Review: Atelier Firis seeks freedom in open worlds

In Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey, the titular Firis feels trapped in a small community, yearning for the open worlds beyond. In many ways, this feels like an expression of developer Gust itself: wanting to expand its horizons and try its hand at more open environments. And just like Firis, Gust may not have been totally ready for that, but they both approach this adventure with a plucky spirit.

A follow-up to Atelier Sophie, Atelier Firis seeks to continue in the franchise’s modern template, using trilogies to recycle worlds and continue tales with old protagonists showing up from time to time. Firis seeks to become a full-fledged alchemist in the fashion you’d expect from a teen wanting to assert independence, learning the ropes to show all her doubters that she has what it takes.

Firis finds a middle ground between previous games’ timed and untimed structures, with a time-limited main quest and unlimited postgame exploration waiting afterward.

Firis finds a middle ground between previous games’ timed and untimed structures, with a time-limited main quest and unlimited postgame exploration waiting afterward. It’s a tough dance to design a world suited for both, one that allows quick progress that also has the density to make you want to return. The result is generally uneven, a quarter-step toward an open world without the resources to properly fill it. The game divides its adventure into multiple locales rather than focusing on one city, but it doesn’t justify that with more things to see and do. It makes some progress, notably with the Chain Quest system and quests with multiple possibilities designed to help you shape your world. Still, it could be a sign of things to come for the series.

The puzzle-based alchemy of Sophie makes a return here, the lone bastion of complexity in a quest seemingly built around a careful craft. We wish the title would commit to this scheme, really making it matter through exacting requirements or truly puzzle-like solutions. As it stands, you can make things a little bit better, and… that’s not quite enough. A positive development, though, is the reworked recipe system, focusing on finding clues to making new things rather than just working your way down a tree. Though it isn’t actually any more creative, it feels more faithful to the idea of alchemy itself.

Atelier could also pivot toward the exploration of a larger RPG, focusing on gathering and combat. And it tries! Some! The day-night and weather systems, combined with an implementation of fatigue, make hunting for ingredients and such a more taxing process. Some may find this extra difficulty refreshing, and others will end up frustrated. Still, series fans will likely end up appreciating something with some teeth. Which is that and not the battles, which remain pedestrian and in need of something special.

At this point in the world of cross-generational development, the PS3 no longer holds back development, meaning the chasm between the power of the PS4 and Vita must be bridged somehow. Firis handles that, um, very poorly. The PS4 version is choppy at times but maintains tolerable performance overall. The Vita port, on the other hand, is headache-inducing and slow, and generally tough to justify. We played for a few hours between sessions using the built-in network save function, and we just can’t recommend it to even the most forgiving fans.

Firis continues with the aesthetic established in Sophie, one that is both distinctive and a smart reach for a limited development budget.

Firis continues with the aesthetic established in Sophie, one that is both distinctive and a smart reach for a limited development budget. The character designs continue to be a bit haphazard; it seems that Gust can’t quite nail down exactly who its audience is supposed to be and it shows. Still, its vivid worlds are definitely on track. (The voice acting, on the other hand… yeah, that’s still not improved.)

Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey seeks to make change, but it does no more than usual from a middle game in a trilogy. It opts for ambition when the franchise should really be looking for renewed focus, and without any muscle behind those ambitions, it does little more than stay in place.

Score: 6/10
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Release Date: March 7, 2017
Developer: Gust
Platform(s): PS4, Vita
Questions? Check out our review guide.
A review copy was provided by the publisher or developer for this review.

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