Well, here we are again. Once more, a game I was playing with the intent of reviewing gets (semi-) officially announced for the US, and thus, an impression. This time around, we have Atelier Annie - Alchemist of Sera Island, the second Atelier game to be released on the DS, and a title which I never imagined would be green-lighted for foreign release. The previous ten titles in the series never were, after all.
So what has it been like? A typical Atelier experience, but what's that? The core of an Atelier game is resource acquisition and management, with a good helping of character-based storytelling on the side. Atelier Annie holds true to the traditions of the series when it comes to storyline. The player is given a goal (in this case, to help raise money for the island's planned resort), and all other story is largely incidental. This isn't a bad thing, as each of the recruitable characters, as well as many of the NPCs, have their own plot threads, intrigues, and personality conflicts which play out independently over the course of the game. Some were serious, most were not, and the writing has consistently been hilarious. More than a few times I've been stared at on the train, as I just couldn't stop giggling at the goings-on in the game.
This is a bit of a change from my experiences with previous Atelier games, as the character scenes are largely not reliant on Annie's friendship level with the character in question and do not have long enforced periods of waiting between the activation of scenes in a sequence. Every time I stepped out of the atelier, I was sure to find something going on in town. Whether it was Kyle the engineer doing his best to overclock the town fountain, Kilbert trying to look cool and calm (and failing at it), or Jeria trying to convince me to try the latest of her "special herbal remedies," life on Sera Island is not dull.
"Every time I stepped out of the atelier, I was sure to find something going on in town."
To add some spice to the mix, Annie has six major tasks to accomplish over the course of her three year stay on Sera Island, ranging from the creation of a specific sort of island to the elimination of a boss monster. Successfully completing each task nets her a huge amount of cash, which she must re-invest into the development of the islands attractions. My first time through, I produced a garden, a bazaar, a beach, a theater, and an aquarium. To keep them running and popular, I had to provide them with all sorts of random items, but basic and synthesized. Popularity is important here. Popular attractions raise cash for the slush fund, which can in turn be used to fund more attractions, or upgrade current ones. A site's popularity can slip if you leave it unattended for too long, so towards the end of the game there's more pressure to keep moving across the island in order to keep everyone happy, while also doing Adventurers' Guild quests to keep the petty cash flow going (and adding to your own store's popularity as well).
As well as the usual item-creation requests, Annie will from time to time have to do odd jobs for each location, usually in the form of mini-games. These occur infrequently on their own, but Annie can also choose to play games for items by talking to a certain character at each tourist spot. For the most part, these games make sense in context.
Graphics-wise, I don't really have any complaints, though the bobble-headed look is something I could have done without. All the characters have a variety of expressions in their character portraits, and the folks at Gust are old hands at making portrait art do all the story-telling. I kind of miss the artistic splash pages and occasional movie sequences of the console games, however. The introductory sequence of the game is told in a funny, pseudo-comicbook style that could have stood to be reused frequently but is unfortunately not.
"I've finished this game a few times over by now, and it's been a blast. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who wants to give the series a try."
Something should probably be said about the battle system now, but there isn't much to it. Rather than try and get fancy with the battle system (and failing at it), Atelier Annie takes the simplistic approach to battles. The Atelier series has never been big on combat anyway. It's enough to say that the battles in this game are straightforward and fast, with no extraneous bells or whistles to complicate things. Weapons and armor can be reforged to grant them specific color-element strengths, and different weapons may have different targeting capabilities which make them more useful in combat, but overall there's nothing difficult about fighting in this game.
I've finished this game a few times over by now (it's amazing how fast the game goes when you press Y to skip through the conversations), and it's been a blast. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who wants to give the series a try. Atelier Annie is one of the more accessible games the series has produced.