What the Atelier Series Offers That Isn’t Readily Apparent

Nowadays, thanks to the convenient and various sources of information at our disposal, it’s not too hard to find out about a video game franchise without playing it. Depending on what one learns or hears about this franchise, they might elect to stay away from it. However, unbeknown to some players, such a choice may prevent them from trying titles that have much more to offer than it first appears. One such series is the Atelier series, and I hope to use this opportunity to highlight some of its hidden positives.

For those who don’t have any prior knowledge about the Atelier series, it is developed by Gust, nowadays a subsidiary of Koei Tecmo, with the first game released back in 1997. The series is currently comprised of twenty-five mainline entries and many spin-offs. The term “Atelier”, which is shared in almost every title in the series, emphasizes most of the protagonists are in charge of an atelier, or workshop, which serves for their practice of alchemy. This naming choice reflects how alchemy tends to be central for both story and gameplay in nearly every game of the franchise.

Most of the Atelier titles have this type of cover. While convenient to identify the female lead, this presentation tells little about alchemy altogether or how relatable the plot is independently of the gender.

Besides being about alchemy, the Atelier titles are notorious for featuring primarily female protagonists. In addition, the glamorous cover of the games show beautiful ladies smiling like they haven’t any care in the world. Considering this first impression, some gamers, particularly those more interested in the ins and outs of complex gameplay systems, could feel these titles are probably too simplistic to provide them what they are looking for, based on such carefree imagery. However, the series is full of gameplay depth. In many of these games, the major focus is on the mastery of the rich alchemy system and time management, with some games offering different spins on combat mechanics.

People trying the mainline entries of Atelier quickly realize they require well-thought-out decisions and planning rather than relying on any kind of fashion sense or expertise for cute things. Even during the story, players witness many things that are universal in their impact. In most cases, the story is about an individual chasing after a dream or facing an unexpected challenge, a story that’s relatable to every person.

Rorona is now in charge of her own workshop. A circumstance similar to someone inheriting a business or a youngster starting a professional life.

With the recent success of the Atelier Ryza trilogy emerged numerous memes about how distinctive the heroine’s thighs are, earning her the nickname “Thighza”. Such infamous memes may rise the assumption that this trilogy, alongside other Atelier entries, are about fan service. The presence of certain characters with revealing attires or prominent features further fuels this assumption. However, these facts aren’t representative of everything these games have to offer. Indeed, many of the Atelier titles make a room for fan service, but nothing out of ordinary for common tropes seen in JRPGs or anime. Whatever prominence of the fan service in an Atelier is easily overshone by the wittiness of certain dialogs, the ease to identify oneself to the cast, or the depths of the gameplay.

Planning the schedule around gathering resources, synthesizing items, and fulfilling requests requires so much focus, there is little time to waste on extraneous activities, especially with older titles where there is a time limit to deal with. The synthesizing — creating items through alchemy — is so complex in certain Atelier games, most of the time is potentially spent on this aspect than any other. In these instances, players are prone to remember the item recipes and the alchemical process of creation most of all.

On this screen, dedicated to the practice of alchemy, it is easy to forget Ryza’s presence, let alone pay any attention to her appearance.

The time limit featured in numerous Atelier games may be a source of concern for many players, more so for gamers who tend to clear games with a play time greater than average. This concern is rather misguided, given that the time doesn’t elapse in these games at an alarming pace. In fact, a day advances only after performing specific actions like creating an item, travelling, or fighting (depending on the entry). This allows one to take minutes and even hours making up their mind without in-game time passing by.

Even players enjoying thorough exploration during their playthrough have little to worry about. The titles featuring time limits don’t offer areas so big to explore that a few in-game days aren’t enough to visit every one of their corners. In this regard, the time constraint doesn’t impair the exploration so much, the alchemy system remains the aspect that has the most discoveries to offer. Those not reassured by these arguments can still count on the trend of the most recent Atelier releases discarding time limit mechanics completely.

Five years is quite a generous timeline for Marie to satisfy her teacher, Ingrid. Nonetheless, if players still feel anxious about this deadline, they can play the Unlimited Mode that is devoid of any time limit.

On the other side, comparing the Atelier series to other JRPGs may also give the wrong impression. Many expect a JRPG to start with small stakes like looking for a cat and have that explode to a climax that pits them against a god. Escalation in Atelier titles don’t go for the same level of melodramatic stakes. Most of the heroines’ motivation are rather modest: graduating from an alchemy school, preventing the closure of a shop, proving the usefulness of alchemy, etc. Such ambitions, while limiting the scope of what is at stake, allows the narrative a more lighthearted story.

This kind of laid-back experience is a refreshing break from games where saving the world comes at the price of the protagonists making painful sacrifices and undergoing gruesome tragedies. Thus, the Atelier titles are an effective medication for those who want to wash away the guilt of having made choices that tainted their controller with the blood of numerous NPC allies after a few playthroughs of games such as Shin Megami Tensei.

The lighthearted tone of many Atelier titles can be a nice change after playing games featuring darker storyline.

The Atelier games are more than what their covers tell and don’t match some hearsays about their distinctive features. There are many aspects that we haven’t even touched on, with a few entries branching out with dual main protagonists, while a few titles touch on more somber themes. If this has managed to encourage anyone to try the Atelier series, you are invited to check out our Where to Start? feature, which runs through the series and what each entry has to offer to newcomers.


Mohamed Lamine Coulibaly

Fascinated by the screens since I saw them, video games are a sorcery I quickly become obsessed with. This passion culminated with the discovery of the RPGs. At that time, they were likely the sole titles where story and world building mattered as more as gameplay. Now, I am, writing about them, especially my favorite ones: the JRPGs!

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