All these fancy sequels are fine and dandy, but sometimes it’s nice to look back to the roots of our favourite series and see where they came from. When one of your favourites is the Atelier series though, that might not be so simple. With no easy way to play Japan-exclusive PS1 games, most of us hardcore alchemists had given up on trying out the game where it all began. The fine folks at Gust had other ideas though, and Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg is here to give us a lovely history lesson.
Our protagonist Marie isn’t the potion making whizz kid you’d expect from an Atelier game, she’s actually the bottom of her class at school. In order to light a fire under her posterior, Professor Ingrid gives her one final test, in the next five years either make an item worthy of a true alchemist or be expelled from Salburg academy. This isn’t long for Marie to step up, so get ready for a big adventure with a healthy dose of time pressure.
Although based on a game well over twenty years old at this point, the gameplay loop is pretty similar to the alchemy games we all know and love. You head out into the wilderness to gather materials, fight a few monsters along the way, then make your way back to the Atelier and make some items. Even in the simpler form of this older title it’s a great hook, and has all those lovely levels to raise so you improve along the way.
What makes Atelier Marie Remake different though is that five year time limit. Every action you take in the game uses up at least a day of your time, and they tick down fast. Gathering materials at a shiny spot, fighting monsters, and even going home to your Atelier will take a day of time away from you, and if you’re not careful those five years will be up before you’ve become a master cauldron mixer.
Alongside this overall time limit, there are also mid-semester assignments and quests from the inn that have their own deadlines. Whether you’re being made to gather a bunch of herbs or make friends with a certain number of the townsfolk, having a month to do so might sound like a breeze, but before you know it you’ll have spent a week fighting blue slimes.
The combat in Atelier Marie Remake is about as simple as it gets for a turn-based RPG. Marie and anyone she hires to adventure with her can attack, use an item or use their single special ability, and that’s pretty much it. That doesn’t mean that the battles aren’t enjoyable, but if you’re expecting to have to think long and hard about moves to use and different combat systems then you’ll be disappointed.
Alchemy is a lot simpler than it gets in later entries of the series too, and pretty much just involves finding the right items and hoping your alchemy levels are high enough to make a handy new bomb without anything going wrong. Crafting as much as possible will help level you up though, and with a bit of cash you can buy more recipes from the academy shop and extra equipment to make more advanced items. Although it’s lacking the puzzling elements of games like Atelier Sophie and Atelier Ryza, it still feels pretty good when you realise you can make something new of a decent quality rating.
Although the combat and alchemy feel a little dated compared to modern games, the visuals are fresh and modern. The chibi style character models work perfectly with the isometric viewpoint, and I loved pottering around the village and looking at the other adventures and NPCs doing their own thing. The music is delightful and catchy too, which is pretty much standard for the series at this point but appreciated nonetheless.
There is one aspect of Atelier Marie Remake I really need to bring to people’s attention, and it involves the five year time limit. This game is a pretty lengthy RPG that you’ll likely put dozens of hours into, and if you fail to make a good enough item once the five years is up then you simply fail. There’s no way to get extra time or rewind and make the game easier, you just have to start all over again and try harder next time. There is a difficulty mode that negates this (at the cost of a few story elements) but don’t go into the standard mode expecting to relax and take it easy if you want to actually finish the game.
Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg is an interesting look at the genesis of a popular RPG series, but compared to more modern entries it’s hard not to be a little underwhelmed. The time pressure you’re under provides an interesting hook, but the simpler combat and alchemy just don’t cut the mustard. If you’re looking for an RPG history lesson then you might get a kick out of Marie’s adventure, but don’t expect it to hold up to other recent releases.
An interesting look at the start of a popular series
The time limit provides a nice bit of pressure
The gameplay loop is still as satisfying as ever
The combat and alchemy feel really outdated
It's possible to fail after putting a lot of time in