In a 22 game series, it's completely understandable to not know where to start. I'm here to break it down for you. We usually pretend the first ten games don't even exist when talking about what to recommend, and that still leaves a whopping twelve "modern" games left to talk about.
An adorable girl pursues alchemy to fulfill her dreams. Instead chasing a great evil to the ends of the universe, she’s casually bending space to give herself a better place to sleep when she’s on the road. The laws of physics and plain common sense mean nothing to a master alchemist; even the legendary philosopher’s stone isn’t so precious that it can’t be made into a tasty snack. Maybe the world is in danger, maybe it isn’t, but Atelier is a simpler, more slice of life tale than your typical fare.
Atelier is basically the “original” item making RPG series. Everything else is a shameful imposter. Probably. More seriously, the series is known for incredibly deep item crafting systems, and the games — from exploration to monster drops — revolve around this aspect. If item crafting makes you groan, I guarantee you, Atelier is better than what you're thinking. Furthermore, it is not grindy; you won't fight things more than a few times to get the rarest of drops.
Outside of crafting, the games feature standard turn based battle systems (except Ryza's ATB). The game progression varies significantly; many have time limits and involve mild resource management, and the rest don’t have time limits at all but still vary a lot. You'll find more detailed summaries further down the page. The more recent games are further known for cute girls doing cute things. You will have opinions on Cutest Alchemy Girl and if you say it isn’t Totori you are factually wrong.
The primary thing the series is generally known other than crafting is the 'comfy' or 'down to earth' feel, as well as just being cute games. These ideas are not universal to the entire series, but if those sound like things you like, there are multiple games for you.
The only games that are related are those within the same subseries. So Mysterious has no ties to Dusk, Dusk has no ties to Iris, and so on. You will see characters like Pamela, Logy, Escha, and Hagel appear in several subseries, but these are different characters between each subseries.
Where to Start: The Simple Answer
There are two answers that will work for most anyone: Ryza (either is fine) or Sophie. These games completely lack time limits, making them rather casual friendly.
The Atelier series is always on a spectrum between comfy and RPG; Ryza probably leans more toward RPG compared to most others in the series, but it's still more grounded than the usual RPG for much of it. Those of you less certain about the series will probably find it a bit easier to get into. Ryza features a fairly casual friendly crafting system, ATB combat (unique to this subseries), and a pretty standard JRPG style story progression. Ryza is, frankly, a 'low investment' point as you aren't strong-armed into buying three games at once.
Sophie is the comfy to Ryza's RPG. It is peak comfort. Kiss that plot goodbye, say hello to everyone in town... and a talking book. The game is very concerned with letting you go at your own pace, smelling the roses. Sophie's crafting system is significantly deeper than Ryza's, but worry not; you don't have to be a crafting god to get through it. If the item crafting really appeals to you, you will find more to enjoy in Sophie.
With the release of Mysterious DX, you are encouraged to get the full Mysterious series at once. The following games are, perhaps, less chill, but you should find much of the same comfy feel in them regardless.
What about those other games? Can I start with those?
Honestly? Yes, if you are uniquely determined to start with something, you know your own sensibilities than I do and there is probably not a significant enough issue to steer you away, outside of the following three games: Totori, Annie, and Nelke. Totori is a noobkiller, Annie is not a good game, Nelke is a spinoff and not like the other games.
Now to move on, the common 'extended' starter options are as follows:
Under no circumstances should you get the original PS3 version of this game. It has been partially remade, and thus you should only purchase versions marked with Plus or DX.
This is one of the quintessential "scary" time limited games, but if you're at all willing to start with one of these, Rorona is a very solid option. Arland is a hellishly goofy and charming subseries, probably one of the most beloved in the series for that reason. Despite the time limit, Rorona gives you a usually easy goal to accomplish every few months; it's highly structured and thus you are not likely to fail the time limit. The difficulty comes when you try to do 100% completion; total noobs will likely be looking at another playthrough. Rorona also has somewhat more 'classic' event structure, and thus missable events with triggers that aren't always clear.
Just as a note, if you start with Rorona Plus/DX, you will note a significant drop going on to Totori. Totori is the oldest of the 'modern' games due to the partial remake of Rorona, which will become very apparent once you play.
If the time limits don't scare you but the low impact stories do, Ayesha may be your thing. I'll be clear about something: Ayesha is probably one of the rougher starts at this point, what really sells people on it is that it has fairly good writing for the series. The item crafting is hard to get into (though if you're into spreadsheeting and planning steps ahead you may enjoy it), and the game's time limit is very unstructured, so it's harder to tell if you are handling time the right way. If that doesn't scare you, it's a good option. The music is also among the best in series, which is really saying something because the bar is high.
Escha & Logy
This is a bit of a 'hidden' starter entry. If you want to dip your toes into time limits with a near guarantee you will succeed, E&L has exactly that. The structure is quite similar to Rorona, but with easier to get side content. It also has great combat compared to several other starter games. It's great for people who played Mana Khemia or Atelier Iris back in the day and don't know what newer game to get as well.
This series is really expansive. I try to make succinct summaries of what each subseries is about, but there sure are a lot of words here and I wouldn’t blame you for skipping some of them.
- Iris 1 (A6) PS2
- Iris 2 (A7) PS2
- Iris 3 (A8) PS2
These are outright traditional RPGs with simple crafting systems. You already imagined what the first two games are like. The first two games are related, the third is not. This trilogy doesn't really represent what makes Atelier special, but they can be fun games. I wholeheartedly recommend them as JRPGs, but not as entries to the Atelier series.
Iris 3 is notable for being somewhat experimental compared to the other two. You have time limited dungeons (which you can return to as much as you want, don't worry) and a quest structure for progressing the plot. The other games, truly, do not merit further explanation. You know what they are. They are JRPG comfort food from the mid 2000s.
- Mana Khemia 1 (A9) PS2 PSP
- Mana Khemia 2 (A10) PS2
Yes, these are Atelier. Mainline Atelier, not spinoffs. These are beloved JRPGs and you can still hear people crying over the lack of MK3 to this day. You could briefly describe this subseries as 'Atelier goes to school'. You're given assignments to do as part of your classes. These involve all the traditional RPG things (exploration, fighting, plot) as well as item crafting.
Notably, these games perhaps have the best combat in the series. Crafting has some interesting points to it, including being tied to the grow book -- a stat progression method that lets you spend points for skills and such as you create items. The stories aren't the deepest, but the second game does have two lead characters and thus substantially different events on each.
- Rorona (A11) PS3 Vita PS Now PS4 Switch PC
- Totori (A12) PS3 Vita PS4 Switch PC
- Meruru (A13) PS3 Vita PS4 Switch PC
- Lulua (A20) PS4 Switch PC
Arland can be said to be two parts: the trilogy (Rorona/Totori/Meruru) and then the sequel (Lulua). I'll start with the trilogy.
The Arland games are the quintessential time limited entries, very 'traditional' for Atelier. They are the 'scary' games you heard of. They are not hard, but you cannot approach them mindlessly. In particular, you really need to drop any grindy habits you have, as you will get punished for them. You're expected to make better items to overcome challenges. Rorona and Meruru are structured enough that you will probably complete the game regardless (just with less optional content), but Totori is the noobkiller for a reason. This isn't to overhype Totori; most people complete it just fine, but it does have the highest failure rate.
The progression varies from game to game. Rorona gives you assignments every few months. Totori gives you almost total freedom, but expects you to rank up as an adventurer doing a variety of small tasks (ranging from making items to defeating bosses). Meruru expects you to improve the kingdom and boost its population. You'll do a number of smaller tasks that reward points, whcih you spend on making the kingdom better.
The stories are fairly silly and laid back, with goofy casts you'll never forget.
DX versions are the same as Plus versions, just for newer systems. You, again, should never get the original PS3 version of Rorona. Totori Plus/DX feature minor item crafting tweaks and an extra dungeon. Meruru Plus/DX has a much needed extra ending. All Plus/DX versions include DLC content as part of the package. But if you get the PS3 versions of these, you're not missing a ton.
Lulua merits its own discussion. The Arland trilogy is incredibly cohesive as a subseries, moreso than Dusk and Mysterious. Lulua throws a bit of a wrench into that, as a game made after Mysterious. It has no time limit, progresses similarly to a normal JRPG (with a lot of item recipes tied to story progress), and tries to have a JRPG plot. The story is honestly not that great, but the writing is goofy enough to make up for it; Lulua is one of the funniest in the series. More than anything, Lulua features one of the deepest crafting systems in the series. It's truly for fans of crafting; if you ask me.
- Ayesha (A14) PS3 Vita PS Now PS4 Switch PC
- Escha & Logy (A15) PS3 Vita PS Now PS4 Switch PC
- Shallie (A16) PS3 Vita PS Now PS4 Switch PC
The time limit slipped away during this subseries. Ayesha has a relaxed time limit, E&L has a joke of a time limit, and Shallie has none. These games are more serious in tone than Arland; mostly slice of life with mild plot. Ayesha has the strongest setting and story, and unfortunately the next two games don't follow up on it properly. E&L and Shallie both have dual protagonists. Most of the game will be the same either way, but you do get unique events, items, and endings.
The progression methods vary as a result of the different stances on time. Ayesha expects you to try to save Nio; you are mostly given freedom but will bump into the plot every now and then. E&L gives you assignments every four months, as well as a variety of smaller tasks. Tons of free time to do whatever. Shallie is divided into plot and free time (similar to Iris 3 in fact). To advance out of free time you have to do small tasks.
As mentioned before, Ayesha's crafting is kind of weird to get into, and you're gated heavily by level, but there is appeal for those who enjoy plotting things out several steps ahead. The combat is also rather basic. E&L's crafting is possibly one of the most accessible in the series, and it has some of the most polished combat in the series. Shallie's synthesis, similar to Lulua, has incredible depth, but you will most likely not engage with 90% of it playing normally. The combat is basically best in series, with more interesting bosses than E&L.
Ayesha Plus/DX has hard mode and includes the Japanese voices, which is probably huge to some of you. PS3 Ayesha lacks JP voices. E&L Plus/DX has a few bosses and a new playable character, as well as new events between the two lead that you can choose to make more romantic or platonic. Shallie has substantial additions to story in Plus/DX. If you happen to get stuck on PS3, I made a playlist of the new story stuff. As with Arland DX, the DLC is included in any Plus/DX games.
- Sophie (A17) Vita PS4 Switch PC
- Firis (A18) Vita PS4 Switch PC
- Lydie & Suelle (A19) PS4 Switch PC
Gust is confused about time limits. Of course, Sophie is as chill as promised. Firis has a partial time limit (infinite time once you're done). L&S has an easy time limit for a single portion. If the words 'time limit' scare you, don't be scared, they're all very easy. On top of all that, there is also time of day shenanigans which affect events and other miscellanea in Sophie and L&S.
This subseries is very big on making you do tasks to unlock recipes. The tasks don't necessarily make sense. This is pretty much the main progression method in Sophie. For Firis, you are expected to travel to a distant city and pass an alchemy exam. It's fairly nonlinear in how you choose to do this. Afterward, you are completely free to do as you like, keeping with the extremely comfy feel of this subseries. Sophie and Firis barely have plot and focus more on character events; L&S tries to juggle both but is still quite goofy.
For gameplay, the battle systems aren't completely basic but the main point of interest is (of course) item crafting. Previous games would have you essentially pick items from a list and maybe apply skills to the items, but Mysterious has a 'grid' where you position items. A lot of people like to call it the 'tetris' system because of all the rotating you do. For as much as I like to go on about depth, these three games absolutely have it.
You aren't missing a ton if you do not get the DX versions of these games. Very minor story content, some funny items in Firis, and a map, essentially, are added. You can consider DX as the Switch lover's choice.
- Ryza 1 (A21) PS4 Switch PC
- Ryza 2 (A22) PS4 PS5 Switch PC
Finally, the newest entries, and so far shaping up to be as cohesive as the Arland trilogy. Should be fairly familiar to fans of standard JRPGs, with standard plot progression, though not as extreme anime JRPG as the first two Iris games. You have less emphasis on the comfy aspects and more on the plot, though you still get things like interesting, down to earth sidequests and character events. Ryza 2 in particular has a number of events compared to the first, which is more focused on plot.
Both systems have ATB combat, which is absolutely a departure from the rest of the series, and a very unique synthesis system. The crafting is difficult to understand from descriptions and images, but pick it up yourself and you'll probably get it; it's fairly accessible. One of the most notable aspects is that these games are much better looking than their predecessors, and Ryza 2 in particular is satisfying to explore as it lacks a lot of the artificial barriers previous games have.
And honestly? Having been on this yearly ride since Rorona's release year, it's been wild to see the variances in quality of life. Ryza actually gets it mostly right. Hop aboard and take a gander for yourself, all the silly things the older games do, and you'll see. The Ryza games are actually a gem in terms of features, especially Ryza 2. I am not the sort to pretend a series does not have issues, but am I ever happy Ryza 2 gets so much right.
Despite everything you heard about the protagonist and its marketing, Ryza itself has almost no fanservice outside of Ryza's fully clothed butt. This is not an exaggeration.
- Nelke & The Legendary Alchemists PS4 Switch PC
- Atelier Annie DS
- Atelier Marie + Elie (A1 + A2) PS2
These are the only other games available in English. I've said this before: I don't think Annie is worth your time. Nelke is best played with at least some Atelier games behind you because it's an alternate world featuring all of the protagonists up to Mysterious.
For Marie + Elie, the first two games in the series, there is a fan translation from Atelier Traduction. The group focuses on French, but this game is indeed in English.