In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Atelier franchise, Gust and Koei Tecmo have created a new game in the series which looks very similar yet plays completely different. Instead of sticking to the standard format, we’re invited to a celebration which includes pretty much every single character you can think of from all of the previous games. Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists ~Ateliers of the New World~ is the most ambitious crossover event in history!
Due to the omission of certain gameplay mechanics, and the game being more focused on city building like we saw in Atelier Meruru ~The Apprentice of Arland~, some avid fans of the franchise may not enjoy this title as much as previous games. Personally, Atelier Meruru was one of my favourite Atelier games to date for this particular aspect due to my love of creating towns and watching them thrive. So, imagine how excited I was when I found out that there was going to be game which takes that idea and expands on it in more depth!
Nelke is our protagonist this time around, she’s a young hard-working lady who has been appointed with the duty of restoring Westbald back to its former glory as its new governor. Not keen on utilising alchemy in order to ‘fix’ things, she struggles at first to gain a bit of momentum as she creates a few crop fields and shops to sell the products. However, no matter how hard she tries, she struggles to make much of a difference. Then, as if by magic (or sheer coincidence), legendary alchemists, and their colleagues, from all corners of the world (and time) begin to stroll into town.
After a bit of hesitation and discussions with her trusty maid, Misty, Nelke accepts the offer of help from these mysterious strangers as they settle into the town in order to help create new and interesting items. Using the magical abilities of the alchemists, the selling expertise of the infamous shopkeepers, and the labour-loving warriors, Nelke is on the path to turning one small run-down town into a booming city as she acquires other plots of land and expands more and more.
This isn’t Nelke’s only reason for coming into town though, she’s also searching for the ‘Sage Relic’. So, not only do you have to juggle your social and business life within a strict time limit, but you also need to continue your investigation into the whereabouts of this item at the same time! For a game which is very relaxing and calm, it can also get quite stressful and intense!
Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists is almost a totally new genre to the standard Atelier games. There are similarities but there are also some big omissions to the gameplay and mechanics, as well as some things I wish were within the game but aren’t. Let’s take a look at what the game is first of all – it’s essentially a city building resource management simulation game with a hint of RPG combat elements within the resource gathering expeditions. The game is very heavy on time management, having to decide if you’re going to focus on expanding your relationships or obtaining resources before you jump into the city building mode which also has its own limitations. Let’s talk about the time management first
In a similar move to the Arland series, there are few timers which restrict your progression within the various stages of the game. First of all, you’re given the main task which you need to complete in order to not fail within your role. This usually gives you about 7-14 weeks (1 week = 1 stage) to complete it (based on its complexity) and it can be anything from increasing the number of people living in your town, to earn X amount of money overall. So, that’s the main timer which you need to be aware of. You also get a few side missions which have their own timers, these don’t have to be completed but they offer a big bonus if you finish them in time. Similarly, you can obtain quests off random NPCs which also have a set timer on them.
The second timer appears during the ‘Holiday’ phrase (which is essentially the weekend). This stage presents you with a clock and certain choices will cause the clock to progress. You can talk to any of the NPCs who have something to say (there are hundreds of mini-VN segments) in order to increase your bond with them, increase their XP, or obtain a quest. That’s three separate conversations, they don’t seem to know how to just ask you for something when you’re having a random chat. Finally, at this point you can opt to go exploring instead, this will drain whatever time you have left down to nothing in exchange for combat, exploration and gathering.
Gathering and combat
Okay, this is my first complaint about Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists, the combat is very basic and unappealing – it’s also far too easy. In previous games, you would pick an area and you would get a 3D rendered open world which you can walk around in as you beat up the random enemies and gathered what you needed based on the time of day and location. That’s all gone. In its place is a very simple endless walking simulation where you see the group you’ve assigned walk from left to right as they randomly stop to pick up items or get into a fight.
Once you enter combat with an enemy within this mode, the game brings up the standard turn-based combat which we’d expect, only you’re now on the left instead of the right. However, it feels really flat and dull compared to previous games. Big bosses are merely about six feet tall rather than giant beasts, you can literally put it on ‘auto’ and the CPU will speed up combat and you’ll win every single time (on normal), and special moves are performed by having to attack normally a few times until you earn enough ‘points’ to use them.
Also, you have to complete a route before you can pay for the next one and unlock it. You can choose to walk or run on the route, running makes you only encounter enemies as you won’t stop for resources, but you will get to the end quicker. This is here in case you’ve spent half your time talking to an NPC beforehand, during the Holiday segment, yet you want to reach the end without wasting another week.
It’s a shame, I know the standard method would have made the game much bigger or distracted you from the core aspect of the game (the city building), but it felt like the game lost a little bit of the magic by simplifying the combat mechanics and making it too easy to just fudge your way through with auto-mode turned on.
This is the core gameplay aspect of Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists. As long as you have the cash for it, you can build up to two buildings per ‘Weekday’ (the second stage of the week) as well as make any changes you want to the production or distribution of goods. For example, you can assign new NPCs who have come into the town to the various buildings, pick what you want them to work on within their ateliers or gathering fields, assign other NPCs to gather items on trails you’ve already completed in the Holiday phase, or buy new land. This stage has no time limits or restrictions, other than the limit on how many new buildings you can buy.
Once you’re done with the planning, simply end the week in order to get a breakdown of how much money you made, how many people came to stay, and if you have any bottlenecks in your productions (i.e. if you’re trying to synthesise something but there are no raw materials left). You see, unlike previous Atelier games, you’re not directly synthesising things yourself, you’re telling the ateliers that you want them to make X amount of an item each week and it’s up to you to ensure something else is providing the materials in order for them to have enough for their usage. It really is as if you’re Nelke, sat in her office just issuing out commands to the townsfolk instead of getting her hands dirty.
When you’ve been playing for about fifteen hours, the game will begin to throw you curveballs. It will start some timed disasters which, if not dealt with, will render entire segments of your city unusable. Now, I’m not sure if it destroys them or if they are only out of action for a set time, as I did everything I could to ensure I never failed any of these events even though they are quite stressful and intense!
At any time within the Weekday or Holiday segments, you can also look at the research tree and refer back to any tasks you’ve accepted or been given – this allows you to ‘mark’ certain raw materials or synthesis’ so that you can easily distinguish them during the planning phase. If you’ve played a lot of resource management and base building games, like me, then you’ll love the accessibility options and small Quality of Life aspects which makes Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists an absolute joy to play.
Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists is a very pretty game and I love how all of the previous protagonists and NPCs have been faithfully recreated as 3D renders and updated 2D avatars. Just like Persona Dancing all Night though, seeing them looking this good really makes me wish they would remaster a few of the other series’ like they did with the Arland series. Even though the game doesn’t play like other Atelier games, it has the same look about it, a look which is infamous with Gust and stands out a mile in the JRPG market. I can’t really falter the visuals other than the lack of being able to walk around your city as the protagonist.
One sad thing about the visuals – I can’t seem to see any costume changes. I’m not sure if it’ll unlock upon completing the game, but if not then this is the first Atelier game I’ve played where you can’t change the costume of the characters.
Audio-wise, we’ve got another game which is all Japanese in terms of vocals, with English subtitles. As I always say, not an issue for me but I know some people out there don’t like that – although why you would expect any different with Atelier is anyone’s guess! The music is delightful and very upbeat, and the vocal talent is just as good as the mainline games.
On a side note, there are a few extras for you to look at, such as a brief history of each of the previous games (along with which characters have come from that game, so you know), a jukebox, a bunch of images to unlock, and a full catalogue of all the characters along with their 2D avatars and changeable facial expressions.
Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists is unlike any of the previous Atelier games we’ve played, in term of its mechanics, with Atelier Meruru being the closest comparison I can think of. Sure, it simplifies the combat so much that you can hit R1 and let the PS4 literally play the game for you, but the city building offers no such help. What starts off as a simple game quickly evolves into an intricate and deep puzzle game where you end up having to micromanage a lot of aspects in order to retain efficiency and control.
I miss the face to face interactions with the various characters, as well as the random banter you usually get throughout the game. Sure, you get about ten mini-VN segments with each of the characters and they pop up from time to time when you research a new item or unlock a new part of the story, but due to the number of NPCs in the game, they rarely hang around for longer than a few minutes. I would have loved it if you could go into the town you created and walk around, shout at the barrels, and talk to the various characters as they sit behind their counters or work in the fields, but you can’t. It’s almost as if you’re sat in an office and you’re looking down at a model of the city, rather than the city itself – it’s all very lifeless and quiet as opposed to the bright, lively and populated towns we usually get.
I’ve just come off playing the game for 21 hours straight and I’ve still not made it through the main story, I dont’ even know if I’m 3/4 of the way through it yet! The game gets very, very tricky and tight on its schedule and requirements. I’m at a point where I have to earn three million gold in two weeks – My average so far has been about 30-40k a day. I’m not cut out for that amount so I’m not sure what’s going to happen when I inevitably fail! Although I know one thing which will happen, I’ll either reload a previous save or start again straight away so I can use my knowledge I have now in order to try better next time!
Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists ~Ateliers of the New World~ is the perfect 20th anniversary special for the Atelier franchise. Despite the game simplifying the combat and almost eliminating the exploration segments, the strategic and puzzle-like city building mechanics more than satisfied my enjoyment of this new take on the series. If you didn’t particularly like the city building aspect of Atelier Meruru ~The Apprentice of Arland~, you most likely won’t enjoy this game either as it’s more of the same only more advanced, deeper, and the focus is now set on the building aspect first.
If you love the franchise for its standard JRPG format, I would still advise you to give Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists ~Ateliers of the New World~ a shot, it’s one of the most addictive resource management games I’ve played this year. The added bonus is that it stars all of the characters we’ve come to love over the years from this amazing franchise!
Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists ~Ateliers of the New World~
- - Starts off simple but soon becomes a very deep and challenging city builder
- - Great visuals and audio as usual
- - Very addictive
- - Free mini-Season Pass at launch
- - Everyone is here! All NPCs and protagonists from the previous games are here to lend a hand!
- - The time schedule and requirements do get pretty strict
- - The combat has been simplified to the point where you question if it should even have been included
- - No walking around your town or visiting the shops outside of menus