Gust’s Atelier franchise has been around for a while now. With twenty four mainline entries (and many more side entries) in 26 years, it’s easy to see how people could find it hard to jump into. However, Gust and Koei Tecmo’s ground-up remake of the series’ first entry, Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg, is billing itself as a perfect jumping-on point. It’s a cosy, slice-of-life RPG that has a ton of charm but isn’t without its drawbacks.
The Atelier Marie remake, much like other games in the series, tells a laid-back story compared to other RPGs. You’re not out to save the world by travelling the world; you’ve just got to graduate.
The protagonist, Marie, is a struggling student. She’s bottom of her class; the game’s opening has her teacher tell Marie she’s the worst student in the history of the Royal Academy of Magic. So, to graduate, Marie is given five years to improve her alchemy and create something that will impress her instructor.
Once you get control, you’re free to do whatever you like in your pursuit of graduating. You get the occasional tutorial early on, but the freedom to progress how I wanted was genuinely refreshing.
Spend Your Time Wisely
The 5-year time limit is at the core of Atelier Marie’s gameplay. Every action you do costs time. Want to gather a resource? That’s a full day gone. Travelling to a location can cost anywhere from 3 to 9 days, based on how far from town it is. It’s your core resource and gives Atelier Marie this insanely brisk pace that genuinely surprised me. I managed to get one of the game’s seven endings within 5-6 hours.
There’s a lot of replay value in Atelier Marie. Various event scenes will play out with the members of Atelier Marie’s surprisingly big cast, so long as you meet the requirements to see them. You’re even given a list of all the events with hints on how to get the ones you are missing.
To help you meet your goal of graduating, your teacher, Ingrid will send you tasks to complete within a set time frame. They’re never particularly challenging, and I often met the requirements as soon as I received them, but they’re a helpful way to track your progress towards graduating.
To graduate, you need to synthesise new items in your atelier whenever you can. Synthesising is simple; have the required materials and throw them in your cauldron. There’s a chance of failure when you’re getting started, and you can’t craft as much as you want as it costs MP and tires Marie out, but mechanically that’s all there is to it.
To synthesise more complicated items, you’ll need to visit the Academy to purchase reference books and equipment (expensive in the early game, an all too real parallel to real-life university) and, more importantly, gather materials from the game’s handful of areas. But Marie isn’t a fighter, and going alone will quickly prove problematic when you run into monsters and bandits. Instead, you can head to the local tavern and recruit a couple of adventurers to protect you out in the wilds.
Simple Isn’t Always Better
This is where we get into combat, which I found to be the weakest element of Atelier Marie overall. It’s incredibly barebones. It’s turn-based, with speed being the main factor determining turn order. You can attack, defend, use an item or use a special move. Each adventurer has their own special, and eventually, you can find weapons for Marie that will give her some, too. That’s all there is to it. There’s a small variety of enemies and a few boss encounters, but they never offered any real challenge.
Thankfully Atelier Marie’s devs probably realised combat wasn’t the game’s strong point, so they’ve added a decent auto-battle, 3 different battle speed options and 3 difficulty options (with a 4th unlocked upon completion). I’ll be honest, a little over halfway through my playthrough, I did knock the difficulty down to easy just so I could effectively ignore combat and focus on the aspects of the game I found more fun.
From Hired Help to Best Friends
By spending time adventuring with a character, you’ll increase your friendship with them, letting you view that character’s specific event scenes. You’ll also need to fulfil other requirements, like synthesising a specific item they ask for or even having them present at a particular boss fight. I latched onto a couple characters pretty early, but they’re all very charming; there’s someone for everyone here. By the end of my first playthrough, I had gotten slightly less than 50% of the total event scenes, and there were even a couple of characters I just never met because of how I chose to play.
Atelier Marie’s calendar follows our own; 12 months, 4 seasons. Each month is 30 days long, and depending on the current season, certain items may not be available, leading you to have a little element of pre-planning. This also applies to Atelier Marie’s side quests. They’re simple enough, create (x) amount of (x) item in (x) amount of days. Fulfilling these requests is the quickest way to get money, although you can sell specific items at the Academy (the list changes every few days) and at the Weapon shop.
Completing side quests also nets you respect, which gets you access to the highest-tier reference books from the Academy’s library in the late game. There are penalties for missing a side quest’s deadlines. You’ll get a reduced reward if you’re a day or two late, but really gone over the limit, you’ll lose yourself some respect. They’re relatively minor penalties, to be honest, and by the end of the game, I was drowning in money. You can use your excess funds to hire fairies: colour-coded little helpers you can assign to gather materials or synthesise recipes for you. The colour denotes how fast the fairy works, from 7 times slower to 2 times slower than Marie would do herself. I didn’t find them necessary for my playthrough, but for people that like to optimise their workload, they’ll definitely help.
Take It Easy
It’s worth mentioning that Gust added a new mode for Atelier Marie Remake: Infinite Mode. When you start a new game, you can either play it in the intended way with the 5-year time limit or select Infinite Mode and do away with the time limit altogether. The game warns you that some events are unavailable and you can’t switch between modes mid-playthrough, but for people wanting a more open-ended and relaxed experience, it’s a great option to have. Atelier Marie’s core gameplay loop is a satisfying one, even with its barebones combat, and having the unlimited time to create every recipe or level up all of the adventurers is a nice bonus of this alternate game mode.
There are also 6 mini-games that you can encounter throughout Atelier Marie. They’re all quite simplistic, and I only found 5 of the 6 in my playthrough, but they’re a nice little extra bit of gameplay that breaks up the bulk of Atelier Marie’s core gameplay.
Atelier Marie’s presentation is immediately very charming. Character models are all cutesy chibi designs, but each character also has gorgeous character portraits during conversations. The overall aesthetic of Atelier Marie really reminded me of the Links Awakening remake. It has the same narrow depth of field and bright lighting that makes each area look like a little playset or diorama. It did get a bit too bright in the winter months when the light bouncing off the snow was so bright it blew out other objects in the environment, but that was the only issue I noticed, and it could just be down to my TV settings.
I think the biggest issue that the Atelier Marie Remake has is, honestly, its price. It’s £39.99/$49.99 for the base version of the game, with a deluxe edition bumping it up further. For many people, I can see that being a bit of a hard sell when you can beat it so fast. As previously mentioned, I completed it in 5-6 hours, and while it does have replay value and the Infinite mode, for most players that only beat a game once, it is a pretty hefty upfront cost.
Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg is a cosy slice-of-life RPG with a satisfying central gameplay loop. It’s full of charm, with a brisk pace that keeps you moving towards earning your graduation. Its short length, basic combat, and high asking price are worth noting. It’s always fun but never greater than the sum of its parts.
Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg is available now on PS4, PS5 (review platform) Nintendo Switch, and PC.
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher.