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Atelier Resleriana: Forgotten Alchemy and the Polar Night Liberator (iOS)

By Thomas Froehlicher 11th Feb 2024 | 2,475 views 

A pretty but frustrating Atelier game for smartphone.

In a rather staggering move, Gust chose to release the latest main installment of its Atelier series on mobile devices. True, many JRPG players have been engaged in smartphone gaming since the breakout successes of Genshin Impact and Blue Archive, so it's no surprise that other publishers want a slice of the cake. I do enjoy and play free to play games, but Atelier has a long history to live up to, and adapting to this particular market does involve certain risks and potential disappointments.

It took me some time to actually believe that Atelier Resleriana is the mainline entry for the series this year. With Resleriana featuring two new main heroines, a fully new storyline, and there being radio silence on anything related to consoles, I'll probably have to accept it at this point. Yet my disbelief comes from the fact that Atelier Resleriana feels more like an extra title made in parallel with the "true" console releases. The story follows the quest of Resna, a young alchemist who tries to rekindle the passion for alchemy in her world, Lantarna. Indeed, the alchemic science in Lantarna has been lost and forgotten for many years, and no one expects its return. At the same time, the game introduces Valeria, a warrior who has forgotten who she even is, and now finds herself working with a shady local guild for a living. It's worth noting that Valeria isn't an alchemist, despite being a main heroine, which marks a departure from Atelier tradition.

I have several issues with Atelier Resleriana's narrative as it currently is; I've played until chapter three so far, and not much has happened. The story presents quite stunning dialog screens, including lots of funny reactions from the characters and rich facial expressions that look incredible on a tiny phone. The game runs fairly well on my modest IPhone SE2, despite heating a lot more than usual. There are also a couple of decently animated sequences, although they're dull in a story point of view. Interestingly, I've also already come across numerous illustration pictures that are pretty and well drawn - the same kind of ones that we're not getting many of in the Ryza sub-series. So visually, Atelier Resleriana actually delivers, but narratively all I've seen so far is Resna whining over not becoming a professional alchemist and Valeria joking around with people in town. The story does introduce one or two villains, but they haven't been very active thus far. They are charismatic though, which is promising, and they seem more evil than any characters I've seen in the series over the last ten years.

My point is that the narrative's progression feels atrociously lengthy and tiresome. Not only do you have to suffer quantities of uneventful conversations, but the game constantly interrupts the narrative, forcing you to tackle this or that fetch quest before you can hit the story button again. Being told what you have to do so often is honestly unbearable. Another major concern is the utterly slow progression curve of your characters. The game simply doesn't provide enough experience items to keep up with the difficulty of the story; the level 3 daily experience quest still gives level 1 experience items! I can grow my characters very little this way, and unlike console Atelier titles, battles give next to no experience here. On top of that, there's a level cap every five levels for any character, which must be a first in the genre. Even worse, the quests required to remove the cap are anything but swift and easy. I was literally wasting my time trying to grow my characters in order to resume the story, which should be the main attraction. How am I supposed to enjoy it in those conditions?

Since Atelier Resleriana is based on random draws, Gust needed to add a lot of characters to keep players engaged and paying. As a result they've mainly added characters from past Atelier titles, who then play an active role in the story. The result is an impression of watching an awkward Atelier multiverse, rather than a seriously thought through story. I find it difficult to take seriously a gathering of characters who historically have no relations with each other. If you look at the three biggest games in the free to play RPG field, namely Blue Archive, Genshin Impact, and Honkai: Star Rail, each of them delivers a fully original, complex lore involving entirely new characters. This smartphone version of Atelier reminds me a lot of Tales of Crestoria, which had exactly the same type of set-up. I fear Atelier Resleriana might eventually share the same fate too, because both games are based on the same business model: asking players to spend massive sums to purchase characters already playable in previous titles.

In Atelier Resleriana, there are currently only five new playable characters, and of these only Resna is given to the player. The other main protagonists are all on limited banners, which means you have to use in-game money (Lodestar Gems) to try and get them during the fortnight in which they're available. The drop rate of a 3-star character (highest rarity) is 0.5% - lower than any of its competitors. Koei Tecmo tends to be less generous than miHoYo in general, and perhaps most importantly, in Atelier Resleriana, free gems are not equal to paid gems. You need twice as many free gems to pull, which drives the price of guarantee higher. Naked guarantee for one limited 3-star character is about 30,000 yen in the Japanese version, so something between €200 and €300 here in France. That represents four or five complete Atelier console games, each of which includes six or seven new characters at a time.  

Additionally, free gems are scarce, so I doubt players can get their favourite characters without paying much less than the figures I quoted above. As an old Atelier fan, having to pay the equivalent of an entire Atelier game overnight for a single character is deeply disturbing to say the least. In Genshin Impact or Honkai: Star Rail (releases with more favorable guarantee mechanics), I've secured all of my most wanted characters by paying just €15 per month on average. There's just a titanic gap between Atelier Resleriana and the competition in terms of price and generosity, and this doesn't motivate me to spend more time (and certainly not any money) on it. KoeiTecmo did create and bring back a few cool characters, Umiogeso's and NOCO's designs are remarkbale, but they look vastly underused so far.

The game content isn't something I'd want to pay a lot for anyway. There's no world to explore in Atelier Resleriana. We've gone from a compelling open world in Atelier Ryza 3 to... nothing! Dungeons are brief side-scrolling stages with some materials and a few enemies, where you walk from left to right for a minute or so. The royal capital has only one street and you can't even go there when you want.  The world-building is terrible, as epitomised by the fact that the world of Lantarna doesn't exist, because the development team at Akatsuki Games didn't make it. I've played Genshin Impact on the same phone I'm playing Atelier Resleriana on, and the world there is as big as the one found in Genshin Impact on PS5, so the platform isn't to blame.

Alchemy is blatantly simplified in Atelier Resleriana. Traditionally in the series you build weapons and armor by selecting the best traits (passive abilities) that you find on materials picked in the field. In Resleriana, traits are shared between materials and characters. Before, your main alchemist was making items alone, but here several characters cooperate in crafting usable items or equipment. Each character can apply a set trait to the output, but that results in two major issues. First, you need many characters in order to get stronger and more varied abilities for your gear, which again means hitting the limited banners and thus paying a lot. Secondly, I've never been able to choose the traits for my items. What I get is randomized and very often at least one ability ends up being useless. That's not the way it used to work, and for good reason, because it leads to poor optimization and greater difficulties in battles.

Battles that also take several steps back compared to recent Atelier entries, especially Atelier Sophie 2, which did very well in that respect. Atelier Resleriana usually throws countless battles at you with no context, which in itself is annoying. Fighting is also a real chore: it's turn-based, like any other entry, but each character only has two base skills (compared to many more in Atelier Sophie 2, for example), and very often there's a weak one that doesn't serve any purpose. So, in some cases, I'll end up using the same attack skill over and over and over. Passive skills are quite simplistic and don't allow for efficient strategies, nor can you find complex synergies between characters like you can in miHoYo's games. Like in Honkai: Star Rail, party members in Atelier Resleriana are divided between elements (wind, fire, physical, etc.) and jobs (attacker, defender, breaker and supporter). But with the game's management not being very generous, and many characters staying on limited banners, it's hard to gather enough combinations of elements and jobs to progress swiftly.

Despite being a diehard Atelier fan for more than ten years, Atelier Resleriana has been nothing but a frustrating and irritating experience to me. Only the visuals live up to Atelier console releases. There's no world to explore, battles are as hard as they are dull, the narrative barely progresses, and the game as a whole is far too time-consuming for its format. It sounds and feels cool to have a sort of all-star Atelier game in your pocket, but in the end it reveals itself to be so greedy that I no longer think I could enjoy it even if I paid a moderate amount. But at least there is some hope for Atelier fans: Gust has just confirmed during the Taipei Game Show that it's working on a new console instalment.

After graduating from a French business school, Thomas felt an irresistible force drawing him to study Japanese, which eventually led him to Japanese Profeciency Test level 1 in 2012. During the day, Thomas is a normal account manager. But at night he becomes Ryuzaki57, an extreme otaku gamer hungry for Japanese games (preferably with pretty girls in the main role). His knowledge now allows him to import games at Japanese release for unthinkable prices, and then tell everyone about them. You may also find him on French video games media. Feel free to contact on twitter at @Ryuz4ki57

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This review is based on a digital copy of Atelier Resleriana: Forgotten Alchemy and the Polar Night Liberator for the iOS

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