Developer: Koei Tecmo
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Platform: PS4, PC(Steam), Switch, Vita(Japan Only)
Price: $59,99 USD
Release Date: March 26th, 2019
The Atelier series is perhaps one of the most famous, traditional and popular JRPG series of all time. With the first game coming out in 1997 the series’ main games have already been on the Playstation 1/2/3/4/Vita, Sega Saturn/Dreamcast, Nintendo Switch and Windows platforms. Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists is a celebratory 20th anniversary game, crossing over characters from several different Atelier series worlds and trilogies into a single universe.
Although the series has obviously developed greatly in the last two decades the basic structure of these games is mostly the same: you craft items with Alchemy to fulfill quests and requests, sell them for money and learn new recipes. Furthermore, the series does not have one but many different universes, each with their own rules and story. Each universe has two or three games belonging to it.
Nelke’s game has characters crossing over from the following Atelier worlds:
- Salburg(Marie, Elie, Lilie);
- Gramnad(Judie, Viorate);
- Iris(Eternal Mana, Azoth of Destiny, Grand Phantasm);
- Mana Khemia(Student Alliance, Fall of Alchemy,);
- Arland(Rorona, Totori, Meruru);
- Dusk(Ayesha, Escha&Logy, Shallie);
- Mysterious(Sophie, Firis, Lydie&Suelle);
The plot begins with our eponymous protagonist arriving in Westwald, a frontier village that she is tasked to oversee and develop. Nelke is an aristocrat and her father is the Lord of the land, giving her the authority to develop the city any way she wants. Secretly, she wants to investigate the legend surrounding a legendary tree left behind by an ancient sage. Amidst these events, talented alchemists from different worlds begin to arrive in Westwald. Having nowhere to go, they settle into the town and help improve its economy while researching a way to return home.
Being in a land much different from their own and having the opportunity to talk with alchemists from worlds other than theirs is a welcome blessing for these naturally curious characters. Their experiences, personal quirks and goals lead to countless interesting conversation topics.
Nelke is, first and foremost, a character driven game. The plot revolving around the tree is secondary to the alchemists and their interactions with one another and Nelke herself. It explores the personalities of these characters by placing them in situations different from their own series’ circumstances, creating situations normally not possible in their own games.
Although most of these characters were unfamiliar to me prior to playing this game, I have come to like most of the cast. From Viorate’s obsession with carrots, Marie’s quest to bypass home cleaning and Sophie’s weird habit of talking and listening to materials, there was more flavor text and character interaction to be seen than I could tap into despite having played the game to completion. I am talking about a 50+ hour playthrough and I only got see the a handful of the event CGs in the game.
Although Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists is a town building game, most of the gameplay consists of doing production planning. You must building Ateliers and staff them with alchemists, build stores, and send workers into the fields to collect items. You must choose how to best employ your limited pool of characters for labor and micro-manage your storage, production and sales by determining what to gather, what to produce, what to manufacture and what to sell.
Right from the gates you can immediately tell that Nelke does not play out as a regular Atelier game. These games have always had a commercial element to them but this one is closer to being a production line simulator than a JRPG. I was able to put into practice a bit of what I learned on my production engineering classes to help manage my city and soon enough I was planning my production two or three turns in advance.
The game flow is made up from Weekday and Weekend segments. During Weekdays you may order construction and do all the business micromanagement while the Weekend is reserved for visiting your alchemist friends, exploring fields and doing research.
Events are usually locked behind affection requirements regarding particular alchemists. By visiting them, fulfilling requests and assigning them to work regularly, their trust will improve and you will be able to progress the story through research. During Weekends you may also go to unexplored areas to gather items and fight monsters. You may only gather items from an area that you have personally gathered from, meaning that exploring is absolutely key to progressing the game.
Combat is not the main focus of the game and thus the it is very simple. Nelke and up to four more characters are assigned to battle, Alchemists always being support characters while Nelke’s original cast functions as melee frontline units. You walk or run linearly through the areas until enemies are encountered, initiating combat. Characters attack in turn defined by their SPEED stat, building up a special gauge that can be used for fancier skills.
Looking at gameplay videos I was absolutely turned off from the combat. This is phone-game -tier level of simplified and, although Atelier games are not shining examples of engaging combat, this seemed like a major stepback. However, I was surprised to find out that it was actually quite fun to actually play. Towards the end of the game you begin to encounter much tougher enemies that require strategy to defeat. In particular, Alchemists may use their special skills at anytime, which is great for dishing out lots of damage when enemies are vulnerable or to brace for major enemy attacks.
As is usual from building games, the soundtrack also develops along with your city, picking up pace and giving a real sense of growth to your efforts. As each district becomes larger and larger, the music changes to reflect that reality.
While visiting Alchemists, you will hear musical themes related from their original games. Naturally, as there are so many characters, this translates directly into the number of tracks that play during the game.
The illustrator in charge for the Mysterious trilogy is back as designer for Nelke. For characters in recent games there was plenty of material to work and reuse but much of the cast from older series has had to be completely adapted.
Lots of intricate details was put into each model, not just characters but also the buildings. You don’t even get to see those details up-close most of the time but they still put a lot of effort into them, which is something I can greatly appreciate.
The user interface is very simple. It’s functional but not too fancy. 80% of the gameplay involves browsing through lists and menus to manage your atelier and stores so I think a little bit more work could’ve gone towards making it prettier but I’m not complaining. Blue Reflection has shown us that Gust is capable of making absolutely amazing UIs and, although I don’t think it would translate well into this game, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed.
This game has one thing that I absolutely love and wish more games would do the same: It has a load of extra content. Being a festive and celebratory game, they couldn’t go without adding a bunch of goods here.
You can find the usual music box and art CGs in this menu. The first thing that caught my attention was that each song in the list was commented.
They’ve also added synopses for each of the Atelier games. The earlier half of these never left Japan and didn’t even have officially localized names up until Nelke’s translation.
Finally, all of the voice actors(a lot of them!) left their thoughts in a final section. This would have been EXTREMELY COOL if only for the fact that they never bothered translating these. So unless you understand spoken Japanese this isn’t very interesting.
My Japanese is very shallow but these messages mostly consist of congratulating the player on finishing the game and their personal thoughts.
The first few turns are mostly tutorial, giving you a basic gist of the gameplay. From this point forward the game continues to give hints but does not interfere with the gameplay itself. The problem I did have during playing though was that much of the game’s mechanics was not explained. I even tried going directly to the game’s manual but I still couldn’t find some things I wanted to know.
Figuring out certain mechanics required a bit of trial and error, specially when the game introduced the Commission Synthesis mechanic. For example, at first it looks like you’re crafting each of the materials required to craft your final order but it’s not, you are merely replacing stock and need the materials for crafting what you want available already.
Finally, I feet that the game balance could be all over the place sometimes. Early game is hardly a challenge, mid-game was a huge struggle with bottlenecks everywhere and enemies getting much tougher, late game was smooth for building but monsters were KOing my party more often than not and by the time I was on the last few turns I had more money and space than I knew what to do with.
Despite the issues above, the good most definitely stood out from the bad. I found myself sucked up for the whole day, not once thinking that it was a chore to play. I can see this Nelke not being popular among people with short attention span but for anybody that enjoys micromanagement this game is a must play.
There’s quite a bit of RNG involved in certain parts but not too much. You can just lay back and enjoy the ride at your own pace and still get the good ending without much trouble. How much enjoyment you will get also depends on how much you come to like these characters.
I can easily recommend this game for anybody looking for a comfy experience. Goes without saying that any fans of the Atelier series should look into Nelke as well. There’s more than enough content and replayability to be found here. For the first time in a very long while I found myself thinking “You know, this actually feels like $60 dollars worth of content”.
Supposedly this is the first of a new spin-off series called Legendary Alchemists. There’s a very good chance we will see these characters again, perhaps some of them will get remakes too! Certainly would be very welcome, specially for these older titles that were never localized.
More screen captures below: