Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists:
Ateliers of the New World
FROM the outset, Gust projected Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World to tread off the beaten path. It was first announced to be in the works during a social-media broadcast on Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings early last year; in particular, producer Keisuke Kikuchi noted that it would boast of a “festive feeling,” industry parlance for the involvement of an all-star cast. Subsequently, the developer undertook an online character popularity poll to close its yearlong celebration of the series’ twentieth anniversary, with participation rewarded by a teaser on the upcoming game in a “new land.”
Reading between the lines, longtime fans of the Atelier franchise figured the new release to be a spinoff featuring familiar faces. And, following a short turnaround time, they were proven right. Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World does remain a role-playing game incorporating quite a few elements that have contributed to the series’ popularity. On the other hand, it likewise showcases attributes that set it apart from its predecessors. The most glaring departure from the norm: Stripped down to basics, it’s a title that places as much emphasis on the management of structures on to the populace that resides in them.
Even the treatment of the story is different. Certainly, Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World sticks to the Atelier franchise’s thematic bias for a youthful central character compelled by turns of events to stand on her (or, occasionally, his) own, with the game essentially being a journey towards self-discovery and independence. That said, it parades a principal protagonist who, unlike its predecessors’ leading characters, possesses no knowledge of the magical tradition of purifying and perfecting particles for practical applications.
Indeed, young noble Nelke von Lestamm is not able to dabble in alchemy in order to fulfill objectives common to previous releases in the Atelier series. Instead, she aims to further collective interests through the efficient employment of those around her. She moves to create a bustling ecosystem by setting up structures through which townsfolk can interact, and that can, hopefully, jump-start a cycle of progress that attracts more inhabitants. En route, she gets to rub elbows and work with a robust roster of franchise favorites enticed by her exertions and, later on, forced to do so as a means to return to their respective milieus.
Considering the simulation-building leanings of Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World, gamers are not surprisingly treated to a protracted introduction focused on narrative exposition and gameplay tutorial. Nelke’s goal of transforming Westwald into a bustling metropolis involves her tapping disparate characters to generate materials, to turn them into finished goods, and then to sell them by way of building up resources for more structures en route. The interface is wholly menu-driven and turn-based, enabling gamers to dole out assignments and identify which structures to build and where to build them, and likewise to interact with other townsfolk and explore the growing landscape.
Needless to say, there is a learning curve, but the preferential option of Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World to eschew micromanagement in favor of broad strokes helps move it along. Finding the right mix of resources for exploration, generation, production, and distribution can be a challenge early on, but the trial-and-error phase does reap dividends. Soon enough, gamers will hit their stride and make decisions from an overhanging perspective. At the same time, their work on the ground shifts to building relationships (crucial to the development of novel alchemy recipes), and overseeing battles (integral to the discovery of new sources of material).
Parenthetically, Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World is a technical marvel. Sharp graphics succeed in presenting series-representative art styles and character models and, at the same time, aid in the navigation of text-heavy material. The sounds are top-notch, offering mood-appropriate music and spot-on Japanese voice acting. And all throughout, the smoothness of gameplay impresses; the pace of the game is leisurely at best, but no visual or aural lags occur even when the screen becomes busy and gets to be a bustle of activity.
For the most part, Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World does its franchise proud. As a spin-off that branches out to the hitherto-foreign concept of construction simulation, it nonetheless manages to stay true to its Atelier roots. Publisher Koei Tecmo foresees it to be the first in a line of genre-melding offerings, and with reason. Picking it up is a breeze, and while its main story focusing on the discovery and taming of the mystical Granzweit Tree can be finished in the low-double-digit mark, it lays claim to a feast of options that’s easily a 40-hour timesink.
Simply put, Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World invites gamers to linger. And, in its deft handling of elements from seemingly disparate videogame categories, it succeeds in doing so. As with every other memorable title on store shelves, it underscores that the journey and not the destination is what truly matters.
• Immersive storyline
• Character depth
• Top-notch audio-visual presentation
• Ideal mix of city- and relationship-building gameplay
• All-star cast of protagonists from the Atelier franchise
• Protracted story exposition and gameplay tutorial
• Predetermined exploration paths limit in-game independence
• Relative lack of difficulty in dispatching enemies
Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is an excellent tactical RPG that proves the value of crowdfunding in propelling grand ideas of independent developers to fruition. On the strength of a Kickstarter initiative that attracted more than 2,000 backers and raised 125% of target, Witching Hour Studios has come up with an outstanding storyline that follows the return of investigator Cicero Gavar, exiled for crimes against the state, to chaos-driven Citte della Hombre. As he looks into the abduction of diplomat Razitof Azrus, he enlists the help of guildsmen from the Masquerada, whose control of the seat of power is threatened by Contadani rebels from the lower classes.
At the heart of the conflict are Mascherines, ancient masks that provide users with power to summon magic. Gavar & Company use these to cast spells that can be chain-linked via the Elemental Tag System for enhanced status effects. During battles, skill modifiers and superior positioning are likewise crucial to victory. The action unfolds in real time, but gamers are provided the option to issue instructions to other members of the party. Meanwhile, the narrative progresses through both visual-novel-type interaction between characters and information gathered in exploration.
Notwithstanding the wealth of material presented and a liberal dose of combat en route, Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is relatively short on first pass. That said, it provides bang for the buck via its New Game Plus option, which has Gavar in possession of all the requisite skills and buffs from the outset, and which then offers a clearer understanding of the overarching story. A definite home run for Witching Hour Studios, it stands out from the usual dregs in the Nintendo Switch eShop in both intent and implementation. (9/10)