The Atelier franchise has never been more successful in its 26-year history than it has been in the last few years, thanks to the success of the Atelier Ryza trilogy and other content-rich repackagings. However, the first five of its two dozen main games have long been inaccessible to fans outside of Japan without the use of fan translations and other alternatives—until now.
Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg is a modern remake of the series’ 1997 PlayStation debut (which, to tell you how far back Atelier’s roots go, was also ported to the Sega Saturn, then the Dreamcast and PS2). If you’ve ever picked up one of the other games, you’ll find many core concepts were present right from the start: as a plucky young woman who’s training in the art of alchemy, you must forage and fend off monsters to procure the materials for your craft and hone your skills.
In particular, the titular heroine Marie (short for “Marlone,” apparently), is a legendary underachiever at the alchemy academy. Her mission, should you choose to accept it, is a sort of high-risk independent study: operate an alchemy shop for five years and present the instructor with a worthy product. To this end, Marie must complete requests within deadlines to earn coin, knowledge, and reputation, allowing her to take on tougher creations.
Having caught on to the series with Atelier Ryza 2 myself, I was curious to see this new take on where it all began. Right from the start, Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg struck me with its charming presentational facelift.
“Right from the start, Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg struck me with its charming presentational facelift.”
Where the original game employed an isometric view for battle and a handful of other environments and handled navigation between locations with an unimaginative menu, the remake has opened Salburg’s horizons as a proper city bordered by explorable gathering zones. Characters have ascended from squat sprites to fully rendered chibi models, complemented by redrawn and animated profile pictures in conversations. Tying it all together is a remastered score, which can be swapped for the original music if you wish.
The new presentation is a breakthrough for Atelier Marie Remake. It retains the spirit of the original while granting the modern touchup its gameplay needs. After researching the original versions, just being able to move around outside of menus looks like a godsend, and the new models have much more personality. It’s not a match for the open, realistic vistas of Atelier Ryza 3, but it’s a suitable compromise between old and new.
Where the presentation is new, however, the gameplay remains over-steeped in tradition. There’s a time system looming over Atelier Marie Remake’s head, given that Marie has five years to achieve her goal. Certain in-game actions take up days at a time. Travelling to locations outside town can take multiple days, and it costs a day each time she accesses a gathering node or fights random enemies. Simply walking out the front door of her atelier eats another page of the calendar somehow.
The deadline is ample unless you’re really mismanaging every other element of the game, and it doesn’t exactly inspire the same temporal anxiety as other time-limited games like Majora’s Mask or Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. Yet, this entire system feels like a series of jagged edges that Atelier Marie Remake should have sanded down. Marie’s deadline could have been retained while adjusting how much time is consumed on certain actions.
To that end, there is also an “Unlimited” mode that removes the five-year deadline should you choose to continue playing into the sixth year and beyond. However, deadlines still exist on individual requests, so the unbalanced time consumption still rears its archaic head.
More recent Atelier players may notice a few other fundamental changes to how the alchemical synthesis works. While the Atelier Ryza games and others have made alchemy an automatic success if the required components are present, Marie can fail to synthesize an item under certain circumstances, and the trait system from Ryza’s games is absent. I actually appreciated this change, reflecting the differences between the characters and settings, though accidentally failing for the first time was an unpleasant surprise given the days I spent on that particular item.
Thankfully, Atelier Marie Remake’s improved UI helps track not only active quests but the components of alchemic recipes, where ingredients can be found, and even the criteria for all of the game’s possible events—from the seven endings to Harvest Moon-esque social scenes. Sometimes the process of gathering can be switched up with minigames, like a side-scrolling event where Marie must dodge bouncing slimes to grab the material she seeks.
Though the series likes to play up its more casual, everyday nature as opposed to other epic RPGs, Atelier Marie Remake is not without its challenges. Marie can hire up to two other friends and/or mercenaries to help her out in the game’s grid-based battles. The visual glow-up helps disguise the simple yet effective turn-based combat and bring it closer in line with more recent Atelier titles.
All told, Atelier Marie Remake admirably updates the foundation of a cult-favourite series. Long-time fans should relish the opportunity to see where it all began, though it doesn’t scratch exactly the same itch as Atelier Ryza 3, and dated leftover elements may diminish the overall experience for those with less investment.