New Game +, finish those quests you never got around to, explore overlooked areas and try harder difficulty modes. In this regard, players have a good incentive to play through the game multiple times.
Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey is a relaxing and fun gaming experience for those willing to embark on a cute girl’s simple quest to fulfill her dream by collecting resources and engaging in turn-based combat. There are certainly some elements that are frustrating or underutilized but they don’t overshadow the well-implemented ones. A simple game to pick up regardless of your familiarity with the other entries in the series, Mysterious Journey has many facets for players to immerse themselves into. This slow paced, slice of life story is a solid entry into the Atelier franchise that fans are sure to enjoy.
- Nice Art and Music
- Diverse Problem Solving
- Well implemented New Game +
- Tacked on Combat
- Frustrating Ending Sequence