A few hours for an exam might seem excessive but imagine having five years to complete your graduation assignment—that’s the predicament that our protagonist Marie finds herself in. The premise of KOEI TECMO’s Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg is simple but effective: guide the smart but simply hopeless young alchemist through the next five years of her life, gathering knowledge, meeting new people that will help her overcome trials and tribulations, and ultimately pass the exam that her professor has set out for her.
As its name implies, this version of Atelier Marie is a remake of the PlayStation One original from way back when. Compared to Atelier games of recent years, Atelier Marie plays significantly different to that of, say, Atelier Ryza which I reviewed a few short months ago. Marie is more of a simulation and crafting game than a role-playing game (“RPG”) and it plays its strengths quite well. Now I won’t ask five years of your time, but I think a few minutes is enough to talk about Marie and her antics in this return to the original Atelier experience.
Cooking, Cleaning, Management
After some stern words from Professor Ingrid, little Marie is plopped into the town of Salburg complete with her own workshop. Her instructions are simple: prove your worth as an alchemist and you have five years to do so. Simple enough, all you have to do is make sure your finances stay in the green, gain as much knowledge from the townsfolk as possible, gather your ingredients, and craft, craft, craft.
Well, it’s deeper than that. See at the heart of Atelier Marie lies its clock system, counting down the days from when you start to year number five. There’s no time of day or anything like that, the system behaves more like a turn counter. For every particular action you do, a day (or several) passes. That means for every time you step back into your atelier, craft an item, or even venture out of town to gather ingredients, time starts flying and boy does it fly.
Let me put it this way: we’re all well-aware of how modern games love to litter their maps with all sorts of stuff for their crafting systems mandated by someone up in management. Picking up grass, acorns, what have you, but even then, if you’ve been playing games for some time now, you’re likely conditioned to pick up just about anything that comes up—and there’s nothing wrong with that, I love me a good grind. Atelier Marie, however, will quickly smack your item-snatching hands once you realise that each item you pick up advances a whole day. Never mind the return trip back to town, which can eat up to weeks depending on how far you venture out.
That’s the kind of game Atelier Marie is. You’ll need to have a good idea of how to plan out your days (including your saves!) so you’re on track to finishing your exam proper. But if this sounds daunting, don’t worry, it really isn’t. The town of Salburg has a lot of resources to help you on your adventure, such as shoppes and the townspeople themselves. Players will often find themselves at the tavern, taking on orders to gain monies and reputation, which in turn is funneled into paying recruitable party members (and their equipment, because they’re bums) to venture out with you to collect more ingredients and fight monsters.
The game’s combat system is fairly simplistic. Three party members (including you) take turns smacking mobs until their health whittles down to zero. The baddies have the same goal. There’s not much more to this than your average basic turn-based combat system. You could use items to power up and heal, but I never needed to do that. Heck, at some point I completed the Weapon Shop’s rather amusing master quest, in which he gifted me a staff that I would use to clear out entire maps in a matter of seconds. And while battling monsters counts as a passing of a day, at some point it doesn’t matter all that much especially once you trick out your atelier with adorable little faeries to help run the place.
But combat, like many of Atelier Marie’s systems, plays only a small part in the core gameplay loop. Heck, most of the game’s systems are like this, all revolving around your ultimate goal: crafting a high-rarity item. And completing story-related crafting scenarios, of course. Learning recipes is key to success, which you pick up at the Academy from books you buy and read once you get a library card.
Crafting is fun, especially when you’ve worked hard to get specific resources. Even better when you sell your creations for big bucks. Except for the few times where crafting triggers minigames specific to certain recipes, such as cheese wedges and mice, in what I can only describe as something straight out of Toontown Online. Now I’m all for changing up gameplay, but minigames are annoying and not very fun—especially the mouse one. They’re not hard but failing these minigames results in the total loss of whatever you were making. Thankfully, you’ll rarely run into these but when you do you’ll probably not like them very much either.
Completing recipes you’ve learned levels up Marie’s stats. Matter of fact, just about everything you do levels you up, so it’s always a good idea to make sure not a single day is wasted. Even going outside and talking to the townsfolk is worth it.
Barrels of Fun
Because of the game’s clock system, doing something is better than nothing at all. There are story beats locked behind just about everything you do, such as exploring the countryside with party members and increasing their relationship level with Marie, crafting, and whatnot. Just about everyone with a portrait has something to offer, whether that’s background details about themselves or the land itself, which has seen war before and potentially could once more. These heavy details are few and far between, and the game keeps a lighthearted tone for most of your playthrough.
Marie will have plenty of conversations between her friends and the Professor, told through the game’s adorable little ‘chibi’ models and in visual novel-like sections with Live2D portraits. Sometimes you’ll get well-drawn illustrations (“CGs”) as well, particularly if you pursue increasing relationship levels with Salburg’s residents. As for the story as a whole, there’s not much to really say—you’ll either like it and its side stories or you’ll find it to be background noise.
And that loops right into my big picture with this game: Atelier Marie is a compelling adventure slash simulation game, and it’s a lot of fun especially once you’ve figured out your path to success. It’s easy to get lost in managing your atelier, your town reputation, and self-improvement. But it’s not a difficult game, either, and as a matter of fact you could quite literally have everything you need to obtain the game’s good ending by your second year—and that’s with casual play.
The next three years, depending on whether or not you want to see Salburg’s side content through, will either feel like a slog or keep you as focused as the game’s first few hours. The simple systems are only enough to keep you interested for so long, so you’ll need a narrative push to keep you interested. Personally, I liked the cast of characters (particularly the weapons shop guy) and saw through some of their stories. I think you could easily clear everyone’s in one playthrough, but if you don’t like the time limit you could also enable the game’s ‘Endless Mode’ which lets you clear the main scenario whenever you so please.
It’s a great option but I think the sense of urgency is necessary for this game, and if you’re looking for a full RPG experience, I’d suggest you play Atelier Ryza 3 instead.
But really, Atelier Marie Remake is a fun game. The clock system keeps you on your toes, making you plan out your days, and the town of Salburg always has something to surprise you. An easy recommendation for the systems-driven or RPG player.
Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg
Windows PC / Steam
- Simple yet fun systems keep players engaged in the game's core gameplay loop.
- A lighthearted story with fun moments and occasional downtrodden stories.
- A pleasing visual style draped with adorable chibis.
- Solid PC port.
- Main scenario completion can be done fairly quickly—your interest in completing a playthrough lives and dies by narrative pursuits, the core mechanics simply aren't enough after this.
- Occasional forced minigames are very annoying.