I am surprised that Koei Tecmo and Gust decided to remake Atelier Marie. It is the original Atelier title, so there’s historical value in it, of course, but following the success of the Ryza series, which brought a new legion of fans to the series, I would have bet for all money that Koei would have wanted to avoid the risk of the new fans being put off by returning to the more archaic systems. For my part, though, I’ve fallen in love with this. This is the Atelier that I know and truly love.
Atelier Marie has a simple story. You play as a girl (Marie) who is so catastrophically incompetent at alchemy that she’s been thrown out of school. She has one chance to turn things around, and that’s to learn alchemy by herself, and produce a masterpiece item within five years. If she can do that, she will still be certified as an alchemist. If not, she’ll be forever banned from the practice. High stakes indeed.
To achieve that surprisingly difficult goal, Marie needs to recruit a party and venture out into the world, exploring various locations to collect resources and fight enemies (which also have resources). There are also side quests, like creating a certain number of times in a set time, and then some secondary objectives on the way to the big, 5-year goal. However, in comparison to the more recent Atelier titles with their lengthy plotlines and substantial diversions, Marie’s quest is much more focused.
Basically, to me, Atelier Marie Remake is Atelier Rurona returned. Rurona was my first (and still close to my favourite) Atelier game, which I played right back on the PlayStation 3. The series entries before it were not exactly easy to find in Australia (if they got a release at all), so I didn’t even realise that the series existed. But then, 11 years ago, I saw a review of Rurona published by IGN. It was scathing, criticising the game for “all the bouncy physics, red zone comments, and ‘shy’ girls that wear bras for shirts, but is missing that part where the game is compelling and fun.” However, what I saw in the art in the screenshots was gorgeous, and of course, back then as is the case today many of the journalists that work for mainstream gaming press have a certain American exceptionalist intolerance towards Japanese anime aesthetics. In other words, for all that critic’s efforts, I figured I would actually like it based on that review, so I tracked a copy down (incidentally, it was the first Atelier title I had ever seen on a store shelf here in Australia).
I was not disappointed. In fact, I became an immediate mega-fan of the series. The bubbly charm of the art, the wholesome light humour of the characterisation and interactions (unsurprisingly the IGN review mischaracterises the game in calling it sleazy), and the wonderful mix of alchemy and turn-based JRPG combat very much spoke to my tastes. Atelier Marie – and through it, the Remake – offers the same qualities as Rorona. The story and scope of the adventure are short and to the point. Cut scenes are just a few moments long and the big, open cities, fields and dungeons of Ryza are replaced by neat, efficient spaces. The alchemy system forgoes the complex grid systems and item quality management to simply allow you to dump stuff in a pot and see what comes out. It was like my favourite series had finally come home after experimenting with an effort to reach a more mainstream audience.
Perhaps the most reflective quality of Marie that recalls old-school Atelier, however, is that there is a time limit. Time limits have always been controversial in the Atelier series. Some love the additional time management challenge they present. Being forced to be efficient and plan out your in-game weeks and months adds texture to the gameplay. Still, others did not enjoy the stress, especially since the typical Atelier game has you juggling multiple objectives at once. While the pacing is slow, it can still be overwhelming and feel like there’s a sword of Damocles hovering over you. I suspect Gust removed this system from more recent titles in understanding that it did limit the audience to an extent, but it would have been controversial with the traditional fan base to remove them from the Remake of Marie.
Thankfully, Atelier Marie has the time limits back in a big way, and you’ll need to plan every day like you’re mapping out an Excel spreadsheet (don’t worry, it doesn’t seem to be quite that strict). I’m one of the people who is ambivalent about the time limits, in that most of my favourite Atelier titles have them but I’d probably enjoy them even more if they didn’t. However, I also find the time limits to now be a nostalgic quality for this series – an iconic quality of what Atelier once was. Now that it seems unlikely to return as a feature to any new entries, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to don the rose-tinted glasses so far.
One thing that is decidedly new to the remake, and something that I absolutely love, is the art direction. Rather than simply up-res the original in-game art, Gust has built an all-new engine, and, in motion, seems heavily inspired by the likes of Bravely Default 2. Characters are of the cute short-but-big-headed variety, and the environments have a diorama quality to them. The little animations that the team has worked in – especially the dancing after a battle victory – fill the game with a warm and cutsey charming personality, too.
As I’ve never played the original Atelier Marie, I can’t compare the combat or alchemy system to the remake. However, what I can say is that anyone who loved the “classical” approach to Atelier – especially the Arland and Dusk trilogies – will feel like this one is a warm and welcoming coming home. I’ve only been able to play the first in-game year of five, but unless things go desperately wrong from here, this is going to be the ultimate comfort game in a series that has become renowned for being comfy.
I am so excited for this! I am one who started with Ryza, but went back and played Ayesha and Sophie 1 and 2. I haven’t got to Ryza’s latest adventure (still busy with Octopath), but I have decided that I am going to play this release before diving into the huge world of Ryza 3. Like you, the art direction is drawing me in. I think I will also feel relieved to play in a world that is tightly compact. To be honest, the HUGE areas in Ryza and the latest Sophie entry is one aspect that was starting to feel tiresome.