Review: Atelier Annie: Alchemists of Sera Island

Atelier-Annie_E10_cover.jpg I am a sucker for games that are charming and fun and don’t take themselves too seriously, even if they are somewhat lacking in other ways. Atelier Annie: Alchemists of Sera Island is exactly that sort of game. There are elements of several genres including strategy, RPG, world building, mini-game collections, and so on involved, but they all take a back-seat to the focus on character interactions and the main story. For fans of more traditional jRPG games it will be a ‘love it or hate it’ sort of game.

The game centers on a young girl named Annie, who is lazy and lacks ambition…other than to find a rich man to marry so she never has to work again. She is descended from famous alchemists, a great honor and responsibility in her world, yet she has no ambitions to follow in their footsteps and explore her potential talents. So, in a move that will have you reciting the number to Child Protective Services in your head, her grandfather has her abducted in her sleep and swept away to a far away island, where she is left in the care of hard-nosed trainers and cast into an alchemy competition.

While immediately things seem dim for Annie, as soon as she realizes that winning the competition means getting a huge cash reward and being able to marry the Prince, she sees a light at the end of the tunnel, and a reason to put forth some effort. But to do it she’ll need to do two things she finds uncomfortable: work with others, and put forth effort.

The focus of the game is squarely on world-building within the confines of a small island, and also on interacting with as many other characters as possible. This puts the game at odds with the majority of games in the Atelier, Mana Khemia, and Ar Tonelico series. If you are considering this game, think about that carefully – you might find the game is not for you based on that alone.

Also, this is not a massive and sprawling game with huge dungeons and deep characters; areas you visit are for ‘exploration and collection’ and seldom span more than a couple of screens, and their main purpose is to help you gain items needed for alchemy experiments to develop things to help you in world building.

One interesting thing is that everything in the game takes time, and you only have three years of in-game time until the competition ends. So if you keep traveling around, or messing with Alchemy without purpose, you will find yourself in a bad position with respect to completing tasks related to rebuilding the island, and therefore end up doing poorly in the competition and not getting the best possible ending. Yes, there are multiple endings based on how you perform during the game!

So you get quests that are related to the main story of rebuilding Sera Island, but you can also get quests from the many inhabitants of the island. You will need to do many of these since you need to get the cash and resources in order to keep up your ability to synthesize new materials through alchemy. As you begin building sites around the island, you discover you also need to keep them running. You assign clerks to oversee operation of shops, but in order to make them popular and profitable you need to personally spend time in each one, and play mini-games there. This helps build up your reputation and cash reserves. Reputation is important since many quests only open up when your reputation is high enough.

There is combat in the game, which yields experience, cash and items. You can take up to two party members with you as you enter battles, and the system is turn-based with plenty of skills and options available. The combat system itself is nothing new, and is essentially similar to other jRPG games in many ways. But as mentioned, combat isn’t the focus, merely one of the myriad side-shows along the way. However, gaining and using skills is very important for a single reason: clock management. As I mentioned, everything you do takes time, and getting knocked out in battle loses you a precious full day.

My biggest complaint is that the interface seems built more for a traditional jRPG and less for a world-building game, which means you end up spending an inordinate amount of time navigating menus throughout the game. Also, something I liked but might turn many off is that the voices are all in Japanese with subtitles. Finally, just to reinforce that this is not a ‘combat first’ game, the battle system is probably one of the weaker parts of the game.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Atelier Annie: Alchemists of Sera Island, especially after the opening sequence – it felt contrived and I doubted I would find the annoying and bratty character of Annie charming at all. Yet her progression through the game, and the folks she is surrounded with, along with the refreshing focus on small-scale world-building and a time-based quest with known end point made this an interesting and very different-feeling experience. Getting through fully (after restarting a couple of times once I was more comfortable with things) took a couple of dozen hours, and I found those hours enjoyable and well spent.

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Pros:
+ Wonderfully charming characters and story
+ Nice world building and alchemy implementation
+ Plenty of puzzles
+ Dialogue is in Japanese with subtitles

Cons:
– Too much talking
– Clunky menus
– Combat isn’t a strong point
– Japanese dialogue may be a turnoff for some

Game Info:
Platform: DS
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Gust
Release Date: 10/27/09
Genre: RPG/Simulation/Strategy
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!