Fans of Gust's long-running RPG series will find a lot to love in this delightful crossover featuring characters from the entire franchise.
Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World definitely isn't your typical Atelier game. Instead of it focusing on 1 or 2 characters who grow their Atelier through alchemy and adventuring, it's your job to basically manage a town and make it prosper. You play as Nelke, an aristocrat who's tasked with growing the small settlement known as Westwald. In order to do so, you'll build structures on plots of land such as different kinds of stores, farmland, attractions, and, of course, Ateliers! You then hire folks to work in these spots and aside from the generic default "Hired Help" ladies, you'll amass a wealth of familiar characters from the franchise who gradually move to Westwald and will gladly assist you in expanding your town. It's awesome to watch your settlement slowly become a bustling city.
Fans of Atelier such as myself will be blown away by just how many characters you'll encounter within Westwald. You'll become reacquainted with the very first game's Marie and her Salburg chums Elie and Lilie, Judie and Viorate from Gramnad, and all the way to the recent Sophie, Firis, and Lydie & Suelle. You'll also meet many classic side characters such as Pamela, Monika, Hagel, Liane, and much more. Heck, I don't even know who a lot of them are which is probably because they're from the Japan-exclusive titles. Anyway, watching the dialogue scenes where all of these folks get along as their personalities shine is nothing short of charming.
Back to the gameplay; Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists is broken up into weekdays and holidays. Considering how wealthy Nelke is, I guess she's rather accustomed to taking plenty of vacations. Anyway, weekdays are spent planning your town which involves plotting new buildings and cultivation spots, assigning what each alchemist should create (which can be a huge list of stuff), deciding what each shop should sell (only 1 item each), selecting what each farm plot should create, and dispatching folks on expeditions in order to retrieve items. Once you're happy with all of your decisions, you execute your plan, view the report, and then begin your holiday.
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Nelke's holidays allow her to catch up with her chums by visiting them which can unlock new building types, increase their level and relationship, and allow you to acquire more requests to fulfill. You can also assign research projects which have nifty rewards. Holidays feature a gauge that's expended by visiting folks and the remainder can be used to investigate a location. This involves choosing a location then watching your party run in a straight line while occasionally being interrupted by enemies to fight or goodies to uncover. The battle system is incredibly basic and there's even a mode that allows you to simply watch your party automatically fight.
Although the gameplay loop is extremely basic and small in scope, there are an impressive amount of fun mechanics in place and unlockables to master. For starters, you always have main tasks to attend to that are generally easy to accomplish within the amount of time that they're allotted. Meanwhile, you can master loads of optional requests, some of which are a lot more difficult to complete than the main tasks. There's also a very cool wishlist where you can intuitively choose which items you'd like more of so that they're clearly highlighted. As you play, Westwald's population and approval rating change and it's satisfying to watch these aspects grow.
Synthesizing battle items like bombs and salves and investigation items such as shovels and butterfly nets is rewarding, too, as they unlock permanently. One mechanic that I didn't notice until later in the campaign is that you can break items down into their elements which I found to be exceptionally helpful. Finally, you'll unlock tons of achievements as you play which double as trophies and reward you points that you can spend on enhancing your characters. Talk about going above and beyond when it comes to in-game achievements!
Even though Nelke is a very cool game for fans of the series, it may be disappointing for those looking for a more traditional Atelier game. This is due to many reasons but the primary one is that Nelke's gameplay loop is extremely repetitive. Sure, the additional mechanics help mix things up a great deal but after about 10 hours, it all starts to feel quite samey. I also noticed that my expanding town became much more tedious to manage because I had to assign lists of stuff to synthesize for a handful of alchemists and do so much that it started to make my head spin. Speaking of synthesis, some aspects can be rather unintuitive. For example, I found myself flipping through menus to make sure none of the alchemists were assigned the same items and that they didn't require the same limited materials.
As an Atelier fan, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World. The fact that it features oodles of characters from a huge franchise of games is exceptional and its rewarding gameplay is a treat, too.
- + Charming world that's filled with characters from the entire Atelier franchise
- + Simple yet rewarding management gameplay
- + Loads of fun mechanics and unlockables
- - Those expecting a full Atelier game may be disappointed by the simple gameplay
- - Gameplay loop gets tiresome after a while
- - Some aspects could be more intuitive