This was my first experience with the Atelier series, and I know DS versions of games can be a bit… simplified. I am curious after playing this to play the others now, though. It is certainly an intriguing concept.
The basis of the game is that you are Annie, a spoiled little brat cast off the mainland to an island in development. Alchemy runs in your family and you are expected to do the family proud by joining in the competition to build the island into a resort with the other alchemists who have been enlisted into the contest. You are, of course, accepted in and off you go. Your trainer is a cranky little fairy named Pepe who goes into raptures every time someone criticizes his height. I must say, I started to skip through some of the conversations after a while. They tended to carry on to some length and really go nowhere, typically when you had it in your head to get something done.
After the primary introductions (I will let the game do that all for you), you are left to your own to gather ingredients, recipe books, weapons, fight monsters, make friends, and build shops onto the resort (not as exciting as it sounds). All the while, running various errangs, combining various items via your alchemest ways, upping your levels and so on. I could make it all sound as mundane and tedious as I want but it is really quite fun and fast paced. Every time you combine something it takes times, how much depends on what it is and how many you are making. So you really have to watch your calendar. You never sleep though, so that never takes anything away, but travel time is a biggie. Traveling from various material collection points, or once the resort starts to grow and you have to tend to various shops… that all takes time. Each phase of the competition takes place at certain times (the fourth month and the tenth month) and you have to be on time or you could miss things.
There are all sorts of goals to the game. If you read through some FAQs online, it can get quite in depth. One playthrough of the game is maybe 20 hours. Once completed you get one of six endings, after which, you are prompted for a plus game. You can choose where to save (three slots available). I played through a second time, doing all I could not do the first… for example, if you choose to build a museum, you cannot choose to build a theater, so certain items are not then made available to you. So no matter how hard you try, you will never be able to get everything by only playing this game once. The items you acquire from accomplishments made by choices in the first carry over in a plus game, thus the benefit. On my second playthough, I made every effort to get everything else… I got the same ending. Frustrated, I decided that was good enough for me. I didn’t think a third run would help me anymore. I am not a hardcore completionist. I had to get back to the real world.
I really did like this game though. A fun little random game to play, quickly finished for the easily distractible (me). Lots to do and very fast paced. Classic RPG elements with a few simulation ideals thrown in. It is a bit girly or perhaps a younger game. Most guys of my age are more into the shooters or action type games. It almost reminded me of a stripped down Rune Factory… which actually it has been around far longer than. So maybe Rune Factory is really just a spruced up version of the Atelier series.