Game Title: Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Great Journey
Developer: Gust, Koei Tecmo
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Type: Vita
Download: 2.7 GB
NA Availability: Digital Download
EU Availability: Digital Download
PSTV Support: Yes
It feels like it was only last year that I seriously got into the Atelier series, but now I’ve played almost every single Atelier game the Vita has to offer. With reviews of the entire Dusk series, one of the Mystery series games, and having played Totori and Meruru beforehand, I’ve got most of the series covered. Although the newer games are really what strikes my fancy. I loved Ayesha and enjoyed Shallie and Escha, but none of them compared to how much I adored Atelier Sophie, the first of the Mystery series.
Of course, I’m in the minority for loving the Mystery series the most, but I was most excited about getting that series’ second game this year in the West. Not only because it is the second Mystery game, but also that the game claimed that it would ditch the point-to-point world map for a true open-world experience.
It’s finally here! So let’s get started with my review of the Vita/PSTV version of Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Great Journey!
Atelier Firis takes place not long after the events of Atelier Sophie. The story revolves around a young girl named FIris with the magical ability to see the ore inside rocks, whom has lived in an underground mining village all her life, with dreams of one day seeing the outside world. That dream bears fruit when an alchemist named Sophie bombs her way into their village and discovers the natural talent for alchemy that Firis holds, opening the doors for her to venture off into the world.
The game follows Firis as she travels out into the world with her older sister to become a licensed alchemist and explore the world freely. You have the typical cutesy dialogue that Atelier is known for, but there are 2 things I loved about the story. First is how emotional the story is around Firis. Within the first hour of the game, I felt for her.
The other is the fact that you get to see an alchemist grow from the point of knowing nothing about alchemy all the way to becoming a licensed alchemist. Most Atelier games have you playing as alchemists who know at least a little about alchemy from the start of the game, but until Firis meets Sophie, she doesn’t know the first thing about it.
Atelier Firis breaks from normal tradition and instead of being just a turn-based RPG with multitasking elements, it is an Open-World RPG with Multitasking Elements thrown into the mix. Firis is the first Atelier on the Vita that gives you a true open-world to explore as you progress through the story. No point-to-point maps. Just big, open areas for you to explore.
Outside of that, you have similar things to do. You are still fighting enemies to level up and gather items, you’re still using alchemy to combine items into new items for quests and side-quests, and you’re still going to have little bits of dialogue to pull up for character development for each individual extra character there is in the game.
How you do these things, though, is different. First off, the time limit system comes back for awhile. When you venture out into the big open world, you have exactly 1 year to travel, get 3 letters of recommendation to take the alchemy licensing exam, and pass said exam. That sounds like a long time, and the system is pretty lenient, but remember that with the return of the time system, everything you do uses up time. Running, Harvesting materials, performing alchemy, fighting enemies, and even just backtracking for something uses up precious time.
One new system that I love is the Portable Atelier system. As you explore, you find campfires, and can use these to set up a tent-like Atelier for you to rest or use alchemy. It’s very much like that scenes from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. You walk into this tent that’s barely big enough for 2 people and you’ve got a massive house inside it. Every time you go in, it’s just a magical moment.
Now the game can be tricky with this system in place. You have a time limit, but the moment you start rushing through areas, you’ll miss an optional area off to the side that contains materials you need for your next main quest. And realizing that takes away a lot of time. So, the best advice is to explore areas as you normally would. Just don’t stop to grind battles often or anything like that.
Now onto how you progress in the game. The story will unlock itself when you reach areas of the game. But as I said above, this is an Open World RPG, meaning that you’ve got large areas to explore and everything you find and everywhere you find has monsters to fight, materials to collect, NPCs to talk to and get side-quests from, and towns/cities where major story scenes take place.
Knowing where to go is a matter of referencing the World Map. You’ll always get story prompts on where you need to go, as well as Quest Information from your customization menu. So, while you do have the freedom of roaming around wherever you’d like, there still is a presence of linearity of where you need to be going. For example, if you go out into the open world and try to go back into the mining village, you’ll get a prompt telling you you’re going the wrong way, but the game won’t stop you from going backwards if you so wish.
As much as this is an Atelier game that focuses on alchemy, I feel like combat has a much bigger presence in Firis than past games. Because you’re exploring and you interact with so many enemies on the map, you end up taking part in a lot of combat. So, if you’re someone who hasn’t played the series because of the lack of combat focus, this game should be more to your liking.
Alchemy, itself, is pretty in tune with how it was with Sophie. When you throw materials into your cauldron, you get a grid with colored tiles for each material, where you can set in formations to enhance the items you’re making. A little bit more in depth is the catalyst system, where you set a catalyst depending on what types of bonuses you want on your items and you must line up the grid pattern to get those bonuses.
Now, overall, the difficulty isn’t too high. It’s about the same as it was in Sophie. There will be key times when you need to level a bit, but for the majority of the game, just fight battles that come your way, and you won’t need to stop to grind. And the length is about the same as well. I cleared the game in around 40 hours, so you’ve got a lot of game to be able to cover.
Controlling the game is pretty standard. But first of all, like the others before it, Atelier Firis is compatible with the PlayStation TV. There aren’t any special L3 or R3 controls, but it’s playable, so those wanting to play it on the big screen can do so.
Outside of that, we’ve got the Left Analog Stick to move and the Right to move the camera. The D-Pad can navigate menus (but is not used for zooming. Start is used for that now). The R trigger doesn’t really do anything while the L trigger can pull up your dialogue list so you can re-read dialogue from previous cutscenes.
Finally, the face buttons. X interacts with NPCs and objects as well as confirming menu options and Circle lets you cancel options or jump while out in the field. Triangle pulls up your customization menu or look at details in combat. Finally, square is used to swipe your staff to collect materials from trees and rocks or to strike enemies and begin a battle.
Here is where things get dicey. But before we get to that, the visual presentation is great, as these games always are. The character models and environments all look really nice on the handheld screen and the cel-shading helps them look that much better.
Load Times are fine, but the frame-rate is where the real problem lies. Atelier games are known for having frame drops in many areas, especially the Dusk games. But Sophie was an improvement and Firis is not. The opening mining town area has a very random frame-rate. You’ll start by seeing it run around 25-30 fps and then suddenly it will slow down to around 12 fps for a while. Then, you’ll be in the same area, and it’ll jump back up to 25.
It’s even more confusing out in the open world, because those areas that are HUGE compared to the mining town almost all run at a smooth 30 fps, aside from very specific areas. Outside of the mining town, there are very few areas that slow down to around 10-12 fps, but they are definitely there. I think this is one of those cases where Gust could have sacrificed a little bit of graphical prettiness to eliminate those really bad areas.