Release Date: 3rd March 2016

SUMMARY
Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey is a Japanese-Role Playing Game (JRPG) developed by Gust and published by Koei Tecmo and boasts a deep and rewarding alchemy-based crafting system that requires thought and thorough planning. It pits the player against the clock, racing against time to complete several tasks throughout this highly absorbing story.

“I want to travel around the world! Just like the wind!” – Firis Mistlud

The latest title in the Atelier series, which is known for its alchemic-crafting mechanics, begins shortly after the previous game, Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book. The main characters of the previous game can be said to be the catalyst for the Mysterious Journey which you will embark on.

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You are Firis Mistlud, travelling to take an examination to qualify as a licensed alchemist within a year. Along the way, your alchemy skills improve as you synthesise solutions to various problems that you will face… Actually, these problems are those of other people which you voluntarily take into your own hands, just like most JRPGs out there. While the basic concepts such as levelling up, questing, exploring and gathering are not unlike your typical JRPGs, the crafting system is deep and satisfying.

Synthesising (or the act of performing alchemy) is truly something that this game wants you to learn and master, providing only hints and leaving you room to explore and figure things out. As such, it cannot be easily described in a single line. Instead, imagine playing Tetris, but with a static board and a much wider range of pieces for you to choose from, each with its unique traits that can be conferred to the final product depending on various conditions. Some of these conditions are your alchemy proficiencies and the use of catalysts in the synthesis. Not to mention that you have to take into account the colour-types of the materials, the order in which you put them in, what traits you would like it to possess…. Creating a good item is more than just finding and putting together desirable components, a good amount of thought has to be put into the process as well. You probably should try it for yourself if you really want a good feel of the mechanics behind this deep and elaborate system.

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The game doesn’t stop when Firis becomes a licensed alchemist, in fact, has truly just begun. As mentioned before, you have a time limit of a year (in game time) to pass the examination. [And yes, you can actually fail it.] After doing so, you are free to explore the rest of the world as you please, complete every request from people in need and pick up every valuable material that you see!

You are able to select the display language separately from the audio language (English/Japanese)! This is definitely a plus for those who would rather listen to the Japanese voices while not being able to read Japanese. The English translations are also mostly accurate, with some slightly awkwardly named attacks. However, the volume consistencies of the game can be a tad bit strange. While I understand that there are times when characters mumble or think aloud, these portions become so soft that they are barely audible (at least there are subtitles). At other times, the music becomes deafeningly loud (RIP headphone users). On that note, the OST of the game is actually pretty pleasant to the ears.

The game also allows you to revisit the most chat logs anytime, so there’s no need to fret if you have missed out any tiny details. Then again, there is a quest log for a quick summary of the things to do, which we recommend that you check regularly and follow closely for the main story quests. It is also crucial that you be selective about what you do in game. Have we already mentioned that you have a one year time limit? Every action you take, from running around and gathering materials to synthesising bombs and blowing up monsters takes up time. So doing every single side quest that you come across (before passing the exam) may not be the best idea. Thankfully, time does not progress if you leave your character standing idle. As such, you can think of “Time” as a resource that you spend to perform actions, rather than the continuous one that we are familiar with (and waits for no man).

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The in-game character animations are rather well designed, but are not plenty and can get repetitive quickly. Furthermore, when you nudge the thumb-stick slightly to have Firis walk instead of run, she looks as if she’s gliding around. You are also not able to skip cut-scenes at all. Which may annoy some if they are going for their second play-through or more. What is more disappointing is that the PC port does not feature any mouse controls; everything is done through the keyboard. At the very least, you can rebind the keys to something you can work with. That being said, a game controller is very much recommended. It performs fairly well, loading times are quick and only minor drops in frames or slight freezes were experienced in the larger maps and cities.

Given that time is such an important resource to manage in this game, there is also a nice touch of logical sense to it. Some NPCs go home and shops close when it’s approaching midnight, making them unavailable to the player until the next sunrise (but the non-essential NPCs are still around?). While waiting for the sun the rise, you can either have Firis get some shut-eye or synthesise more items.

For those already looking to get this game, here’s a little tip for the examination. It pays off to have a keen eye for detail, and do take it seriously.

VERDICT
Atelier Firis boasts an outstanding crafting system if you are willing to spend time to understand it well. It is surely a game that would appeal to those who like a touch of puzzle solving to break the mundane cycle of quest and level grinding that most JRPGs fall into. Having to manage time in Atelier Firis also brings about a unique experience that is usually not present in many other RPGs giving you the absolute freedom to satiate your exploration or synthesising cravings to the fullest.

RATING: 8 out of 10

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