Review: Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists ~Ateliers of the New World~ (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Nintendo Switch
  • PC

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • HDTV

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
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Title: Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists ~Ateliers of the New World~
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (13.36 GB)
Release Date: March 26, 2019
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Gust
Original MSRP: $59.99 (US), £49.99 (UK)
ESRB Rating: E10+
PEGI: 7
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
There’s a meme that floats around the internet about the Atelier series. This one, about what players expected and what they got from Atelier Totori. While there’s some truth to it, the Atelier series does require more planning than your average RPG, the “what I got” part of the meme always struck me as a bit hyperbolic. However, when I first got an end of the week report in Nelke, I realized I was playing the game that meme described.

Nelke and the Legendary Alchemist is technically part of the Atelier series. I say “technically” because Nelke is not like the other games in the series. Instead of focusing on an alchemist and their journey, Nelke and the Legendary Alchemist follows Nelke, the administrator of a developing town. Her goal is not to use alchemy herself, but to set up a town where other alchemists may set up ateliers and thrive.

Nelke’s end goal is the discovery of a Sage Relic, a mythical artifact said to exist in a remote part of the world. Though her father does not want her to pursue that dream, she convinces him to make her the governor of the region it is rumored to reside in. In order to be allowed to continue to search for the Relic, she must expand the town of Westwald and show that she is a capable building and governing a town.

Fortunately for Nelke, not long after she begins developing the town alchemists begin showing up. And not just any alchemists, these alchemists are all from different worlds, teleported to Nelke’s by mishap, magic, or other means. Many of the alchemists who find Westwald are also interested in helping Nelke find the Sage Relic and Nelke convinces them to stay in the town and help her meet her development goals.

So unlike the normal RPG roots of the Atelier series as a whole, Nelke and the Legendary Alchemists is much more of a town-building style game. You play as Nelke, determining what to build and where, what your eventual army of alchemists are doing, and what your shops are selling. There are some slight RPG elements in the game, including a very rudimentary battle system, but the main part of Nelke is building your town.

The road to success in Nelke is built on three basic parts: acquiring raw goods, having those goods synthesized into better goods, and selling those goods for a profit. For each part, there are various buildings you can construct that accomplish those means: orchards and other production types to get raw goods, ateliers for your alchemists to synthesize in, and stores like weapon shops to sell stuff from. You have control over each aspect of these to determine what they’re producing, synthesizing, and selling.

For the most part, this is all pretty standard stuff. Plop down a couple buildings, figure out which of your workers will go where (naturally each alchemist and the friends they bring along has their own stats for what they can do best), and begin making money sword over staff. As you progress, you can build larger buildings which allow you to hire helpers who can boost the output of that building in different ways. And some smaller parts and special landmark buildings can boost other stats in your town areas.

This aspect of the game is good but can get a bit hard to parse. Even just a few hours in and you’re balancing what you’re producing (and gathering as some of your workers can go out and gather materials from monsters) with what you’re trying to make and sell. Since there is a bit of a time lag, i.e. you can’t build X this turn because you need to already have ingredient Y in your inventory, this can compound the difficulty of parsing everything.

There are a lot of helpful stats and charts, but they’re a little hidden. One of the most useful ones is a list of all items in the game with how many you have, how many you’re going to use based on your current selections, and how much you’ll get this turn. It’s a super helpful list for making sure you’re not using ingredients that you’re not gathering enough of, but getting to this helpful info involves going through several menus.

There are icons in the production areas themselves to show you if an alchemist doesn’t have enough ingredients or if a shop doesn’t have enough of an item, but those are only based on that single instance so if two recipes are using the same ingredient or two shops are selling the same item, the game won’t flag them with the icon and you’ll run out and have a less productive turn than you expected.

At the end of each turn/week, Nelke’s assistant tallies up your earnings and expenditures and presents it to you. Practically the embodiment of the meme I mentioned earlier. Again, this is very helpful, as it flags places where your supply line failed during that turn, such as if you ran out of a material or if you spent more on wages than you made in profit. But after the turn is not when you want to know you ran out of fire elements, causing you to not make as many of the item you plan to sell next turn.

Requests from citizens and tasks from Nelke’s father give the player goals to aim for while building their town and setting it up. The main tasks are generally pretty simple, like getting a certain number of citizens or making enough money. But requests can ask Nelke to make or sell specific objects. Early tasks are incredibly easy but the game tosses a few tough ones at you near the end. When the game does ramp up in difficulty, it is helpful that you can transfer some of your stuff to a new file whether you finish the game or not, if you feel like going through the whole thing again. It’s certainly possible to complete the game, even get the true ending, on a single playthrough, but I imagine it’d be tough for many players without a guide.

So that’s the gameplay for the weekday. On the weekend or holiday, Nelke isn’t content to just sit around. Instead, you can have her do a few different things to use up her weekend productively. These include funding research projects, which are required for parts of the main story; chatting with people of the town, which can up their friendliness or experience; and going out on investigations.

Investigations are where the game pulls in a slight bit of RPG. In this mode, Nelke and her party will automatically walk along a road without player input, gathering materials they find and occasionally fighting monsters. You do get to control the non-alchemist characters during fights, but even then it’s mostly just a simplified active-time-battle kind of combat. The whole investigation mode feels like something designed for a mobile game. It works, but it’s definitely not as involved as most console games nor even other games in the Atelier series.

Of course, this game being an anniversary game, it pulls in all kinds of characters from the series’ past. There are a ton of characters who show up from each of the mainline games (I didn’t see any from the other spinoffs, but I may just have not gotten them), though ‘show up’ is a little generous for some. While the main characters of each game are more involved in the plot and side events, many of the side characters just get a little portrait and are otherwise mostly interchangeable with the other workers in the game, save for some stat differences.

Visuals:
Only some of the gameplay elements felt like they were from a mobile game, but a lot of the graphics also push it in that direction. They’re not bad, but the game does seem like it’s overall simplified. Only the main characters from certain games get a 3D model, while some of the side characters only get a 2D portrait for story bits. Many of the mostly interchangeable worker characters don’t even get either, only a small icon of their face to differentiate them from other workers in menus and in the single bit of dialogue they get when they first join your town.

That said, what is in the game looks good. Pulling in twenty-five years of games does highlight how design trends have changed over the years, but that also means a lot of variation in the character designs. While each character is reminiscent of how they appeared in their own game, they’ve all also been re-drawn or modeled so they don’t feel out of place.

Outside the characters, there’s not much to the graphics. Investigations, particularly the exploring part, are pretty basic stuff. Character attacks look good, with some fun call-backs to older games in some of the ultimate attacks. And the town building is fine, though pretty basic as you’re looking at it from an overhead view most of the time. There is an option that lets you view the town from the street level, though it’s a set couple of sweeps of the camera so you can’t control where you want to look, which would have been nice.

Audio:
The sound side of things also takes a few shortcuts, most noticeably in the voice acting. For one, there are no English voices for the localization. And secondly, even the Japanese voice-overs don’t voice every interaction, only the story relevant ones and some other occasional scenes. What’s there is good, but it can be annoying to go from a voiced scene to an unvoiced one. And as mentioned above, the lowest tier of characters, who only have a small icon of their face, don’t get any voiced dialogue at all.

The music is enjoyable, though like many of the Atelier games it can get a bit repetitive as you wade through menus for hours at a time. There is different music for different menus and parts of town, so the game is switching around often to help alleviate the repetitiveness. But if you’re deep into reading through a menu or finding something, you could be listening to the same track for a little while.

One nice touch for this anniversary game is that each of the alchemists gets a song from their series when you visit them in their atelier. Unfortunately, there isn’t a unique song for each alchemist, which really would have been great. Instead, each sub-series gets a representative song for all alchemists from that series (i.e., all of the alchemists from the Arland series, Rorona, Totori, and Meruru, get the same song). This also helps with repetitive music as you’ll hear different music in some of the ateliers.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is one player only with no online component.

Conclusion:
The change from a traditional Atelier game to this style for an anniversary game is a bit of a strange choice. I guess they were afraid they wouldn’t be able to give all of the old characters a chance to shine. Which makes some sense; Nelke‘s structure does mean you get to see all of your old favorites, or at least all of your favorite main characters from the old games. I certainly enjoyed getting to see some of the quirky characters bounce off one another in short little scenes or building a party of alchemists from across the series.

The gameplay can feel a bit “mobile game” at times, with its simplified combat and town-building aspects. It does seem to have more “meat” to it than your normal town-building mobile game, which is both good and bad. Good in that there’s more to the game, but bad when you’re constantly second-guessing yourself or spending far too long trying to make sure you’re going to produce the correct goods to make what you need to make. The menus to facilitate this deeper gameplay exist, but I do wish getting to them had been streamlined a little bit.

Overall, I’d say Nelke is a fine entry for fans of the Atelier series. It definitely feels similar to the alchemy side of the gameplay in most Atelier games, so if that’s your favorite part of the series, prepare for a full-blast version of that. Fans of a more traditional RPG may not find quite as much to their liking here, but I have a feeling most Atelier fans skew towards where this game aims anyway. Just be ready for some full supply chain management, charts, menus, and enough graphs to make Microsoft Excel blush (though that may also be because of the cute girls).

Score:

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Andy Richardson

Andy Richardson

A longtime PlayStation fan who enjoys JRPGs and rhythm games when he’s not tweeting about his parrot.

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