On May 23rd, 1997, a small developer named Gust released the first game in the Atelier series: Atelier Marie: The Alchemist of Salburg. The game was based around a love of collecting and creating items, which their contemporaries weren’t focusing on at the time. While games such as Harvest Moon popularized the slow-life simulation RPG subgenre, Atelier series creator Shinichi Yoshiike wanted to take things a step further. Thus, Atelier Marie: The Alchemist of Salburg was released in Japan. While celebrated as fresh and creative, Atelier Marie saw only marginal success. It soon received various ports with new features, yet the title unfortunately never released in the West. Now, just over 25 years later, Gust has decided to celebrate the long-running series by remaking the first title and finally releasing it in the West. Thanks to Gust, we were given the chance to play the game early to see how this darling little remake is shaping up.
Atelier Marie Remake opens like a generic JRPG that we’ve all played at some point: a dark threat looms over the land, and chosen heroes answer the call to thwart evil and save the world from a disastrous fate. As we consume this plot we know all too well, it’s quickly tossed aside — as that is not our story’s focus. This tale is about the daily lives of those caught between clashes of good and evil. It’s about the everyday lives of people: merchants, bartenders, mercenaries, scholars, and even alchemists. It follows the life of the academy’s worst student, who wields the record for the lowest grades since the academy’s foundation. It’s certainly not an achievement the game’s heroine is proud of.
The game starts with Marlone (Marie for short) waking from a terrible slumber. Memories of being yelled at by her teacher haunt her nights, and her days are spent in anxiety as she’s faced with one single, last-ditch effort to pass: a special task to create an item within five years and present it. Failure to produce said item — as well as creating a poorly made item — will result in expulsion. Thus, her goal is simple: prove she belongs at the academy, even if she is a bit of an airhead.
While Atelier Marie‘s premise may be simple, it’s full of charm and whimsy. It’s a refreshing return to basics, especially coming off the most recent Atelier games: Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream and Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & The Secret Key. While those games feature large worlds rife with flora and fauna, complex synthesis systems, and near-mechanics-overload battle systems, Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg keeps the charm and simplicity of the original title.
One thing that carries the charm in Atelier Marie‘s remake is the use of chibi models for the characters. It keeps the same tone and feel of the original game’s chibi sprites, and the design choice ensures the game is simply adorable in every instance. The world itself is also scaled down to fit the chibi aesthetic, making navigation both easy and aesthetically pleasing. It’s great to see Salburg fleshed out in 3D versus picking locations from menus à la the original game. That said, a map with said list of locations is simply a button press away.
The world map is also quite simple, and fans of older Atelier games will notice the style immediately. Locations stand a few nodes away from the hub city of Salburg and take a given number of days to reach. Along the way, events, such as ambushes by enemies or spotting items and money on the path, occur. Much like the original, there is a prominent display to show time needed for trips, yet now the enemy levels and item types are displayed, along with the respective seasons to find particular items.
Exploration in Atelier Marie Remake is quite different from the original game. Rather than simply going to static maps and gathering via a menu, players can now roam the maps in full 3D and gather whichever items they see. Gathering does take a day, so exercise caution when roaming about and stuffing the basket full, for time may fly by. Of course, this is the simplified gathering found in the original Atelier Marie, where items are gathered at random. However, enemies may strike while Marie is busy gathering.
Simplicity is the name of the game, and Atelier Marie Remake‘s combat is no exception. Much like the original, battles are essentially on a 3×6 grid with 3×3 reserved for each side. That said, the presence of a grid doesn’t make the gameplay tactical by any means. Both friend and foe can change their position, which affects attack and defense. There is a minor strategic element to placing Marie in the back so she takes the least damage while putting the heavy hitters on the front lines for a 20% boost in offense and a 20% drop in defense. Wiping out an enemy’s front line also makes them step forward one square, thus removing their defensive buff while also taking off their offensive debuff. As simple as the combat is, there is a methodical nature to it that is quite rewarding—especially when picking apart a group of enemies with items, magic, and multi-target skills.
At first, battles can seem difficult due to the lack of equipment and the pitiful amount of crafted items. Yet, the loop of Atelier Marie Remake quickly reveals itself. Players are encouraged to take tasks from the Sky Tavern, travel to gathering locations, create items, return, and complete requests while selling items they find or create. The economy, at least early on, ensures Marie will have enough to hire her bodyguards, buy new books to learn new recipes, and get new equipment for her atelier. That said, players won’t be rolling in gold for at least a few years due to all the upgrades needed. Thus, the cycle of gaining resources and spending them comes to fruition. Yet, one thing to keep in mind: time is also a resource and the days are finite.
As Marie has five years to create her wondrous item, the clock ticks down daily. Leaving the atelier adds a fair warning: returning will make a day pass, regardless of what you accomplish. Performing tasks, gathering rumors and requests, and finishing up shopping are all encouraged before returning to ensure players make the most out of their days. Time also passes when traveling, gathering, and battling, so players should keep an eye on the calendar should they want to attend any events. That said, there is an Unlimited Mode for those who want a more casual, laid-back experience with no deadline. This mode, however, removes a few events tied to the approaching deadline.
The days also fly by while crafting items. Like the original, Atelier Marie Remake’s synthesis system is rather basic. Unlike modern Atelier games, players simply select from a list of recipes and add the available ingredients. Success is dependent on Marie’s ability and her current level of fatigue. Naturally, crafting day and night can wear the poor alchemist down and cause synthesis to fail, resulting in lost materials. A quick rest or using an item can help reduce fatigue, but just like in real life, overworking oneself is strongly advised against. Players can, however, hire fairies to craft and gather – for a fee, of course.
While this preview was only for the first of Atelier Marie Remake’s five years, the time flew by. I crafted items to sell, bobbed my head to the fantastic new renditions of beloved songs, and fought bandits far above my level. Of course, I didn’t stand a chance. With my newfound grudge to fuel me, I loaded up with items to put bandits to sleep, poison the leader, and drop explosives on the entire crew of rogues and ruffians. Autumn soon became Winter, and the world map changed with it. Snow dotted the land and gatherable items changed, naturally encouraging my exploration. Although the general loop of Atelier Marie Remake is largely in line with the original game, I’m excited to see Gust’s take on events and locations from over 25 years ago, and I can’t wait to hear the new versions of songs.
While Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg is just a few months away, the polish already shows early on. The quality of life improvements over the original game, the improved onboarding and tutorials, and the new UI add quite a bit to this long-desired remake. As it’s the first official English release for Atelier Marie, these updates will go a long way showing Western fans the ropes with the very first Atelier game. Despite my brief time with the preview, the game is shaping up to be very, very promising. Stay tuned to RPGFan for the full review, as well as something a little extra in the coming weeks. Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg launches on July 13th, 2023.