Few RPG series are as active as Gust’s Atelier franchise, as there have been 20 mainline titles since the series debuted in 1997. Despite all of the changes in the past two decades, the installments have always focused on item creation and alchemy. The newest spin-off is NELKE AND THE LEGENDARY ALCHEMISTS: ATELIERS OF THE NEW WORLD, which attempts to celebrate over 20 years of history by throwing characters from the various titles into a mysterious alternate world. These characters all wind up in this city building sim but, sadly, this village still needs some much needed renovations.
Since the player isn’t controlling one of the alchemists, this gives Ateliers of the New World a completely different focus than past titles. While there are still forests and dungeons to explore and enemies to fight, they are all secondary to making sure the town is run efficiently. Making sure the city is profitable and that the population is both rising and happy with the town is the player’s top priority.
The city building in Nelke and the Legendary Alchemists revolves around three core steps. First is gaining items and materials, which can be done two ways. Either players can send out adventurers to nearby lands in order to scavenge for rare material, or they can create fields and farms that will naturally produce items.
While these items might be sold directly in the early stages of the town’s development, players quickly learn that they’ll need to use the abilities of alchemists if they want to maximize profit. Aspiring town builders will want to figure out how to produce material that can be turned into valuable items that can then be sold at various shops the player can contruct. There’s a nice build in complexity, as it starts off with just a few people to manage, but it doesn’t take long for there to be dozens of ateliers and various characters to manage in the bristling city.
Nelke and the Legendary Alchemists Review | Not an optimal blend
Each turn of the game is split into two halves. The latter one is where the player sets up all the alchemy tasks and decides what items to sell, while the former revolves around your limited amount of free time. A good constituent has meaningful relationships with the townsfolk and players can level up their relationships by both talking to characters and going on exploration missions with them. However, every task takes time away from the player, so if you visit too many people, you won’t find enough time to venture out into battle for yourself.
It’s during these explorations where the role-playing game base of the Atelier series is the most prominent. The turn-based battles are rather simple in nature, and players decide to either walk or run through an area. Walking allows for more rare materials to be spotted, while running uses up less time. These battles fill out the game relatively well, and the combat is deep enough for it to be a more meaningful part of the experience, but it’s implemented as a small part of the overall experience. It’s cast to the side so much that it feels unnecessary as it either needed to be expanded into a larger part of the experience or removed completely. In its current state, it just gets in the way of the core city building and offers glimpses of a fun RPG before the timer expires.
This feeling carries over to the main issue with Nelke and the Legendary Alchemists as it often shows that it has great ideas but never does much with them. Another example is getting all of these beloved characters from past games into one title. It’s definitely cool to see one of the new protagonists like Firis interact with the star of the original game, Marie, but the bulk of these interactions are completely shallow. There’s a storyline here that is enjoyable because of these characters, but it never goes far beyond being a vehicle for base levels of fan service.
Nelke and the Legendary Alchemists Review | Too punishing for its own good
Equally as frustrating is the interface for going over the town, as it doesn’t always accurately demonstrate what can be made via alchemy. If you have two different characters set to create three ingots, but there are only enough ingredients for four of them, then it will still be shown in regular text rather than being red to indicate a problem. This can lead to the player wasting a turn and not crafting an item they needed.
This is particularly damning due to how the story is structured and goals must be accomplished after a certain number of turns. The punishment isn’t a slap on the wrist either; it’s an instant game over and players are then invited to start from the beginning albeit with some elements carrying over. Considering how specific the requirements can be for unlocking key buildings, it’s a ridiculous limitation that only hinders the experience.
Despite the handful of shortcomings that keep Nelke and the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World from living up to its full potential, it’s still possible to have a good time in its fantasy world. Due to its cute characters and warm aesthetic, there’s a layer of charm here that is simply missing from the majority of city building titles. The core gameplay loop is a blast and it’s always enjoyable to see numbers going up. It’s just too bad that significant progress can quickly be lost due to not having a particular recipe unlocked. These frustrating variables negatively impact what is otherwise a stress-free and enjoyable time.
Nelke and the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World is a successful spin-off in that it carries over all of the aspects that make the Atelier role-playing games enjoyable into a new genre. However, there are too many design choices that hold it back from being a great city building title. From the half-hearted RPG elements that either needed to be expanded upon or removed to the frustrating story layout, there are too many issues that get in the way of enjoying creating a bristling magical city. Seeing all of the faces from the past will still make it a worthwhile adventure for those wanting a pure injection of nostalgia but it’s harder to recommend for anyone outside not looking for that kind of hit.
GameRevolution reviewed Nelke and the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World on PS4 with a copy provided by the publisher.