The Atelier series has been around for a long time, and I have played several of them over the years. With Atelier Firis, Gust takes the series in a more open world direction, and I have to say it’s been the most enjoyable Atelier game that I have played yet. The adventure begins in a small town, Ertonia, that exists inside a cave. Players control Firis, a girl with a unique ability to locate ore within the cave. Large metal doors prevent anyone except a select few from ever exiting the cave to see the world outside. One such person is her older sister, Liane, whom Firis looks up to and admires. Firis desperately wants to leave the cave and explore the large world, but her parents and the town’s leader do not seem supportive.
That is until one day a large explosion occurs and Atelier Sophie and her curious friend Plachta arrive. They come in peace, but their mysterious alchemy skills enthrall Firis and, at the reluctance of her parents, she begins to train with Sophie. Firis has a knack for alchemy, and after passing a small test from the town leader that has her collecting items and making them into something that the citizens need, she’s finally given her wish to leave the cave and explore the dangerous, expansive, and beautiful outside world. Firis’ main goal is the same of Sophie — to become a licensed alchemist, which is no small feat.
Something about this Atelier game hooked me early and hasn’t let go. I know it’s not the English voice-acting for Firis — that’s as grating as ever, but the gameplay in this Atelier has proven more enjoyable than the others. I’m no series expert, but Atelier Firis feels far more open world than the previous entries, and that’s in no small part to the mobile atelier. When Sophie first enters the cave, she deploys a tent, which looks small from the outside. Once you step into it though, you can see it’s much larger than it first seems, thanks to alchemy. This atelier tent is where the magic happens, literally, and also where you can rest to restore LP and save your game, too. The great thing about the mobile atelier is that you can set it up wherever you see campfires in the open world, which in my experience to this point are spaced at very comfortable distances apart — not too far, not too close. Being able to bring the atelier with you saves on back-tracking and reduces the grind that is typically associated with the series.
The size of the world in Firis is quite large and more accessible than ever. Some areas require a physical bridge to pass, and one of the game’s new features is the ability to cook up a bridge through alchemy with what the game calls Mass Synthesis. These larger, more tangible objects are a welcomed change to the typically smaller potions and other consumables you make and represent an interesting addition to the game’s typical alchemy arsenal. That said, most of the gameplay in Firis is the same as you would expect from the series, which isn’t a bad thing. You do still have to complete quests in a semi-timely manner, but I felt actually motivation instead of pressure while playing this time. Day and night cycles as well as weather in the open world change what items are available to collect and what enemies you are likely to encounter. Firis’ sister also warns her moments after leaving the cave town to not stray too far from the main road, lest you encounter some seriously tough enemies. You can see some of these beasts roaming the open world, and they look pretty awesome. Leveling up through continued alchemy practice, smaller battles, and finding NPCs to join your party as you advance the story are all part of the experience. Battles are turn-based and not overly complicated; the ability to do linked attacks gives additional encouragement for strategy, but if you aren’t well-versed in turn-based JRPG battle encounters, Atelier Firis is still very accessible.
Battles are just a third or possibly a bit less of the whole experience, with a focus on item collecting, recipe-discovery, and alchemy being the crux, while relationship building makes up another significant part of the game. I applaud Gust for how they give players optional tutorial messages when needed, and include a fuller description that you can peruse in the Encyclopedia from the pause menu. These tidbits of info as they’re presented in the game give the right info at the right time without cluttering up the experience and slowing the player down. Similarly, the mini-map, fast travel (note that time still passes if you fast travel), and being able to flag quest locations on your map to more easily find them go a long way to keeping the game moving forward, which makes it more enjoyable and sustainable.
As far as presentation goes, Firis is a peppy, light-hearted game and the visuals complement that atmosphere nicely. After the first hour or so when you get out of the cave town of Ertona, the wide world opens up and it’s actually pretty beautiful. Expect a bright and colorful palette on the 3D, cel-shaded world that pops on the PS4. The soundtrack is similarly pleasant. Voice-acting is not as enjoyable, but, given Firis’ age and sheltered life, the squeaky overly excited sounds of her voice are to be expected I suppose, yet they can be grating.
Overall, Firis is a solid entry into the long-running franchise that should appeal to previous players and newcomers.