I don’t recall who wrote it, but a quote I read on Twitter said that every game is like a spreadsheet: there’s numbers and relationships between those numbers. And the goal of any game is to get certain numbers high (score, HPs, XPs) while keeping other numbers low (damage, etc). To do this, you have a few number cells you can manipulate that then influence all the other numbers in complex ways.
Nelke and the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World takes this to heart: some interfaces in the game actually look as a spreadsheet! It’s a town-management sim in the Ateliers franchise, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2019. In the Atelier games, you play an alchemist (invariably a girl in a frilly dress with a squeaky voice) who needs to solve various problems by gathering ingredients, synthesizing new items and defeating monsters. There’s always a time limit, so you have to make choices on what to spend your precious time on.
It is not different in this game: you get 100 turns to turn a little hamlet into a bustling city.
You play as the titular Nelke, a young aristocrat who came to the hamlet of Westwald to search for a legendary alchemy artefact, the Granzweit tree. And for some reason, all kinds of alchemists from all kinds of different worlds are drawn to Westwald, and they end up helping you.
Each turn consists of two phases. In the weekday phase, you manage your town: you can build new facilities (like ateliers for alchemists, shops to sell the items they produce to get funds, gardens and farms for raw ingredients, buildings with special effects, etc); and you can assign characters from your roster to work in a field or building and give them orders on what to produce. In the holiday phase, you can visit characters in order to raise their XP or friendship level; you can starts special research projects if all the requirements are met (often a certain number of a specific item, the alchemists involved have to be in your village of course, and sometimes there is also a requirement for a minimum friendship level). Another thing you can do is to ‘investigate’, which means assembling a group and walk along a route to collect items and battle monsters in turn-based battles. If you make it to the end of a route, you can assign characters to gather the materials that are present on that route during the weekday — and of course you need those materials for your alchemical recipes. The holiday phase has a clock count-down, and once it’s empty, the day is over and you have to get back to work…
Your father, the lord of the land, gives you orders (build your town to X number of people, earn Y amount of money by selling items etc), that you need to achieve within a certain number of turns. If you fail such a task, the game ends: your father recalls you back to the capital, and that’s it. But if that happens, you can create a special type of save file that allows you to start the game over with bonuses: characters gain XP faster, friendship levels increase faster, etc. So failing makes subsequent playthroughs easier, which is a brilliant design concept: even if you’re not so good, you can still make it to the end if you want to spend the time on it.
So basically it’s an excuse to assemble all of the characters of all the Atelier games in some kind of mash-up. And instead of the usual Atelier gameplay, it’s a pretty hardcore town management sim. The aforementioned spreadsheet is part of the interface: you can get an overview of all the items/ingredients in the game, how much of it you get each turn (gathering, growing or alchemical synthesis) and how much you consume (through sales or alchemical synthesis). You obviously want to balance this sheet for a smooth running of your town!
I quickly turned off the voice track (which only exists in Japanese), because I was getting tired of the squeaky voices that are so typical of Japanese ‘moe’ games and anime. And most of the dialog is pretty inconsequential anyway — something about one alchemist being fanatical about carrots and another hating them, etc. I ended up skipping most of that too after a while, but if you’re a hardcore Atelier fan, then of course you want to get to the very end of your favourite alchemists’ story-line.
On my third try, I completed the game. Unfortunately, I did not get the ‘best ending’, because I had not expected that to hinge on a single combat encounter — all of your careful town management doesn’t really factor in there, which felt bad. So for now I’m done with the game — I might pick it up again later, but by the end I was really looking forward to seeing the ending and play something else for a while.
The game got mixed reviews and mediocre scores, and that is certainly for a reason. But if you like town management sims and/or the Atelier games, then maybe it’s your cup of tea anyway. I had fun with it, after I started ignoring/skipping the parts that irritated me.