Over time franchises of formerly exclusively Japanese games have become increasingly popular in the West, mostly thanks to Koei Tecmo and Gust Studio who released a greater number of these games. The problem always comes up when a few titles are released over the course of one year because then it comes to saturation of the audience, and something needs to be changed or something new needs to be created to keep the players’ attention.
Atelier games are unique, but these are titles that take over fifty hours to complete, so more than one, maybe two games a year is not the best recipe for success since there's an already small audience of this franchise.
For the 20th anniversary of the Atelier series, Gust and Koei Tecmo have prepared something special, Atelier Nelke and the Legendary Alchemists. This is the so-called spin-off of the main franchise, an attempt to freshen up the series with new ideas and interesting characters.
Nelke, on the other hand, can be seen as an homage to the 20th anniversary of the franchise, as it features not just one new sorceress, but a handful of characters from absolutely all sub-franchises of this fantastic series. There are over a hundred characters in the game that have appeared in the previous game, not only the main sorceresses but also the side characters and many more, new characters.
The idea is just amazing. However, there’s something a little strange in the execution of this title since it is from a series like this. Unlike previous Atelier games, Nelke is not the classic RPG we're used to. It doesn’t represent a direct sequel to any of the sub-franchises in this series, but takes on a whole new recipe, thus celebrating all the titles of the past.
Atelier Nelke is practically a simulation, maybe something like SimCity. Okay, that may not be a good comparison, but in this title you will do just that, build a new settlement and try to make a big city out of it. Yes, this is completely different from any title so far.
You are in the role of Nelke, a sorceress who comes from a rather wealthy family and who has got a task from her father to build a new settlement, make a city out of it and bring people who will live there. Still, Nelke has a mission of her own too. She wants to find a magic tree that will increase her powers which she will be able to pass on to other sorceresses.
After a long search for this magical tree, her recent research has revealed that it is much closer than she thought. Building a huge settlement will help her gather a group with which she can explore and find that magic tree.
At first, while this may seem simple, that is not the case. It is up to you to handle the management of absolutely all resources in the city, consumption, and supply, as well as to bring the community to a higher level. It is good to note that if you are not careful, your city may fall apart, which means starting the game from the beginning. This can be a big hassle if you spend a few hours getting used to it, so when you start playing the game, you should be aware that something like this can happen.
Nelke is alone at the beginning of the game, but as time goes on, new residents will join your settlement, and you can give them certain jobs to do. After some time and careful management of your city, you can open Atelier studios, which require real sorceresses. That’s when all the characters that have been in the franchise so far come to play. Some of the most famous sorceresses and their faithful companions will become part of your city. You will be able to collaborate, build, socialize with them and go on adventures such as exploring the environment and searching for rare elements.
The RPG side of Atelier games is not the main thing in this game. The process of building and management is the focus. The week is divided into two parts, the first being the five workdays of the week which serve for the management and construction of the city, while the weekends are for exploring and socializing with your friends. Looking at this division of time shows that exploring is like just one-third of the game, and even like that it got a pretty big makeover.
Atelier is a series known for the players being able to wander and explore as you wish, but this is not the case now. It is up to you to choose the group you want to explore with and the ultimate goal. The group will move on its own and gather resources it finds along the way. You have virtually no control over them at those moments. You can enjoy their dialogues and the way they create the story. Of course, if someone gets in your way, then the combat system of this game is activated.
Even this combat system has undergone a change. It is true that Atelier games were never focused on combat, but it worked great. The fight in Atelier Nelke is a bit different in that it is done in almost 2D rendering, in the style of 2D RPG games. It is still turn-based, and you should pay attention to your strategy. There will always be characters in the front lines who will be used to inflict the most damage to the enemy while behind them there will be the support characters who will throw buffs, heal and assist in other ways. The combat is somewhat easier than before, but it's still, hmm, interesting.
Yet, as I have noted several times, the focus is the building of the settlement. Building your city and trying to make it successful and unique in meeting the requirements of absolutely everyone who lives in it and the goal Nelke has set for herself are the main priorities.
In addition to all the recurring characters, and brilliant dialogues at some moments, this game looks more like a social experiment on fans of the franchise, and also an homage to all its titles. The moments when you see some of your favorite characters make a comeback after ten or more years will bring a smile to your face.
On the other hand, the whole presentation is not at a very high level. It seems that the more Gust works on games, the less attention the team pays to details and graphics in its titles. It's still cute, to be clear, but the transition of perfectly drawn 2D models to a 3D environment can sometimes be a bother.
Nelke & The Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers Of The New Worlds is a good title that will make waiting for the new sub-franchise less boring. There are new interesting ideas in this game, but there is a lot that can be improved. This is precisely why I hope that Gust will continue to experiment and perhaps someday release a game with a similar theme but much better execution. I played this game on PS4 Pro and I give it 7.5/10.