I wasn’t an hour into Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg before marveling at how far this series has come. Playing this laid-back JRPG having recently completed Atelier Ryza 3 isn’t much different from starting up Link’s Awakening right after Breath of the Wild. And as with Link’s Awakening, Atelier Marie Remake is not a step backwards, it’s just a step in a different direction.
There have been nearly 25 games in Gust’s Atelier series, many of which are now available for the Nintendo Switch. Atelier Marie: The Alchemist of Salburg was the first, having been originally released in 1997, and it’s now been remade for the Switch. Most of the enhancements are visual: chibi-style 3D characters, higher-definition backgrounds, new 2D animations, etc. The new visuals are engaging, and the cute, 3D approach to the characters is an effective match for the game’s tone and theme. As much as I love the more modern visuals of the Ryza games, I felt instantly at home here in Salburg.
Atelier Marie Remake also provides some usability enhancements. Gameplay has been updated for modern controllers, the UI has been improved, there are new character events, and a tutorial has been added to get players accustomed to Marie’s way of doing things.
The latter is important, because Atelier Marie Remake doesn’t play quite the same as its more modern counterparts. Before I get to that, however, let’s meet Marie herself. She’s attending the Royal Academy of Magic, and she’s not doing well. At all. In fact, she may be the worst student at the school. But rather than fail her and kick her out, Marie’s professor gives her an atelier and five years to make an impression.
Would that my English professors had just handed me five years and a Mac SE.
Marie’s deadline is quite real, as there’s an in-game time limit to get that impressive item crafted. Or not. The remake allows players to select an Unlimited Mode that turns off the time restriction. I opted to keep it on, and had no trouble getting to where I needed to be within the time limit.
I point that out because, despite the tutorials, Atelier Marie Remake will have you second-guessing yourself throughout the first couple of hours. It’s more open than I expected, leaving the player to explore the town and the surrounding areas. Traveling takes time, so you could be wasting precious days getting to areas that have monsters you’re not ready to fight. Thankfully, the five-year schedule is forgiving.
Your goal of impressing the professor will require building up relationships with the citizens of Salburg so you can get their help in acquiring the materials you’ll need to craft. The actual process of crafting isn’t nearly as complicated as it is in the more recent Atelier games. The Alchemist of Salburg instead focuses on the management required to get the items you need as quickly as possible.
This includes resting; a tired Marie is not as effective in the atelier, so sleeping is important. Crafting also often involves money, which you’ll obtain by accepting quests or selling the items you’ve crafted. You can hire fairies to help you obtain certain items, and you can hire party members to explore areas and combat enemies you otherwise wouldn’t be able to. Build up your reputation doing this and you’ll get access to more lucrative quests and powerful party members.
The turn-based battles are also more basic, reverting to the simple attack/defend/buff approach. You can choose between physical and magical attacks. You can use items you’ve obtained or crafted. Defeating enemies isn’t about being clever with your party setup, it’s just about being at the right level. And if you’re not, the game will helpfully suggest you may not be ready to accept that particular quest. When you do engage in battle, the animations are simple but well done.
They have a retro feel with a modern look, and the Switch has no problem handling them in docked or handheld mode. That latter is important, because Atelier Marie feels quite natural on the Switch’s built-in screen.
In addition to the standard gameplay, this release of Atelier Marie includes a photo mode and a collection of mini-games. Photo mode is easily ignored (Koei Tecmo do love themselves some photo mode), but completing the mini-games—such as Golden Salmon Search, Catch Those Rats, and Punipuni Hammer—rewards the player with some quite useful items.
I was able to complete the story in around 10 hours on my first playthrough. That may not sound like much, especially when compared to the 80+ hours I spent with Atelier Ryza 3 earlier this year, but Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg is designed to be played more than once. Even after I beat the game, some quests were left open or not accepted. Items still needed to be crafted. Questions needed to be answered. Marie’s options are open enough that different decisions can lead to a somewhat different experience.
Atelier Marie Remake is not compelling enough for players to hop right back into immediately, but Salburg could become a repeated weekend destination for the right type of gamer.