Rarely does a town-builder come that’s so purely boring by design.
Atelier Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World (Now to be abbreviated to simply ‘Nelke’) is a unique spin-off of the extremely well-recieved Atelier franchise – A set of JRPGs with a softer charm than most, focusing on the more ‘high-fantasy’ aspect of JRPG’s, theming themselves around an omnipresent clock ticking down to the game’s finale, revolving around magical processes housed inside of ‘Ateliers’, more akin to crafting rooms or witches’ huts of yore; Nelke decides to try and shake up this formula whilst catering to long-term fans of the Atelier franchise by creating a town-building and management simulator featuring characters from all over the Atelier franchise, all coming to help you develop your town.
…Sound good, right? Well, it would be, if the damn thing wasn’t so utterly devoid of meaningful choice and engagement.
Nelke has a serious set of flaws that bogs down the experience from something that could have been an extremely interesting and fun spinoff; for one, the gameplay is probably the biggest crime of all in this disappointing package – Gameplay consists of a set cycle that you adhere to every day; you begin by checking on your villagers, their tasks, and construct new buildings in an effort to clear ‘Tasks’, goals that are intended to progress your town and to push you further – Split into two forms, sub-tasks and main tasks (I.E. story progression tasks), these can range from maintaining a specific profit margin for a period of time, raising the population, etc… However these goals are always the same, no matter how many playthroughs you run through. After this, you get a holiday day where you can visit villagers to raise your bond, and go on Investigations in order to defeat monsters and gather new crafting items to raise the town’s profits… The issue here, however, is that combat is utterly meaningless. There are no difficulty modes in the game, and as a result – providing that you keep at least a passive eye on things – all battles can easily be auto-ran through and defeated without a single input from the player; outside of fights, you have two options whilst the game auto-scrolls towards the end of your Investigation much like a bad ripoff of Nintendogs; you can either Run, which expends a large amount of stamina, or Walk, which usually means you won’t reach the end of the Investigation and unlock the treasure chest of items waiting at the end of each journey. Usually, I found that the best way to yeild the highest rewards would be to run quickly at the start for maybe a second or two, and then walk the rest as you’d not only encounter more fights and foraging opportunities, but would also reach that coveted chest at the end for a huge payout of crafting items.
This, however, would be strategic if there was any choice to be made in your crafting. Yes, you can choose which items you can create, however ultimately everything in Nelke boils down to making more money off of whatever you’re making, or meeting the Tasks for each week – Money makes more facilities, which meets more Tasks, which increases population, which unlocks new facilities and items, which makes more money, which makes more facilities… And so forth… This wouldn’t be bad if it was a bit open-ended or malleable, however this progression – outside of the sub-tasks – is completely linear and feels like you’re on a singular track towards the end game. I am aware that there are a variety of endings available, however these seem to simply be gated by the number of friendships you make and the main tasks you clear rather than any other significant metric.
One thing that also irks me about Nelke – and admittedly has me worried for the rest of the Atelier franchise – is the total lack of quality present in Nelke; many of the game’s screens are simple still images with very minimal animation inbetween, with the most movement and animation being showcased during cutscenes or Investigations – Looking around your town consists of CCTV-like camera angles sweeping over permanently predetermined camera positions, which is especially puzzling given that the models for each building and many of the NPC’s are in the game, as per cutscenes and Investigations, however you never directly control a single person in Nelke, just monitoring and snapping to grid-based placement in the map screen with the sort of extreme swiftness that would be expected of a cheap-looking indie title. I’m not joking when I say there’s literally not a single part of Nelke that I enjoyed looking at as a title, and it’s worrying as it paints a grim picture for the future of the Atelier franchise, if only limited to it’s potential spinoffs.
Perhaps most shockingly of all is the total lack of English voice acting, which has been a staple of Western releases within the Atelier series – Firis had it, Escha and Logy had it, Sophie had it… So why not here? If the majority of the characters have existing voice acting and present voice actors, why is Nelke relegated to purely Japanese voice acting with English subtitles? Well, we can only speculate, but it may simply be due to Nelke being a simple spinoff.
Surprisingly, that sentence provides the perfect summary for Atelier Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World; it’s a simple spinoff. Nothing more, nothing less. Totally unremarkable and a disappointment, yes, but ultimately this was an experiment to spin away from the traditional Atelier franchise… Albeit an experiment that not only blew up in Koei Tecmo’s face, but also in the faces of fans. I’m by no means a ‘hardcore’ Atelier fan, however even I was disappointed and let down by this disappointing building ‘sim’.
Please Atelier; stick to mainline JRPGs.
I give Atelier Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World a: