Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists brings town management to alchemy

Would you believe that the Atelier series of role-playing video games from Koei Tecmo Games is celebrating its 20th anniversary? To help mark this event, the latest entry in the series, Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World, aims to continue the series staple of colorful characters and captivating gameplay. That said, this time around there have been plenty of changes which see the familiar formula head in a new direction with inclusion of town-building.

In Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists players will be stepping into the shoes of Nelk von Lestamm, a noble who is put in charge of developing the frontier town of Vestabalt into a successful trading post. Once more, Nelke is not an alchemist herself though she has some knowledge of the field. With her own personal goal of looking for a mysterious wonder of the world, she will enlist the help of other alchemists to achieve her goals. Speaking of which, they are all characters from past Atelier titles.

For those unaware, the Atelier series of games are role-playing titles that focus on alchemy and time management. This usually translate into players needing to complete a series of requirements in order to pass milestones that then allow them to progress the story — all while learning how to mix new ingredients together. Gathering these is normally done by venturing into the world to pick them yourself, along with defeating monsters in turn-based combat as well. It’s a rather simple gameplay loop on the surface but there is plenty of depth to it as you make every in-game day count.

When Nelke arrives in the Vestabalt there is very little there. but thanks to the new town-building system, you’ll quickly make that change. Because Nelke can’t synthesize herself she needs to manage those that can. Players will be needing to look at what materials and ingredients they have, decide what they will create, who will make them and then which of the shops will sell it for the highest profit.

As the town becomes more profitable, the population will increase bringing more artisans with them. Growth is your metric of success so watching the numbers carefully to know how to succeed is key here. It can become rather overwhelming and feel like Atelier the business simulator but once you get used to it, everything works and is rather additive.

During holidays you’ll able to interact with characters and developer your relationship with them. This can lead to numerous rewards, but uses up a limited amount of actions you’ll be able to perform on each of these days. This becomes frustrating as you need to use the same resource to explore the world and gather those much needed materials. How you do so however, including battles, has also seen a number of changes — with them now being a more limited and automated experience.

To venture into the world, you will pick your party members, select a location and then head out. Here you are given a side-scrolling animation of the party walking towards a chest picking up materials along the way. This screen is cluttered with text boxes and character artwork as they speak which honestly makes it rather dull. If you have enough energy to reach the end then you’ll unlock a new location and are rewarded with a chest of goodies.

Battles still remain a turn-based affair, but now include the option to just have them play out automatically at the press of a button. Inputting commands to the party is still recommended, but you’ll only have control of a few party members as some sit in the back row providing support. These characters will act on their own and use healing abilities to keep you alive as best they can. Your fighters however will be able to unleash plenty of powerful moves to dispel your enemies. Battles are functional with a good level of challenging but some players may be disappointed with the change is style and downgrade in the animation department.

Speaking of which, the presentation of the Nintendo Switch version of Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists is somewhat disappointing. Most of the 3D locations and objects are washed out or dull in design, with an odd lack of shadows found throughout. The quality is also inconsistent throughout the title with different sections looking worse than others. Thankfully the 2D artwork and menus are presented clearly ensuring all the important information is clearly visible making the town-building less painful.

Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists is a departure from the norm of the Atelier series that tries new ideas, but ultimately feels somewhat underwhelming. The town-building side of the title is interesting and addictive while the combat and other role-playing elements fail to impress. Arguably the title might have benefited from having only being the town-building while and distancing itself from the tropes of the series. These, along with the poor presentation on the Nintendo Switch make it hard to recommend. Long time fans of the Atelier series may find enjoyment here due to the appearance of numerous characters but newcomers will want to start somewhere else.

Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists is available now for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC. 

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