Previously only available in Japan, the game that started the Atelier series has finally been localised and released in the west. Even better, it’s been remade, giving the whole experience an audiovisual makeover and tweaking the gameplay somewhat to make it more palatable to modern audiences. Needless to say, for series fans, Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg is a very attractive proposition.
First off, though, a warning. If you’ve only played recent Atelier games, such as the Ryza trilogy, you need to keep your expectations in check. As a faithful remake of a game originally released in 1997, Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg is much simpler in just about every way. Whether you’re in combat or synthesising items back at your atelier, there’s much less to consider. It’s not necessarily a bad thing though; while some might find it a little too basic, others will love the more laid-back nature, and it’s a great entry point for those wishing to dip their toes in the series.
The visuals, too, are very different to what modern Atelier fans would likely expect. Environments are explored from a fixed, isometric perspective, and character models are more Chibi-like. Overall it gives the game a cuter, more disarming look than ever before. And the fixed perspective also makes everything feel more old-fashioned. Everything just drives home the fact that this is a remake rather than a brand new entry in the long-running series.
Onto the game itself, Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg follows the exploits of Marlone, known as Marie to her friends. A student at the Academy in Salburg, despite her best efforts she’s unfortunately at the bottom of her class. And so her tutor gives her one last chance to graduate: provided with the keys to an atelier, she has five years to create an item that will impress her and demonstrate her skills.
Five years sounds like a long time, but once you get into the nitty-gritty of Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg you’ll find that it can fly by. With time passing by as you travel to locations, gather ingredients and synthesise items, seasons change in the blink of an eye, putting pressure on you as your deadline looms. And you need to bear other things in mind, too. The world doesn’t stop for you, for example, so you might want to make sure you’re in town on certain dates to take part in celebrations or events, and sometimes you’ll want to simply rest.
Management of your time is very important in Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg, then. It’s unwise to take on quests, for example, unless you’re pretty sure you can complete it in the given time, otherwise you might be penalised. For those who do want a more laid-back affair, however, new to this remake is an unlimited mode that removes the five-year time limit. In unlimited mode, you’re free to end the game whenever you want after five years have passed, giving you more time to make something you’re proud of. The catch is, it comes at the expense of being able to witness some in-game events.
Whichever mode you choose, the gameplay loop remains the same. In town, you pick up quests, manage your companions, and witness a variety of events based on your exploits. It’s also where you synthesise items, important for completing some quests and ultimately proving your skills as an alchemist. You can’t synthesise if you don’t have materials, though, and that’s where leaving town to explore comes into play.
Head to the exit of Salburg, and a map will present to you the locations you can visit, each one taking a number of days to reach. Where you’ll want to travel will largely depend on the materials you require, with each location having its own selection available, including some that are perhaps unique. But giving pause for thought will be the enemies that also freely roam – it may not be good idea to visit a particular area if you and your companions aren’t strong enough to face off against them.
What might disappoint some is that these explorable areas are rather small, often consisting of just a few bite-sized maps. This is not the game you should buy if you’re after a grand adventure. On the flip side, it makes gathering items a fairly stress-free process, and you can even let the game gather items for you if you wish, letting you choose whether to continue gathering or return home after every bunch of materials you collect. This doesn’t stop you from getting into battle, though.
The combat here is decidedly old-school, and we love it. A turn-based affair, characters and enemies act based on their speed, and on each turn you can decide whether to attack, defend, use an item, or employ a special ability. There’s nothing out of the ordinary, then, but it does the job. While battles are infrequent, if you don’t want to engage with them you can even turn on an auto-battle mode, letting you simply observe and step in if needs be.
Perhaps the worst thing about Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg is its use of minigames. These pop up from time-to-time, and while some are fairly fun others are simply irritating. You might need to make your way around a Pac-Man-like maze to retrieve some fish that have been stolen from you, for example, or avoid blob-like Puni that are blown at you as you run into the wind to retrieve apples from a tree. Still, they at least add a little variety to the game.
While Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg feels very basic in some regards, and some elements of it can be repetitive or irritating at times, it’s hard not to be won over by it. This offers a good old-fashioned Atelier experience, where the events that play out are based on your actions. And with that comes plenty of freedom and a multitude of endings to discover. Whether you’re a series fan keen to explore its origins, or newcomer looking for a good entry point, this remake is well worth sinking some time into.