The Atelier games are a long running series spanning 20 games since 1997 developed by Gust, also known for the Nights of Azure (Yoru no nai kuni) series, the series recently gained popularity outside of Japan with their newer set of games, mainly attributed to the Mysterious trilogy; Atelier Sophie, Atelier Firis and Atelier Lydie & Suelle, and more recently the games have experienced their biggest exposure yet thanks to their new flagship character Reisalin or more commonly known as Ryza, which might be the reason you are reading this article even now. If you follow any artists or the Japanese gaming scene, you may have seen many illustrations of Reisalin on twitter or pixiv being floating around.
Many of you reading may have never played an Atelier game before and may be considering getting into the series with Atelier Ryza, and with less than a week to go until release, you might want to know a thing or two before buying the game.
The Atelier games are some of the longest running Japanese video game series out there and despite that some people are only just discovering the games. The West only recently got their first entry in the series back on the PS2 with the Atelier Iris trilogy. You must also be aware that the Atelier games are often divided into trilogies with characters appearing from subsequent games. These games are also time consuming, most of them average between 20-30 hours in length but if you want to go for a platinum trophy or get all achievements it might take you upwards of 50 hours, and depending on your preference this might be good or bad if you even have that much time to spare. Since the games are subdivided into sub-series, it might also take two more years for this upcoming trilogy to conclude which makes a good starting point for new comers and since you might use this time to catch up with previous entries in the series.
Although many of the trilogies are connected, you can pick up most games up without having prior knowledge or having played games outside the sub-series. Although you might lose out in terms of enjoyment and lore if you choose to start in the middle of a trilogy. Due to this, fans in the community often categorize entries in the series as sub-series.
Another important thing to note is that these games revolve around Alchemy. Alchemy is the ingame mechanic of gathering ingame items to craft new items, either restoration items or equipment such as ingame tools and even weapons. Many newcomers who I have talked to have trouble adapting and understanding how Alchemy works, this might be a turn off for some people and might cause them to become disinterested, this also gives the games a somewhat high learning curve. The game also somewhat punishes the player if you do not use Alchemy or bother to learn the basics and players will have a hard time even on the easiest difficulties. Alchemy creates a somewhat high entry barrier but the quicker you learn this mechanic the more enjoyable the game becomes. Often you will find that you cannot go into the game and expect to beat down enemies like in Final Fantasy, you are expected to use Alchemy to advance the story and to defeat certain enemies. From experience, mastering Alchemy does become incredibly satisfying and once you get good at it you in turn feel overpowered, which reflects the Atelier’s journey as an Alchemist as well as yours. Although the learning curve is high I do recommend anyone interested in the series to give it a try.
So now, what game should you start with?
In my opinion I would encourage new players to start with the upcoming Atelier Ryza due to it being the new entry in an expected three part subseries. However it will take around two years for this sub-series to conclude, but in the meantime I would suggest new players to also start with the Mysterious series as mentioned above if you enjoyed Atelier Ryza and are looking for more. The Mysterious series start with Atelier Sophie, Atelier Firis and finally Atelier Lydie & Suelle, they are available on PS4 and PC. Although it is not recommended to play on PC due to poor optimization and having access to cheats which takes the fun out of the games and renders Alchemy useless.
It is also important to note that some Atelier games have a time management mechanic to them, meaning you are supposed to complete certain quests and events within a specified time period. Some games however such as Atelier Sophie do not have this and some have it partially implemented like Atelier Firis. Due to this. not all Atelier games are the same, none are truly similar to the other which really changes things up every time. If you disliked an entry it does not mean you might dislike all Atelier games, so I suggest to also take your time to research some titles that you are interested in and give them a go.
All in all, the games might not be for everyone, but for those of you who want to give them a try I would recommend to do so, I would also suggest to give them a fair chance and to learn the game mechanics presented rather than flat out rejecting them, the stories and world building is also fantastic and anyone who gives the games a chance will fall in love with them.