Time to get mysterious! Atelier Firis is the second game in the Mysterious Atelier trilogy (The first; Atelier Sophie was reviewed over here) As with previous Atelier trilogies you don’t actually need to play them in order but you’ll have a few recurring characters popping up and there’s usually a steady improvement on mechanics from the first entry to look forward to. Given how I wasn’t a fan of Atelier Sophie I can’t say I was particularly looking forward to getting started with Firis but as this was the first Atelier game to feature an open world setup and made for the PS4 things look hopeful. I guess it’s time to load up on supplies and see if the journey is worth it!
Atelier Firis starts off with an interesting premise. Firis and Liane live in a small very secular mining city where Firis is needed to instinctively find precious minerals. After a chance encounter with Sophie and a ridiculously dressed Plachta, Firis learns the basics of alchemy and sets off into the world on the basis that she passes the alchemist certification exam. She’ll need to get 3 letters of recommendation from other alchemists along her journey to take the exam and this gives you motivation to explore a location and a nice timed reason to never stay in any one place too long. Although Atelier Firis doesn’t tell you this, there are enough days to easily see the end of the journey with time to spare. It feels like a lot of the earlier story is watered down to Firis wanting to explore and they never really resolve a lot of it until the post credits content. The fact the city is closed off is quickly forgotten.
You can expect the tried and tested Atelier gameplay with Atelier Firis. You’ll be exploring, gathering, attacking monsters and synthesizing items in the same puzzle ways as Atelier Sophie. Thankfully Atelier Firis lives up to its open world premise with most areas feeling like they would fit an expansive MMORPG. You’ll be checking your maps often as you wander open plains, occasional linear pathways through forests, dungeons and caves. The turn based combat is a lot smoother than Atelier Sophie with a lot more skills available and weapon based abilities to add into the mix. You can now build up a chain metre that allows combo skills and items to be used in a continual attack. All of this throws in a welcome level of variety which makes the combat seem less of a grind and more of a classic turn based JRPG experience.
You’ll be picking up extra allies and optional party members as you progress through Atelier Firis and as with previous games there are extra scenes if you stay at inns/trigger them as you progress. There’s a visual novel feel to the quests and events where you’ll need to walk to places at certain times of day to have them occur but for the most part this doesn’t require any moon logic to progress. The quest tracker in your journal will usually point you to the location or explain enough to get you where you need to go. Your LP slowly tick down the more you explore, collect and battle but refill each rest and this metre makes long explorations challenging as you’ll be on the lookout for campfires to rest at.
As per usual with the 2nd game in an Atelier trilogy a lot of previous characters will show up during your travels and for the most part this is welcome. Aside from Sophie you’ll find most of them have the same role as before and haven’t changed until you meet Oskar. It’s disappointing but he’s been transformed in Atelier Firis from a large fella with a shovel to generic looking skinny guy looking for flowers. The focus of Atelier Firis remains largely on the questing and exploring and it doesn’t help that some of the new characters start to become one dimensional at times. Liane constantly bangs on about how ‘cute’ she finds Firis to an uncomfortable level and I found Firis to be less cute and more irritating at times.
There are a few moments in Atelier Firis where it feels like it wanted to tread a really fine line between uncomfortable and daring but just ends up as nonsense. Liane is supposed to be a doting big sister to Firis and really that’s all she ever is. She’s there to get Firis to the exam and Firis is there to just get a grade. There’s a merchant who apparently ‘dresses as a man’ and all this does is drive home the ridiculous skewing of gender in the world. She’s not showing skin therefore must be a man? Firis starts off confused about them, she’s corrected and they move on but essentially it’s such a nonsense moment that doesn’t add or detract anything. She’s a bard that gets misgendered because she covers her cleavage? Twaddle.
Atelier Firis really does give strong MMORPG vibes throughout not only in looks but telegraphing what monsters are going to be too difficult from their visual design alone. Unlike Atelier Sophie you are very rarely going to get into battle without an idea of the level you’ll be facing. The downside of the strong open world focus is there are some large empty spaces and it can feel excessive. It does feel like the trip is always worth it though as finishing a line of quests and getting rewarded with idea points for new recipes, cash and occasionally new clothing outfits is a welcome change to the gameplay loop.
As with Atelier Sophie this copy of Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey DX came with a separate artbook app and just like Atelier Sophie this feels like it will only really appeal to hardcore fans. The artwork is nice to look at for the most part but you can’t move it around or take screenshots. The digital art book is limited to a simple slideshow that’s nice enough but feels redundant. The music selection is limited and the artwork is good but sometimes it can be a little sketchy (pretty sure one piece is a body pillow?) mostly it’s the same old promo stuff. If you make it to the credits of the story you’ll see some of the artwork being shown and you’re probably best off buying a physical artbook or poster.
Atelier Firis really shines when it gets going but there’s one particular point in the journey where everything slams to a halt and everything becomes a ridiculous unlikable grind. As soon as you have to build a boat all of the quests devolve into running around a city trying to be at the right place at the right time. It’s so irritating as everything up to this point is really an enjoyable wander through the world. You’ll unlock a ‘new’ type of synthesizing but this is simply a grind to ridiculous quantities of items for a singular use. Once it’s built you’ll have a bizarre scene where music plays and the characters mutedly talk to each other only to have to go immediately back to the previous city and trigger getting the third letter of recommendation. Despite having built a boat, more side quests are needed to finish. It’s such a frustrating blemish that puts a downer on the new area almost immediately and feels like padding to really well paced game to that point.
Voice acting throughout Atelier Firis is ok, there’s nothing particularly bad or standout. It’s always impressive how much is voiced and Firis and Liane’s constant sister comments become so washed out that you’ll be completely unfussed by the end. Thankfully the music once again excels beyond the genre and there’s some ridiculously good tracks to be had. One strangely huge addition is the ability to change the music that plays in the Atelier and the library of tracks available is astonishing. There’s tracks from every Gust game ranging from various versions of previous Atelier games to obscure shmups. It’s not greatly signposted but I highly recommend playing around, I know I enjoyed coming back to the Atelier a lot more knowing I could listen to Rorona’s amazing tracks.
Here’s the thing, Atelier Firis is one of the most enjoyable Atelier games in spite of itself. Once the exam quest is complete and the timer stops, there’s a ton of past stuff to do and a huge amount of extra content to get into. There’s a difficulty option, unlockable outfits, maps, monsters, crafting and rewards for getting everything to 100%. Even the exam itself is quite a challenge to get right. There are character designs that are really cute but once again there’s some that’ll have you rolling eyes. There’s real fun to be had with the MMORPG feeling gameplay loop. You’ll enjoy exploring, killing monsters and reaping the rewards. It’s a shame the mediocre writing and ropey pacing stops this being great because Atelier Firis can be really good.
7/10 – The mysterious journey was the friends made along the way
Code provided by Koei Tecmo Europe Ltd. Check out their games here