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 pie. 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 first entry in the series, Atelier Marie, is thought to have popularized the concept of item crafting in later RPGs. Atelier remains the king, queen, and especially princess of item creation, and all others bow before it nearly 20 years later.
The series itself is thus known for incredibly deep item crafting systems, and the games — from exploration to monster drops — revolve around this aspect. They otherwise feature standard turn based battle systems (except Ryza!). 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. 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.
Here are all of the Atelier games that are or will be in English:
- Iris Trilogy 1-3 (PS2)
- Mana Khemia 1 (PS2|PSP) and 2 (PS2)
- Arland: Rorona (PS3|Vita|PS4|PS Now|Switch|PC), Totori, Meruru (PS3|Vita|PS4|Switch|PC), Lulua (PS4|Switch|PC)
- Dusk: Ayesha, Escha & Logy, and Shallie (PS3|Vita|PS Now|PC|Switch|PS4)
- Mysterious: Sophie, Firis (Vita|PS4|PC), and Lydie & Suelle (Switch|PS4|PC)
- Ryza (Switch|PS4|PC)
- Spinoffs: Annie (DS), Nelke (PS4|Switch|PC)
- Salburg: Marie+Elie (PS2) Fan Translation (Complete)
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.
There is something of a divide in the series. Iris and Mana Khemia are unlike the the more modern games. They are, simply put, more traditional RPGs, especially the Iris trilogy.
Where Should I Start?
First, here are the worst options: Meruru, Shallie, and Nelke. Meruru and Shallie are somewhat reliant on returning characters. Nelke is a crossover spinoff with significantly different gameplay from the main series so don’t even think about it.
For any other games, yes you can start with them.
- Being the ‘latest and greatest’, this is an excellent starting point, particularly if you want something without investing in three games at once (as you are encouraged to do with Arland DX/Dusk DX).
- Mostly in the slice of life category. Has a number of serious moments and isn’t quite as goofy as many predecessors.
- ATB battle system (unique for the series so far) and an easy to get into synthesis system
- Best for: people who do not want to buy three games at once; people bound to Switch; people who want more active combat
- The main feature of this game is that it lacks a time limit and has an extremely unique synthesis system.
- Very chill, lets you go at your own pace.
- A lot of veterans would not recommend this game as a starter. But I’ve seen it over and over again — a large number of noobs play this as their first title and enjoy it. If you’re stuck to PC or otherwise determined to play the newer end of the series, you really don’t have anything to fear starting here.
- Best for: people who want the cheapest entry point; people who want the most relaxed game
- Highly recommended if you are willing to buy three games at once (the full Dusk DX collection).
- The time limit isn’t challenging.
- It teaches you everything Atelier is about in a very palatable package.
- Has one of the better stories in the series (which is still a light story by JRPG standards).
- Best for: people who played Mana Khemia or Iris first; people who are unsure about the lighter stories in the series
Historic Recommendation: Rorona DX
- One of the ‘scary’ time limited games you probably heard about, but Rorona’s main goals are near impossible to fail, making it a decent beginner option.
- Arland is a hellishly goofy and charming subseries.
- Rorona Plus and Rorona DX (DX is a rerelease of Plus) are fine starter games in a vacuum.
- However, I recommend Arland as a followup series.
- Rorona sequel is Totori. Rorona Plus/DX are partial remakes; thus, they were made AFTER Totori and have several improvements. Jumping from Rorona to Totori can be a shock due to a sudden lack of quality of life features and simpler gameplay. (Totori is also just a tougher pill to swallow in general.)
- To top off the Arland chaos, Lulua was made years after the first three games and does not have a time limit. (Oddly, Lulua is not a bad starting game itself, it just isn’t exactly like the other Arland games.)
- Best for: people who aren’t afraid of time limits; people who are reasonably sure the series is for them (Arland DX trilogy is a good bundle!)
The Finer Points
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.
Classic RPG Style
- Outright traditional RPGs with simple crafting systems. You’ve basically already imagined what the first two games are like.
- 1&2 are related.
- 3 isn’t related to the others at all. But it’s also very experimental in structure, as you have a time limit when you visit dungeons. (You can revisit as much as you want, just to be clear.)
- This trilogy doesn’t really represent what makes Atelier special, but they can be fun games.
- Some people think it’s a shame I brush this trilogy off, so I’ll have a sort of long-winded discussion about this to fill the void.
- This series is the least ‘Atelier’ of them all. That’s the short of it.
- The fact that Iris and MK were localized first set up the wrong expectations in the west, which I believes gives some people the wrong idea of how important these games are.
- The modern games appear to have gone totally nuts in comparison to these ‘first’ games. It’s a wonder how this modern moe explosion and these older, fairly normal JRPGs are in the same series, right?
- Some people seem to be under the misconception that Iris is the first in the series. Iris 1 is actually the sixth. So in other words: these crazy modern games make a lot more sense when you look at the first through fifth games, Marie through Viorate.
- From a historical standpoint: Rorona looked back at the classics and set the stage for modern games. Iris, in comparison to other titles, just doesn’t have much of a place in the series.
- So should you play these games? I don’t see why not. But I won’t recommend them as Atelier games so much as plain-o JRPGs.
- Yes, these are Atelier. Yes, they have funny names. No, they aren’t spinoffs.
- Would appeal to anyone wanting a traditional RPG, but it isn’t as “JRPG” as the Iris trilogy.
- Game Progression
- This is basically Atelier-goes-to-school.
- You’re given assignments to do as part of your classes. These involve all the traditional RPG things (exploration, fighting, a bit of plot), plus item creation.
- The best battle systems in the series. The later two Dusk games directly ripped off MK2, in fact.
- They feature an interesting skill/stat progression method — the grow book. As you make items, you unlock skills and such.
- Synthesis has some interesting points to it. Still simpler than the modern games.
- Simple stories.
- MK2 features dual protagonists, and each has a substantially different set of events.
- Character focused.
- Story order: Rorona -> Totori -> Meruru -> Lulua
- Release order: Totori -> Meruru -> Rorona PLUS -> Lulua
- The original three are the quintessential traditional Atelier subseries.
- These are the “scary” time management games you heard of. They aren’t hard, but you can’t approach them mindlessly.
- These have a hard focus on item creation, and explore synthesis in increasing amounts of depth.
- Unlike most RPGs, you can’t grind or item farm. Keep that in mind and you will do just fine.
- Lulua lacks a time limit.
- Game Progression
- Rorona gives you an assignment to do every 3 months.
- Totori gives you almost total freedom, but expects you to “rank up” as an adventurer doing a variety of small tasks, which range from making items to defeating bosses.
- Meruru expects you to, essentially, improve the kingdom and boost its population. You’ll do a lot of smaller tasks, which award points that you will spend to make the kingdom better.
- Lulua has you unlocking recipes to progress through the story. It’s structured more closely to a normal RPG aside from that.
- Very slice of life stories.
- Goofy casts you’ll never forget.
- Lulua’s story is… well, not the greatest, but it manages to be really funny at least.
- Plus/DX Versions
- PS3 DLC is tossed in for free.
- DX is exactly the same as Plus, just for different systems.
- Only consider the PLUS or DX versions of Rorona. It’s a partial and much needed remake of the original Rorona.
- Totori+ includes minor synthesis tweaks and a bonus dungeon. Easily the weakest of the lot.
- Meruru+ adds an ending. The ending the original needed most desperately. And looooots of minor adjustments.
- Avoid the PS3 collection of the Arland games; it includes the original Rorona.
- The Vita collection is totally fine.
- Rorona Plus has a bonus overtime scenario that includes Totori and Meruru. It’s probably better as a post-Meruru challenge than something you feel obligated to do.
- Order: Ayesha -> Escha & Logy -> Shallie
- Ayesha has a relaxed time limit. E&L has a joke of a time limit. And Shallie removes it.
- More serious in tone than Arland. Still primarily slice of life, but has plot.
- Ayesha has a really good setting and story.
- The sequels don’t properly follow up on this.
- E&L and Shallie feature dual protagonists. Most of the game is the same between the two routes, though you do get some exclusive events, items, and endings.
- The two later games have the most polished gameplay in the series.
- They rip off MK2’s battle system, which is a good thing.
- The synthesis is quite deep and satisfying.
- Ayesha’s good enough in this respect. It’s predecessor, Meruru, and its sequels are just better.
- Game Progression
- Ayesha expects you to try to save Nio. You’re mostly given freedom but you will find plot events every now and then.
- E&L give you an assignment every four months, as well as a variety of smaller tasks. You have tons of free time to do whatever.
- Shallie is divided into plot events and free time. To advance out of free time you have to do some small tasks.
- Plus/DX Versions
- PS3 version DLC is included in Plus.
- Ayesha has hard mode and includes the Japanese voices, which is probably huge to some of you. The PS3 version is the one title that doesn’t have the Japanese track at all.
- E&L has a few bosses and a new playable character. There are also new events between the two leads which you can choose to make more romantic or platonic.
- Shallie has substantial additions, as it includes Ayesha and Logy. I made a playlist of all the new stuff. I won’t call it a perfect solution, but for those of you who are PS3 bound, this is my attempt to make it better.
- Order: Sophie -> Firis -> Lydie & Suelle
- Firis has a partial and extremely easy time limit. Gust is confused.
- Those of you terrified of the words “time limit” should be okay with this. It’s laughably easy, and you can do anything you want afterward.
- Sophie and L&S have a time of day system, which affect events and a number of gameplay particulars. No time limit.
- Game Progression
- Sophie: You make items. You do things to unlock item recipes. The things you do don’t necessarily make sense. (This applies to Firis too, actually.)
- Firis: travel to a distant city and pass an alchemy exam within a time limit. It’s fairly nonlinear and free in how you choose to do this.
- The primary point of interest is its synthesis system. It isn’t simply “pick items in a list”, like previous games. Rather, the size of items and positions are more important. Kind of like a puzzle.
- Here’s a video of Sophie, because I think words don’t help. Heck, this is really a system you learn better by doing. Firis has the same fundamental idea but makes some improvements.
- While Sophie’s battle system isn’t anything special, Firis expands and improves upon the ideas, and L&S does even better.
- Plot largely goes back to Arland levels of extreme slice of life. Sophie entertains a tiny bit of story, but Firis really just sticks to character events.
- L&S has a decent plot line compared to its predecessors and is rather goofy.
- Order: Ryza
- Game Progression: Like a normal RPG, following the plot as it pushes you along
- ATB battle system, which is definitely a departure from the rest of the series
- Yet another really unique synthesis system. It’s really easy to pick up and play and really hard to describe with words so I’ll spare you the confusion. It’s very approachable for noobs.
- Slightly more serious in tone while not departing from slice of life. This is to say, there is a plot, but much of the game is concerned with Kurken Island and fulfilling simple goals.
- Sidequests actually have little plotlines, which make NPCs memorable.
- I’m not gonna recommend Annie to you.
- It’s a spinoff, and its quality reflects that.
- Hold-y-to-win battle system, uninteresting sim aspects, fetch questy, basic synthesis system.
- You could do worse, but maybe look at Gust’s other offerings before looking here.
- They waste a sexy voice like Miyuki Sawashiro on a fairy named Pepe.
- On Marie+Elie, these are very classic games and don’t really reflect where the series is currently, but if you can tolerate old school or if you want to see the beginnings of the series they’re recommended.
- Nelke is pretty much for existing fans only; it’s a pure fanservice game. It’s only recommended after getting decent knowledge of a couple different subseries.
- How do the Vita versions perform?
- Frame rate pretty much always takes a hit, though it varies by game. I found Totori and E&L to be tolerable, for instance, but I have heard Bad Things about Firis and Ayesha. Shallie is sometimes very, very ugly and it hurts my eyes to look at some locations.
- How do the PC versions perform?
- Mostly fine. I won’t tell you that KT makes the perfect port; we all know they don’t. But they’re very playable, largely without huge issues. To name a particularly bad issue, Rorona and Meruru have a synthesis menu lag that should be unacceptable, but Koei Tecmo shamefully refuses to fix this. (This also applies to the Switch version, so they just all around suck on this glaring flaw.)
- Are the Vita versions all digital?
- Mostly. Escha & Logy and Shallie had limited editions, and Shallie had a regular physical edition in EU.
- How hard is the time limit?
- The only game this is particularly a problem in is Totori. It’s generally quite easy for other games.
- From hardest to easiest: Rorona+ (Total Completion) > Totori > Meruru > Ayesha > Rorona+ (Casual) > Firis > Escha & Logy
- What’s this about barrels?
- I don’t know either. In the very first game, they had Marie say it when she interacted with a barrel and it’s been a thing ever since. In recent times, it has elevated to trophy status.
- No dub no buy!
- Avoid any game released after Firis.
- No JP no buy!
- Avoid PS3 Ayesha.
- How do you pronounce Atelier?
- Listen to these two ways. It claims one is British and the other is North American. I claim it’s such an unusual French word it doesn’t matter. Pick the one you like. Pick the original French way if bastardizations aren’t your thing. And crush all over ways of saying it.
- Don’t make a filthy R sound when you say the name of the series you heathens.
- You’re not allowed to be friends with anyone that calls it at-lee-er, as the dubs do. That’s so wrong it’s criminal.