The overall structure of Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey is rather interesting — because for the most part it allows you to focus on the aspects of the game that you find most appealing.
Of course, in order to successfully prove Firis’ worth in the alchemy examination, you’ll need to display at least basic competence in all the main areas of gameplay, but once that’s done — and indeed for a hefty length of time in the run-up to the exam — you can approach the game as you see fit.
Unusually for a role-playing game, this actually means that you can get away without doing very much fighting at all if you so desire. But, as the Atelier series as a whole has repeatedly demonstrated up until this point, the best alchemists out there are the ones who know how to defend themselves. So it’s this aspect of Atelier Firis we’ll be looking at today!
One of the nice things about the Atelier series as a whole is that each installment does something a little different with the mechanics you come across most frequently — be it the main alchemy system, or the battle system. At the same time, the series also isn’t afraid to return to interesting ideas from earlier installments that really worked — though there’s usually a good few games between instances of this happening to keep things feeling fresh.
As it happens, by the time Atelier Firis rolls around, it seems like Gust were interested in incorporating some of their favourite ideas from the Atelier series circa Mana Khemia-era — so while the game is mechanically and visually distinct from those classic titles, there are definitely some recognisable game systems for you to latch onto.
Let’s look at the basics of combat first. At its core, Atelier Firis’ battle system is fairly straightforward. The active party can have up to four members arranged in a diamond shape, with the frontmost member being the most likely to get hit. Unlike a few previous Atelier titles, there’s no movement to worry about in this one; the formation is simply so you can put weaker characters in the back and stronger ones up front. Inevitably, for a fair portion of the game you’ll want Firis herself in the most well-protected position.
Rather than following a strict round-based system like Atelier Sophie, Atelier Firis instead returns to a familiar system of player and enemy icons appearing on a turn order gauge. Whoever’s at the top of the gauge goes next, and the inherent “wait time” of a skill or item determines how far the user’s item is pushed back down the gauge after they’ve taken their action.
There are a few carry-overs from other games here. The Break gauge has been seen in a number of Atelier games prior to this one, and allows enemies to be stunned if they’re hit repeatedly enough times. Early in the game, you’ll probably defeat your foes before you have the opportunity to stun them, but when taking on tougher foes or bosses making good use of this system can be very helpful.
The Burst mechanic makes a comeback after a fashion, too, though rather than immediately applying a substantial increase to party members’ fighting ability while active, it instead unlocks the ability to perform combo attacks and unique special moves.
As in previous Atelier titles that have incorporated a Burst system, successfully landing hits on enemies increases a gauge shared by the entire party, and when this fills, Burst mode begins. Alternatively, a portion of the gauge can be expended on allowing a non-Firis party member to block an attack that would otherwise hit Firis; they (and other party members if it’s an area-effect attack) will still take damage, but at a slightly reduced rate, but Firis will escape unscathed.
Once Burst is underway, party member skills and item usage can be chained together in a combo, so long as the characters involved have adjacent turns on the turn order gauge. All four characters can perform a combo together if the circumstances are right, and each successive skill or item used increases the amount of damage inflicted with each hit over its normal value.
When this percentage value reaches a particular threshold, special skills can be unleashed; as a result, if you’re fighting a tough enemy, you’ll likely want to ensure you hit Burst mode as quickly as possible, then set off as many combos as you can to make use of these powerful special attacks.
There are plenty of considerations to bear in mind here — most notably the fact that for a lot of the game, most characters’ stock of MP is fairly limited, allowing them only a few uses of their best skills before they run dry. Consequently, while skills might be a great way of building up the Burst meter, that Burst isn’t a lot of good to you if you have no MP to perform any skills by the time it happens!
You can always use items, of course — and in Atelier Firis, every character can use items to a certain degree — but, inevitably, the most effective attack items are exclusive to alchemist characters such as Firis herself and her friend Ilmeria. As a result, if you’re fighting a string of back-to-back battles without taking a rest, you’ll need to carefully manage your resources in order to ensure you stay fighting fit.
This is relatively easy in the game’s outdoor areas, since you’re never all that far from a campfire where you can put up Firis’ tent atelier and take a rest. There are some dungeon-type areas in the game, however, where life isn’t quite so convenient — and thus you’ll need to prepare accordingly before delving into these!
Progression-wise, Atelier Firis doesn’t buck the trend too much. There’s a straightforward levelling system that provides some flat increases to character stats as they progress — and, unlike Atelier Sophie, you don’t cap at level 20 — then on top of that, your equipment can and will have a significant effect on your overall combat readiness.
Interestingly, most characters in Atelier Firis can wield two weapons instead of just one. Equipping a second weapon doesn’t necessarily make their overall attack power higher, but it does provide the opportunity to make use of additional beneficial Traits, and also unlocks the ability for more skills to be used.
Firis’ sister Liane, for example, is primarily a bow wielder, and the skills she learns by levelling up are all bow-related. But if she equips a dagger as her secondary weapon, she also gains the ability to perform a variety of dagger attacks, which can be useful in particular circumstances.
Having multiple weapons equipped is especially useful when dealing with enemies who have resistances to particular damage types, be it elemental resistances or a simple resistance to bashing, piercing or slashing attacks.
Perhaps more interesting, though, is the return of the “Common Skills” system seen in some of the PlayStation 2 installments of the Atelier series. Here, if an item of equipment has been crafted to sufficient quality — or more accurately, if its various elemental component levels have been raised high enough during the crafting process — it confers the ability to perform specific skills on whoever is using or wielding that item.
Rather pleasingly, the Common Skills unlocked in this way have the same names and similar animations to their PS2-era counterparts — and despite the fact that the term “Common Skill” might sound a bit underwhelming, they’re often very effective, particularly at inflicting elemental damage on your foes.
By making effective use of Common Skills, you can build and specialise your party members further, allowing some to specialise as healers, others to work as elemental mages, and others still to act as effective supporters. All this is separate to their innate skills that they learn through levelling up, so paying attention to who gets what equipment allows you to either cover characters’ weaknesses, or enhance the areas where they are already strong.
One thing you likely will find as you progress is that the available types of equipment throughout the game seems fairly limited for quite some time — particularly prior to Firis’ alchemy exam. What you’ll probably want to do as you progress is make better examples of the same equipment using higher quality ingredients. Better ingredients means higher quality final items, which means better stat boosts — and often higher elemental component values, too, And that means more Common Skills and other benefits!
Traits remain as important as ever, too; an item of armour that simply increases defence by a flat amount will always be inferior to one that also buffs the wearer’s stats by a percentage amount. Likewise, outfitting yourself with appropriate resistances will help you to deal with some of the game’s stronger enemies; again, earlier in the game this might not be much of an issue to you, but once Firis has passed her alchemy exam and has the time to investigate some of the more dangerous parts of the world, you’ll appreciate the extra protection!
Like everything else in Atelier Firis, becoming effective in combat is a gradual process of learning, experimenting and attempting to push your own limits now and again. There will be times where you’ll find yourself facing seemingly insurmountable odds — but that’s just a cue to head back to the atelier and see if you can do anything to even those odds a bit.
And if there isn’t anything you can do about that specific situation right now, you can bet there are plenty of other things you can go do in the meantime — all of which will likely teach Firis (and you) something helpful for the future. Alchemy, like life, is a process of constant learning — so if you hit a setback on your journey, just consider taking an alternative road for a bit to see what you can find.
By the time you return to that daunting challenge, you might just find you’ll be able to overcome it with ease using all the things you learned in the meantime. Or perhaps you just need to load up your bag with a few more bombs…
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