Atelier deserves better than a mediocre gacha game

Atelier Online: Alchemist of Bressisle came out in the west the other day, and while I have always been somewhat skeptical as to whether or not it would actually be any good, I was at least willing to give it a chance.

I have given it a chance. It is not very good.

That said, it does do a few interesting things, so I think it’s still worth talking about. But those hoping for some sort of free-to-play title with the depth of a mainline installment like Atelier Sophie or the classic Dusk games will almost certainly come away quite disappointed with the experience unless they have a lot of patience and/or free time. And if you have both of those things, you might as well play a proper Atelier game.

Atelier Online: Alchemist of Bressisle

Atelier Online: Alchemist of Bressisle’s biggest problem is that it does absolutely nothing to counter the most obnoxious things about today’s gacha games.

It begins with a tutorial that takes a good half an hour to finish, and which cannot be skipped. During the tutorial, you’re forced to only tap on the things that the big friendly hand pointer is pointing to, all the while reading poorly translated dialogue attempting to provide some sort of in-game justification to mechanics you’ve seen a thousand times before.

I understand the need for a tutorial in these games, because any one of them could be someone’s first gacha title and as such it’s helpful to have a guided tour of the most important interface elements. However, it’s just as likely — arguably more so — that someone firing up a new gacha game for the first time has plenty of experience with the genre under their belt, and as such wants to get straight into the main gameplay rather than tapping through half an hour of tedium.

As part of the tutorial, you’re introduced to the gacha system — and unlike many similar games, which immediately reward you with a high-quality character or item of equipment to get you started, Atelier Online: Alchemist of Bressisle provides you with a fairly mediocre item that is not at all interesting.

Atelier Online: Alchemist of Bressisle

Once you’re through the tutorial, you’re immediately hit with a daily bonus, a launch bonus, a page of news and a main page that is full of red notification markers. This is standard practice for gacha games, and it never gets any less cluttered and overwhelming. Everything you do in the early game results in “Gifts” (which inevitably have to be claimed manually, because why would a game just give you something?) and contributes to progress towards daily missions, a flagrantly transparent attempt to get you coming back to play every day.

Even actually getting into the “game” side of things is a chore. The quest menu is cluttered, with multiple tabs all filled with lists of things you may or may not want to engage with. Story quests can only be taken on if multiple arbitrary conditions have been fulfilled beforehand, making for a narrative experience that lacks coherence. Many quests are nothing more than tapping on an icon in the main screen to start another badly translated conversation, providing little sense of immersion in the game’s world. And limited time event banners are present right from the outset, further emphasising the feel that the game lacks focus.

Atelier Online: Alchemist of Bressisle’s most interesting feature is the ability to “Explore”. Here, rather than simply tapping through a string of battles as in most other gacha games, you can actually step out into the game world and wander around — and rather than being a simple linear path forward, it actually feels like some effort has been put into the world map. Yes, it’s very obviously level-gated by monsters that are in each area — though none of the monsters appear to actually move around all that much, making them feel more like resource nodes — but it is at least better than clicking into a quest, tapping “Auto Battle” and then fast forwarding until it’s all over.

Atelier Online: Alchemist of Bressisle

That said, the combat system itself is weak, lacking much of the tactical depth modern mainline Atelier games have to offer. You have very little control over what your characters do, since they attack automatically and even use some items without you having to do anything. There are some items that are manually triggered rather than automatically used, and each character in your party gradually charges up a skill as the battle progresses, but aside from this combat feels fairly hands-off and unexciting.

And, of course, like most gacha games, success in combat is more dependent on drawing good equipment from the gacha and/or using items to level up your characters so that you can overwhelm everything rather than putting any real thought into anything. Doubtless there will be some stiffer challenges later in the game to take on — there’s a co-op mode where you can fight alongside other players to take down tough foes, for example — but when the early game is this uninteresting it’s hard to feel the motivation to continue.

Likewise, the alchemy system is pretty bare-bones, consisting of little more than using specific ingredients to produce a set recipe. There’s no use of “item categories” as in Atelier games from Arland onwards; there’s no manipulating category values to produce different effects. The only real control you have over the process is choosing ingredients of different quality levels, and optionally making use of a premium currency known as “Fairy Spoons” to attach traits to items. This latter aspect is particularly obnoxious — transferring traits between items has been a core part of Atelier alchemy systems since Atelier Rorona, so to lock it behind a premium currency just feels exploitative.

Atelier Online: Alchemist of Bressisle

Presentation-wise, the game is… okay. The backgrounds and character models are a bit bland, presumably to ensure the game runs on as wide a range of devices as possible, but the 2D artwork is beautiful — at least they got that aspect of the series right. Likewise, the background music is of good quality, if a little generic-sounding — while it has a certain “folky” flair, it doesn’t quite nail that distinctive “Atelier sound”. And the voice acting is of a consistently high quality — there’s plenty of it, too.

The English text is shoddy, though; it’s filled with awkward phrasing and word choices that have obviously been translated “directly” without any real mind to a sense of coherent flow and style in the target language, and characters use “Jesus” as an expletive surprisingly frequently, which feels exceedingly out of place in a world that obviously isn’t Earth and which is not based on Christian mythology. There’s even an instance where a cutscene and the main game text refer to one geographical area with two completely different spellings. The shoddiness is actively distracting at times, and doesn’t really help engender that all-important sense of attachment to the characters — an essential part of a true Atelier game.

Ultimately, Atelier Online: Alchemist of Bressisle is one of those games I fire up and just wish it was a “proper” game rather than a gacha title. The academy-based setting brings back happy memories of the excellent Mana Khemia games, the characters seem likeable enough when you can actually understand what they’re saying, and the 2D artwork is absolutely lovely.

Atelier Online: Alchemist of Bressisle

But on the whole, you can tell Gust didn’t make this game. It just doesn’t feel like an Atelier game, and thus it’s hard to recommend, even to the most die-hard series fans. I won’t pretend to be surprised it ended up this way — but I am still a bit disappointed!

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Pete Davison
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