Release Date: March 26th, 2019 (Nintendo Switch, PC, Playstation 4)
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
ESRB: Everyone 10+ (Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes)
In media, spinoffs and side projects always come with a abundance of hype. These often end up being hit or miss and completely different from the origin project. In the case of Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World, the JRPG series Atelier spins off into a town building sim. This concept at its core makes a lot of sense. Most of the mainline games have the titular character coming into or already living in the town that they set up in. Instead, why not have the character be the head of developing a small village into a key city of their world? It also gives an easy excuse to tie in a way to get former characters to this town to parade them around for longtime fans of the series (More on that later!). But like I said these spinoffs and side projects are often hit or miss. So, on which end of the spectrum does Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World fall?
Interestingly enough, this game personally shifted from one end of the spectrum to another during my playthrough. The game started off slowly, though with a surprisingly solid story for a town building sim, and I personally was slowly losing interest. Then the game added citizen requests, one of the key components of the RPG games in the series, while picking up steam with the addiction these type of games and gameplay loops provides. It was like the addiction was fully injected into my veins about two hours in. That injection was mostly from the citizen requests that added a layer of meaning and progression that was needed for players to find themselves staying invested. It also helped to overcome the lackluster investigation and battle sections of the game. See, in this game, as opposed to the RPG’s when the player leaves the town to gather materials the game auto walks the selected team. This causes the player to be passively watching the screen unless they want to run or gets sucked into a battle.
When the team runs, it causes the team to not pick up any materials and increases the chance of future battles. Running is not the recommended action unless the player needs to finish that path to unlock the next one. Luckily, the game quickly allows players to purchase perks for each path, with one increasing the walking speed. This perk makes the walking speed perfect to finish the path without running with a full clock. For those unfamiliar with the Atelier series, you may be asking why there is a clock. The series is notorious for its time limit-based gameplay, something which can be seen with citizen requests as well, and for Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World the game limits the amount of time the player has during their “holidays.” Holidays are basically off days and the one time the player themselves can investigate, talk to the main villagers, and research. With the limited time, however, the player has to decide what is most important to spend their time on once the village begins to grow. Longtime fans will love seeing this aspect of the RPG’s being used.
Who are these main villagers you may ask? They are mostly fan-favorite characters from all of the previous games in the series. The way the game makes sense of this is that they teleported via items they each crafted…sometimes unintentionally blowing up the item to cause the effect. While it works, it is a thin premise that every one of those characters had a similar idea and ended up in the same region. It hurts the story a bit, but longtime fans will not care as they get all these characters paraded in front of them in quick fashion. Newer fans, like myself, do not have an emotional attachment to the characters that they have not played and may not know the backstory of the connected characters. The game only goes skin deep in these mentions, though, so the player should not feel like they are missing anything, but there is a barrier there.
So where does this all leave Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World? Honestly, it is not a bad game at all, but some of the automation and simplification – especially material gathering and battling – brings the score down quite a bit, especially when the gameplay starts off too slowly and hinders early progression of the game. Fortunately, there are enough redeeming factors to keep this spin-off a fun distraction from the mainline series. Overall, this game is a good option to celebrate the history of the series and play a pretty solid town building simulator.
Review copy provided by Koei Tecmo.