Nelke & The Legendary Alchemists: Atelier of the New World is the latest in the seemingly yearly franchise that is Atelier. What people who aren’t following the series may miss is this game isn’t actually Atelier Nelke & for good reason, despite not having the namesake, is Nelke crafty enough to make it into our hearts? Or is it just a duff dried pasta picture? Read on to find out.
Nelke & The Legendary Alchemists is a spin-off title from the hugely successful Atelier games which came to light in the middle of the PS3 life cycle. Featuring a more laid back approach to usual JRPG tropes and putting a huge focus on time & resource management these games have managed to create quite a niche for themselves.
Nelke hopes to further this niche by switching the focus from an RPG adventure with alchemy to a City Builder, with alchemy & light RPG elements. It’s an interesting mix of genres and Koei Tecmo manages to fuse them in such a way it’s an addictive time sink with a lot going for it once you get past the initial shock of it not being the usual Atelier game.
Nelke & The Legendary Alchemists puts you in the boots of Nelke, a noblewoman who’s been given the job of governor of Westbald, this benefits her as she is currently searching for a mythical tree called the Granzwald. It’s a basic plot which seems to take a back seat for a lot of the game which is a usual criticism of the Atelier games but here it’s borderline forgettable. The fact the main plot isn’t too important isn’t actually a knock on the title though, no the game is made up of many fan service style events with characters throughout the entire Atelier series. It’s always a joy to see which character will be joining your village next, joining you through your adventure and building that friendship, let’s face it, it’s always good to see Rorona again!.
Graphically it’s not going to wow anyone, it falls in line with the standard of the series and is mostly pushed forward by its charming art direction which is something the Atelier series has always excelled in. There are times, such as looking at your town where the graphics are really nice but as the game is mostly menu based it doesn’t really give the time for the 3D character models to really shine. The exploration also has a massive impact on this but I’ll touch on that soon.
Nelke & The legendary alchemists feature an outstanding arrangement of tracks from previous Atelier games through the series history. There are some fantastic tracks which ease you into the addictive gameplay loop and place you firmly within the world of Atelier. The game does feature an entirely Japanese dub which could put some players off but it’s par the course as of late and honestly hasn’t affected any of my enjoyment of the game.
The real make or break for Nelke & The Legendary Alchemists is the gameplay & as mentioned earlier, this isn’t your standard Atelier affair. Nelke plays as more of city management simulator with RPG aspects to bulk it out, neither side is as fleshed out as I would have liked but it does work in an unexpectedly addictive and enjoyable way.
The City Builder side is about as basic as you would see in mobile game, you’ll mostly be building stores, Ateliers and Resource gathering, you do make roads and can tweak it so it resembles a village but for the most part you’ll not see your citizens walking around, nor deal with aspects such as housing or basic needs. You’ll spend most of your time here, tweaking around in menus, choosing what items are to be sold, what your Ateliers such produce and meeting the numerous requests from your citizens to meet those standard Atelier time restrictions and building your village further.
Once you’ve done your building and management bit, you are given the day off, here you can choose to spend your time building relationships with the characters who join your town or explore the areas surrounding your village, fighting monsters, gathering items and furthering the tale.
The exploration isn’t your standard free-roaming affair, rather the game automatically moves your party across a 2D section, you’ll stop to gather items and hit random battles but there is no freedom of movement, you can choose to prioritize getting to the end of the route by running and skipping any gathering but in regards to the exploration, it’s extremely watered down and can be a right stickler for anyone expecting charming areas to explore.
The battles are your basic turn-based affair, you bring along some extra party members who get involved once you’ve gained enough meter but overall it didn’t do anything the series hasn’t already done better, much like the rest of the game it’s just another serviceable feature which helps create an addictive game loop.
So you have all these systems which on the surface are all quite basic, but they all manage to work so well with each other. The exploration and character building sections manage to work as breathers from the heavy menu based nature of the game, it breaks it up in such a way that you’ll easily lose hours to the game without even noticing. Game progression is tied to exploration and research, the research requires friendships to be a certain level and certain items to be produced, it’s a nice dangly carrot that keeps you going “One more turn” and kept me hooked through my first playthrough in a way the series hadn’t quite managed before.
Multiple playthroughs are a must here, you can’t see everything there is to see here in just one playthrough, you won’t see every character or every bit of a character development but there is a New Game+ mode to help this and the gameplay loop means the game is easy enough to just pick up for a few hours without it feeling too samey.
I really enjoyed my time with Nelke & The Legendary Alchemists, it was such a shake-up for the series even if it is a spin-off, the gameplay really kept me playing and it being on Nintendo Switch made it feel like an ideal title to just play for half an hour when I got the chance or while commuting. It’s not the most in-depth Atelier game & series die-hards may have issues with the massive departure it is, but if you fancy something new and want to try your hand at an Atelier city management game, Nelke has just what you need and it’ll only cost you countless hours lost in its gameplay loop.