Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg Review
In our review, we won’t provide any spoilers for this game. We’ll only give you a basic premise of the first hour of plot and we’ll discuss gameplay elements introduced later without spoiling the associated narrative.
The Atelier series is a very long-running series of JRPGs with an emphasis on item creation (alchemy) rather than “saving the world”. Atelier games have been yearly releases for over two decades, and the games are generally organized in trilogies of games. This game is a remake of the very first Atelier game made, meaning you don’t need to play any of the other Atelier games to understand the plot because its the first game in its own trilogy (the Salburg trilogy).
This remake is extremely faithful to the original game with many modern quality of life enhancements. It may be a little confusing if you’re trying to compare different versions of the game, but when the game released it was ported to other consoles and re-released with definitive Plus versions that introduced new character events, mini-games, and a new ending, which are all present in this remake.
In this title you play as a girl named Marlone, nicknamed Marie. She’s struggling in her alchemy education at the royal academy of magic. Her teacher, Ingrid, gives her a unique project due to traditional education methods not working for her. All Marie has to do is produce the best quality item she can and present it to to Ingrid to get evaluated. Marie is also given her own shop to perform alchemy and free rein to do anything she likes for five years.
It’s an extremely light-hearted JRPG and it was very fascinating to see the game that started the long-running Atelier series. I’ll admit, the 3D graphics aren’t that good in this game. The 3D models and 3D backgrounds in the environments don’t look too pleasing. The regions are also very small and cramped with little exploration (like in older Atelier games such as Atelier Rorona). You explore areas to collect items or encounter on-screen enemies to fight. I would’ve really hoped for an Atelier Marie Remake with Atelier Ryza graphics, but I know that would be asking for a lot and this game is a lower price compared to new Atelier game releases.
I don’t blame the developers for the 3D environments because the original version of this game had you collect items randomly while a static background image was displayed and sometimes when you were collecting items you’d be randomly ejected into a battle with enemies of the region. That’s why there is an “auto collecting” feature in this remake, because it was present in the original version of the game as well.
I did try the automatic materials collecting feature and it was pretty annoying because you’d randomly gather materials rather than the ones you’d want and you’d randomly get encounters with enemies. It was a very good change that the developers put in some simple levels you can roam around, so I could just grab the materials I wanted and run away from enemies I wasn’t interested in fighting. This is certainly a huge quality of life improvement in terms of gameplay. Since these exploration areas are new content, I can understand the developers making them simple. I can tell the areas aren’t really meant to be crazy fun to explore, it’s really just an avenue for you to gather your materials like older Atelier games.
Sometimes you’ll be able to play mini-games after collecting a rare item. These mini-games are generally easy and offer a change of pace, and you can go into the title screen to replay these games for fun after unlocking them. These were present in the Plus version of the game as well, but they’re re-made with 3D models. The simple 3D graphics are definitely well-suited for the mini-games.
Although the 3D artwork and 3D models in this game aren’t the most aesthetically pleasing, the 2D backgrounds and character illustrations are simply phenomenal and are responsible for breathing life into this series.
I played through the Japanese Sega Saturn version of Atelier Marie before playing Atelier Marie Remake so I could analyze the differences between the games. The original game really was a product of its time where the artwork looked like that of a PC Engine game (not necessarily a bad thing, but it just looked like an old style due to technical limitations at the time and due to subtle differences on how anime and manga was drawn back then).
In Atelier Marie Remake, the artists redrew the backgrounds, characters and CG illustrations from the original game and they’re very modernized and faithful to the source material. This remake is pretty much a 1:1 to the original game, except with added quality of life improvements such as a more in-depth tutorial and menus that are easier to navigate (similar to modern Atelier releases) as well as listing the requirements for all events in the game.
Surprisingly, this game is very narrow in scope. It took us 10-15 hours to beat it and we obtained about 95% of all events seen. Your playtime can vary depending on which ending you go for and how many events you watch.
Being the first Atelier game, this game is very barebones. You can only make items from an exact recipe of materials, without being able to choose which materials are used, and you cannot customize your synthesized item with any traits or effects.
The tutorial of this game is excellent. It explains all of the main areas in the hub city very early on and it shows you how to gather and synthesize items, how to complete requests for gold, and it teaches the player how to recruit adventurers to go exploring with. There are plenty of difficulty options as well, so if you just want to relax and enjoy the story there are easier difficulty options available.
I really liked how narrow the scope of the game was because I felt modern Atelier releases such as Atelier Ryza were too bloated, having far too many dialogue lines than what was really necessary to convey the narrative. The writing in Atelier Marie Remake is very concise and most lines in the game are meaningful. At the same time, though, sometimes it goes too far, and sometimes an entire event (by the game’s definition) would have only two or three lines of dialogue.
You need to synthesize items and complete requests to obtain money, which you can use to recruit supporting characters so that you can go out and collect materials in a dangerous world. When you go out with recruited characters they’ll gain friendship points and you can unlock scenes with them. You then synthesize some items to sell, complete requests to gain more money to buy alchemy books to learn new recipes to complete even more difficult tasks, venturing to new locations farther away that are also more dangerous. The gameplay loop is very fun and addicting.
The cast of supporting characters in this game is great. You can raise their levels as well as raise their friendship points, which will allow you to unlock character event scenes where you learn their backstory (similar to modern Atelier games).
I really like how diverse the cast is. For instance, you have a knight who retired after a full life of service, another younger knight who instead became a mercenary due to the job of a knight having too much bureaucracy and rules, a thief who stole from people because he was born in poverty, a rich girl who wants to adventure but is frail, and a knight commander who is extremely powerful and is looking for the strongest opponents in the world, just to name a few.
One big point of contention with this remake is the time system. The original versions of this game had a built-in time system and the game was entirely built-around the time mechanic, where you had 5 years of in-game time to complete the game and get an ending. This remake still has the option to play with the time limit, but it also offers an unlimited time mode as well where you can just keep playing past 5 years.
You can’t switch between time limit mode and unlimited mode on the fly in your game (you’re stuck with what you choose for that playthrough). Unlimited time mode also has differences to make the game easier. For example, on time limit mode if you are late to fulfil a request you accepted, you fail the request and your reputation stat gets reduced slightly. If you have a late request on unlimited time mode, you can still fulfil the request and you still get rewards albeit the rewards gets reduced (no reputation decrease). Marie’s teacher, Ingrid, also sends optional tasks for you to help get you in the right direction such as asking you to recruit a certain number of adventures, exploring a certain amount of areas, etc. These have normal time limits on time limit mode and if you don’t complete them within the time limit your reputation stat gets reduced, but on unlimited time mode you have unlimited time to do her tasks.
One more very interesting difference with unlimited time mode is that certain events aren’t viewable on that mode (you actually can’t get 100% event completion on unlimited time mode). This sounded really odd at first, but I did two playthroughs to see which events were removed and why, and I found out that the game removes events that cause playable characters to permanently leave. This game follows the original game’s story and gameplay to a tee, even some of its questionable decisions such as having playable characters permanently leave which would definitely be unheard of in modern Atelier titles.
I wish this was handled better in the game though. On my first playthrough of the game, I played through on unlimited time mode and did all possible events and noticed something odd. For some reason, there were some loose plot threads and I did all the events except the ones they didn’t allow you to do on unlimited time mode. I then quickly speedran the game on time limit mode and did the events I couldn’t do on unlimited time mode. It turns out that you do get a few big story cutscenes when certain characters leave that end their plotlines, which I won’t be spoiling (there are narrative reasons for some of the characters to permanently leave and big reveals).
I don’t think the game is that difficult, you can certainly beat the game easily (there’s many endings that don’t even require you to fight the bosses in the game) and there’s more than enough characters to go around even if you happen to lose a few of them. It definitely could’ve been handled better though, those were some interesting narrative scenes I would’ve liked to see on unlimited time mode but I suppose the developers wanted to protect the players from having characters leave on unlimited time mode.
I can see why they did this too because they wrote themselves in a corner, the narrative scenes wouldn’t make sense if they didn’t leave (it wouldn’t be possible to keep the same cutscene and still let the character be playable). It was interesting because I did do a lot of research on these games for this review, and I’d find old Japanese forums where players would be advising each other not to trigger certain events because they’d lose their favorite party member permanently. It really is a case where the developers wanted to protect the players from themselves but I wish that these events were available on unlimited time mode, or some kind of compromise where I could see the scenes without the character leaving.
If I had to summarize it for you, I’d recommend playing on unlimited time mode if you’re completely new to the Atelier game series, and I’d recommend you play on time limit mode if you’ve played at least one Atelier game before. This game is very narrow in scope with smaller hub areas than most Atelier games, and although it’s possible to miss events and screw up it’s surprisingly difficult to do so.
Without using a guide I felt that I had more than enough time to get requirements for all the endings and I was able to obtain all the items in the game with maybe a half a year of extra time to spare. The time limit is not bad because they developers released definitive versions of the game with updates throughout the years such as with its Saturn release and with Atelier Marie Plus, so the developers fixed a lot of issues that the original version of the game. It’s only the version 1.0 game which had released on the Playstation 1 decades ago that was brutal due to some rare items being extremely difficult to get which has long been fixed. If you’re afraid that this is a difficult game, it certainly is not, especially with so many added quality of life enhancements.
Another criticism I have with Atelier Marie Remake is that you can’t choose your ending. This is an older Atelier game, where you have many fun endings you can trigger but not necessarily one canon ending. This is in direct contrast to modern Atelier games such as Atelier Ryza, which had character endings mixed into the sidequests and instead has a canon ending you’ll always trigger.
The endings, without spoiling, do have some that are good and some that are bad, and obviously the game prioritizes the better endings over the bad ones. But the issue is that you don’t know necessarily which good ending will trigger if you meet the conditions for multiple endings at once, and you basically need to know which ending the game prioritizes.
I really liked how Atelier Firis handled this – if you triggered the requirements for multiple endings the game will just let you choose which ending you want from a menu at the end of the game. It can be slightly immersion breaking, but it reduced ambiguity significantly and you don’t need to go out of your way purposely not triggering certain sidequests to get the ending you want.
To give an example without spoiling, there are some endings in Atelier Marie trigger based on if Marie or Schea (or both) is/are level 50. There are some endings that trigger if you make a certain item. There’s an ending for making/finding all items. There’s an ending for defeating a certain boss in a certain dungeon. But if you do all of this on one playthrough, how would one know which ending would trigger? It gets confusing and I kept many saves to see the ending priority. It turned out Marie and Schea being level 50 had priority over creating/finding all items, which had priority over Marie being level 50 without Schea being level 50, which had priority over beating a certain boss in a certain dungeon, which had priority over creating a certain item in the game, etc.
But aside from a few minor annoyances the game was really charming. The openness of the game is one of its best strengths. The plot of the game is just “go out and make the best possible item you can”, and if you want to meet better requirements over that you can. It’s refreshing in a day where many big game titles hold your hand too much, even Atelier Ryza goes crazy with tutorials and lengthy early-game cutscenes.
The narrative hypes up the Ingrid as a harsh teacher, but she’s actually not a hard grader at all and the only way to get a bad ending is if you’re purposely doing for it. Unlike other Atelier games you don’t even need to fight any bosses in the game for most of its endings! If you want to relax and just hang out doing character events you can.
Since there’s no bloat at all, you can quickly do another run of the game to get a different ending or unlock events you couldn’t get on your first playthrough. There is an in-game menu explaining how to unlock all events in the game and it doesn’t spoil anything (the game will put question marks if you haven’t seen certain characters yet).
At first I thought the menu felt like cheating, but it was actually pretty fair because some requirements to see certain character events were genuinely very cryptic, and it was nice to have this explained in-game rather than me having to consult Japanese strategy guides and wikis.
For the character Mu for example, her final event required you to have her friendship up, you needed to have seen all her previous events, you needed to go to a specific waterfall dungeon at the very specific time of Year 4, in the month of August. Though you’d think it was just a random event, it was actually the conclusion to her plotline, where it revealed her whole backstory and provided several really well-drawn CG illustrations. This was one of the scenes they added in for the Plus version of the game.
Another criticism I had is that they did keep in a lot of the specific requirements for some of the character events. I said it earlier and I’ll say it again, this remake really is a 1:1 of the original games but sometimes to a fault. I killed a major boss by accident that was one-time only and I missed most of the Knight Commander’s events because of it. I just fought what I believed to be a random mini-boss on the map but it turns out it was one of the 3 bosses in the game, and you had to bring that Knight Commander character to the fight so that he could progress his plotline and I got locked out of it as a result. The problem was compounded because another mercenary character asked for a fang from the dragon, so I thought I would be fine just bringing that mercenary character but it turns out you didn’t need to bring him at all, you had to bring the Knight Commander. It’s an odd design choice because nowadays if there’s a character event related to a boss they’ll just force you to use that party member, or they’ll only make the boss spawn when you trigger the sidequest, or they’ll just warp you to the boss after talking to the character, to ensure it wasn’t missable.
The soundtrack of this game is exceptional just like all other Atelier games, with very light-hearted melodies to listen to while you synthesize and explore the town and sorrowful tunes when a sad event occurs. The voice acting is all done in Japanese, with English subtitles you can read, which is the norm for Atelier games nowadays.
The age of the game does show because it’s very short and has a lot of old game design decisions. Although I like that the game isn’t bloated, some of the characters don’t have too many lines of dialogue and sometimes their entire backstory is shown in just one of their events instead of being more evenly spread out. With older Atelier games especially, the supporting characters all talk with the protagonist, Marie, but they almost never talk to each other once (they all act independently).
The alchemy system is as barebones as it can be, with you only being able to craft items from materials with no way to to customize the crafted item (no parameters such as quality, traits, effects, etc). The openness of the game is amazing though and I liked being able to do anything straight from the get-go. Although I made a lot of criticisms of the game, I really liked exploring the roots of this franchise and the developers did add many quality of life enhancements without actually changing the base game and the artwork is very well done. I’d definitely recommend you to check out this game if you’re looking to get into the Atelier games, it’s not a bad place to start at all. Even if you’ve played Atelier games before, it’s very refreshing to see a modernized version of the original game.
Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg
- It’s a very fun game. The alchemy is very easy to understand and the game has a great tutorial.
- Has an Unlimited Time option for newcomers or if you just want to explore all the events without the stress of time limits. Has easier difficulty options as well for battles.
- The 2D artwork is amazing. All characters and CG illustrations have been redrawn with a modern artstyle.
- It’s a one-to-one remake to a fault. Some character plotlines can be lacking and there are old game design decisions, such as characters leaving if you complete their plotlines and you’re not able to choose your ending. You also cannot unlock all events on Unlimited Time mode.
- The game is short, taking only 10-15 hours even with getting all items and events.
- The alchemy is also simple to a fault, with no ability to customize items you created.
– Brandon Harris
Reviewed on the PC