When it comes to delightful carefree JRPG fun, no series tops Atelier. Firis is the star of the second Mysterious game so let's see if she has what it takes to become a certified alchemist.
Firis lives in a small mining village known as Ertona which is located within a mountain. The locals are frightened of the outside world due to its monster population so unfortunately, Firis has never visited the great outdoors. However, her older sister Liane is a capable warrior who assists the town by traversing the lands. One fateful day, the familiar Sophie and Plachta are on their own journey and haphazardly blow up the door to Ertona in the process and meet Firis as a result. Sophie teaches her of the wonders that alchemy is capable of and Firis decides to prove to her parents that she has what it takes to survive the harsh conditions of the outside world. They eventually allow her but under one condition: she must become a certified alchemist within one year of leaving the village.
I must admit, although stories in previous Atelier games can be considered insignificant for the most part, Firis presents a heartwarming tale of determination, sisterhood, and friendship that's quite inspiring. Instead of being satisfied staying in her village for the rest of her life, Firis decided to show her value through nothing but her unyielding willpower. Seeing as she's rather young and therefore weak, her sister (and in time, some accompanying companions) must protect her in battle from enemy attacks. That's right, even the gameplay ties in to the story premise by allowing you to tap buttons that correspond to various party members to have them jump in front of Firis and protect her. It's such a heartening premise for an adventure that it'll make you want to try your best in your own life.
All of those wonderful things being said, Atelier Firis definitely feels less homey than previous games. Whereas fans are used to having a central town inhabited by friendly faces who you grow to know and love, Atelier Firis' open-world setup is inherently less welcoming. On the other hand, you'll meet loads of familiar characters such as Oskar (who is now much skinnier), Escha, Logy, Fritz, and Pamela. Most of these characters don't add much to the plot but it is fun to run into recognizable chums.
Firis' Atelier itself is a portable tent that's oddly much larger on the inside than it is on the outside. Whenever you run into a campfire, you can set it up in order to rest, save, and perform alchemy. The alchemy system is almost identical to Sophie's in that you place ingredients on a grid in order to maximize results. An interesting inclusion is the idea point system where Firis can redeem points in order to learn new recipes although you can alternately do so by accomplishing certain mysterious tasks.
Exploring the vast open environments is something new for the Atelier series because previous games simply had small locations to visit from the world map. Uncovering the huge maps while unlocking campfire points (which you can then warp to) is extremely rewarding. Throughout the adventure, you'll come across a variety of lovely environments including forests, deserts, plains, snowfields, and bustling cities which makes Firis' journey all the more endearing.
Of course, you'll run into countless NPCs along the way who may run shops, join your party, and provide you with quests. These quests will have you travelling the continent in search of certain beasts, items, and points of interest. It's very easy to get distracted since there is so much to do but that's what makes the journey addictive and hard to put down.
One aspect that I found stood out more in Atelier Firis than other games is the focus on how alchemy and battles integrate. Previous games allow you to become powerful by accomplishing such tasks as visiting the blacksmith to upgrade your equipment. However, much of the equipment in Atelier Firis has to be made from scratch. Sure, you can buy certain pieces but nothing will beat a carefully crafted creation. On top of this, items play a much bigger role in battle as bombs, salves, and snacks are often the key to a swift victory.
The battle system itself isn't anything exciting because all you do is attack, use items, and perform learned skills. Probably its coolest feature is Chain Bursts that allow your party members to string attacks together which increases a damage multiplier. Even though it isn't anything special, the battles are still satisfying to master as some foes can be exceptionally challenging.
Although Atelier Firis looks like a lovely game for the most part, a few problems detract from its visual appeal. The most difficult to ignore flaw is that many NPCs look identical. You'll run into the same handful of character models over and over again which makes the developers come across as lazy. Also, every single cave looks exactly the same inside and some even have the same layout. I stopped exploring caves halfway through the journey because they got so repetitive. Additionally, shadows often flicker which looks odd and Firis doesn't seem like she's connecting with the ground as she runs around which makes her look like she's floating.
My only other complaint is that Atelier Sophie granted you freedom to accomplish tasks at your own pace while Firis has a strict time limit for her quest to become an alchemist. She has one year to take the alchemy exam and in my playthrough, I only had about 40 days left by the time I took the exam. Looking at my world map, I have yet to visit a few areas so I imagine that I would've run out of time if I explored the whole continent. If that were to happen, you have to begin the entire adventure all over again from the start. Thankfully, you'll get to retain some accomplishments but there's no denying how infuriating it would be if you ran out of time.
Atelier Firis tells a heartwarming story of a girl determined to forge her own path in life with the help of her sister and a few friends. Its open world is full of rewarding tasks to master and the battle system will put your alchemy abilities to the test. In the end, it may not be the best game in the series but it's definitely a wonderful start to take Atelier in an entirely new direction.
- + Beautiful story of determination
- + Exploring the open-world and completing quests is extremely satisfying
- + Alchemy and battle systems integrate well
- - Feels less homey than previous games
- - Far too many repeated NPC models and a few other graphical problems
- - Time limit can be very frustrating