Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Platform: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Category: Role-Playing, Simulation
Release Date: January 31, 2019 (NA) / March 26, 2019 (NA) / March 29, 2019 (EU)
Atelier meets Sim City in this side game.
Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists may not mention its link to the Atelier series up front like the mainline games, but this offshoot of the franchise is an Atelier game through and through. For those new to Atelier, the franchise is a long-running JRPG series of games, somewhere in that B tier of the genre. Although not a juggernaut, it is certainly a respectable series in the genre. Where those games focus on making items using alchemy and battling creatures, this side game is more of a town builder and management simulation style of game.
You play as Nelke, a failed alchemist who becomes an aristocrat out in the sticks. She is tasked with building up this ramshackled town, and is handed down tasks to accomplish within a set timeline to keep her post. She dives headfirst into her work, but she has an ulterior motive. She chose to be stationed in the village of Westwald to hunt down the Granzweit Tree, a relic of the Granzweit Sage said to be hidden in the area. As such, she wishes to build up the town enough to attract alchemists to live in the town and help with her search.
Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists is split up into two main gameplay section, split up by your weekdays and your holidays (weekend). On weekdays, you will be playing the town management simulation parts of the game, where the holidays are your downtime for more personal character growth and JRPG-style battles. Then there is the way story is delivered to you, which is very much reminiscent of a visual novel, where anime-style versions of the characters are static on the screen whilst the characters speak to one another.
Starting with the weekdays, you are given a menu for all the different actions you would like to take. First is the requests option, which allows you to select jobs for everyone in the village via a particular building, character or town sector. So you can select say the Sales option, and it will bring up all the shop building. From there, you can select who runs what shop, and what each shop will sell that week. Alternatively, you can select a particular character, and assign them to a shop of your choice. You can do the same for Production (growing and farming base materials), Dispatch (sending a team to look for items), and Synthesize (creating items from raw materials and other items).
Before assigning a character to a particular role in your town, it is best to check their stats, which show what jobs they are best suited for. For instance, having an alchemist sell goods in a store will yield less money and sales than someone who is a professional shopkeeper. This will have you assigning and re-assigning people to jobs throughout your playthrough to get the best items and income for your village.
Each of the four main selections (Synthesize, Sales, Production and Dispatch) feed into each other. For instance, to yield the best income from your Sales team, you need your alchemists to Synthesize the best items. To make the best items, the alchemists need the raw materials that both the Production team produce, and the Dispatch team find. This synergy takes a little getting used to, but when you get the hang of it, it really is a lot of fun, and one of the main driving forces of the game. You will look at an item you want to sell, check what materials the alchemists need to make it, and set out got those materials.
Sometimes you will need alchemists to make items for other alchemists, so I ended up having a production line of sorts. For instance, I had one alchemist make timber and stone so that I could make more buildings. Another alchemist handled the creation of distilled water, cloth and wheat flour. The third alchemist would then make the final products, such as beer, wine, bombs, shovels, bread, basically anything I wanted to sell for a profit. As you get further in the game and more complex items become available to you, you will need much more ateliers for your alchemists to work in, and have much more complicated production lines.
The second main option is Build, which allows you to build up your town. You select the district you want to build in, choose what you want to build there, and place the building where in town you want it. Placing buildings is done on a grid system, and each building needs a road for the front of the store to face. When you place the building, you can then choose whom you want to work there and what they sell/make/produce, saving you bouncing back to the Requests menu. The more spaces in a district you fill, the more you can upgrade them. Upgrading a district allows your population to grow, and gives you more space to build in the district you upgraded.
Then we have the Tasks menu. This is where you see the current goal that is set for you to achieve. Each main task also has a few side tasks that you can complete for extra rewards, but are not necessary. If you don’t complete your main task, then it is game over (I presume, it never came to that in my playthrough). Tasks are generally pretty simple, consisting of growing your population to a certain size, building a certain building type, or making a particular item. Things do get harder the further along you get, though it never gets truly difficult.
There is also a Commission option, but that is just a quick way of accessing your alchemist ateliers, so you can dictate what items they make without sifting through the Requests menu. This sounds pointless, but in practice it makes sense, as you won’t be needing to access your Production and Sales teams every week, where you likely will need to micromanage your alchemists each time. Finally, there is the Start Job selection, which finalizes all your choices and runs everyone through their tasks for the week.
After you have finished your week, you will be shown your Weekly Report. This shows your Population Progress and Earnings Progress. You will then be shown a few graphs and flowcharts, which help you see what shops are doing their jobs, which ones are lacking, and helps show the needs of the town.
Do you need more labor, items or shops? This can all be seen summed up here. There is also a Weekly MVP award, and shows you a ranking of all the townsfolk and how they did in their jobs. This helps you identify what shops may need to change the items they sell, which shopkeepers may need to be assigned to a different building, and things of that nature.
This brings us to the holiday section, or phase two of the gameplay. The main menu options here are Visit, Investigate, Research, Tasks and End Holiday. Tasks is identical as it is during the weekdays, so I won’t say any more about that. With the Visit option, you get a chance to speak with the townsfolk. This allows you to become friendly with the people living in your village, upping their friendship level.
You can also increase their EXP, be given special tasks they request from you, or they may even bring you plans for new buildings. Research allows you to have the alchemists work together to discover new things for your town. Some of these help move along the main quest line, while others are for developing new ideas for items you can craft, or new town buildings.
Finally, we have Investigate, which is essentially your JRPG portion of the game. Selecting that option brings up a map of the surrounding areas you have discovered. You select the area you want to investigate, which brings you to a menu of routes you can take through the area. When you complete a route, new routes become available to you to unlock, though it will cost you money to do so. After selecting a route, you choose the team you want to come with you, and go investigating! The team walk along a preset path with no control from you, stopping every so often to harvest items and have idle chit chat as they walk.
Every so often though, a monster will attack you. This is a rather typical turn-based affair, where you wait for your characters turn to come up, select an attack option, and whittle down your enemies health until they are no more. There is no mana bar, instead for your special attacks, you must use another action during your attack phase to grant you a green circle under the icon of your character. The more of these green circles you have, the sooner your turn will happen, though you can use them to activate your special attacks or use items as well if you choose. Some actions require more than one of those green orbs, so you need to decide whether using a weaker special now is worth it, rather than wait for a stronger attack next turn.
There is also a burst bar that fills up slightly after each action you take. When it fills up, you can hit the X button to activate it, making your party stronger and giving them access to stronger attacks. You can also choose to flee a battle if you so choose, but the fights tend not to get so far out of hand that you will struggle enough to warrant that. And that is all there is to the Investigation section, so you can go ahead and select End Holiday. This brings you back into the weekday portion, and the loop continues.
The art style of Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists is reminiscent of the Atelier games that have come before it. Each character has a beautiful anime-style portrait, which is used the majority of your interactions with them. There are 3D models of characters too, and although they are simple, they suit the overall vibe of the games visual look. What I really appreciate with the Atelier series is its use of vibrant colours, and this game is no exception. Everything pops off of the screen, and is just so pleasant to look at.
As for the sound design, it is equally as good. The soundtrack is exquisite and helps to give the game a laid back feel. As the game is rather relaxed to play, the songs just fit perfectly. There is a fair bit of voice-over work, but it is all in Japanese. I prefer the Japanese VO in these games, but I know some people may be turned off by that fact. As for the sound effects, they are fitting to each situation, be it the swing of your sword, the hammering of a building being made, or the brewing of potions in an atelier.
For the most part, the game ran smoothly and without a hitch. It looks equally as stunning while both docked and in handheld mode, and runs practically the same. I say practically, as I found that handheld mode ran perfectly, though when docked there did seem to be a tiny bit of slow down every now and then. This slow down was never game breaking, and wasn’t something I felt got in the way at all, but it is something worth noting.
Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists is a great celebration of the Atelier series. Featuring alchemists from throughout the series helps to bring some nostalgia for some of the great games in the series, whilst the new gameplay direction is both surprising and fun. That does come at the cost of a less robust battle and alchemy system, and although there are multiple characters to adventure with, the game doesn’t really establish any new characters worth remembering beyond Nelke and Lotos. All that being said, my gripes with the game are quite few, and with the series signature music and art style in place, I feel this has quickly become my favourite Atelier game overall.
THE VERDICT: 9/10
*Review Key Provided by Koei Tecmo
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Tags: Gust, Koei Tecmo, Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World, Nintendo Switch, review, Switch Review
This post was written by Lachlan Bruce