As we started to explore in the previous part of this feature, one of the things that makes Atelier Firis so interesting as a modern role-playing game is that once you’re into the game’s “second quest”, there’s no set goal where you can say that you have definitively “finished” the game.
I mean, okay, if you do literally everything the game has to offer, fill out all the collections to 100%, max out all your characters and make it so the only quests available are repeating ones, then yes, you’ve probably “beaten” Atelier Firis. But what I mean is that for people who aren’t obsessive completionists, you can pretty much choose what your own personal “win state” is, reach that condition and then, if you choose, set the game aside.
If you’re anything like me, of course, the temptation to just have “a quick look” at what else the game has to offer may be too much to bear, however… so let’s talk about this side of things, with a particular focus on what it means for Atelier Firis’ overall narrative.
Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey is, as we’ve pretty comprehensively established by this point, a story about growing up and coming of age. The introductory part of the game is about Firis proving she can be trusted with independent activity; the main first part of the game is about Firis proving that she can attain a goal that she has been set by someone else; and the final part of the game is about Firis setting a goal for herself, reaching it and then determining what to do from there.
That goal in the latter part of the game is seemingly pretty simple: figure out what she wants to do with her life. But unlike most of the other Atelier games that we’ve played up until this point, there isn’t a linear main narrative to follow in order to reach that goal. And I really mean that; once you’ve cleared the alchemy exam, there is no “main scenario” for Atelier Firis at all.
This is an interesting contrast to Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book which, despite having a fairly “freeform” structure to its overall gameplay, most certainly had a main scenario to work through, complete with a dramatic final boss encounter to conclude everything nicely.
This made sense for Atelier Sophie’s narrative, since right from the start there was a core mystery to be solved: the identity of Plachta, and how she came into Sophie’s possession in the form of a sentient book. As part of Plachta’s story, a “villain” was revealed, and circumstances dictated that said villain needed dealing with. So that’s exactly what you do in Atelier Sophie.
In Atelier Firis, however, there is no such mystery. There is no villain. There is no impending cataclysmic event that will destroy the universe. There is no terminal illness that can only be cured with a magical substance guarded by the most deadly creature in the land. Life, on the whole, is pretty good.
And yet, we feel for Firis. The lack of any real major stakes in her narrative means that we can focus on who she is, what she’s feeling and why she’s taking her journey in the first place. And, as her journey progresses, we feel like we learn all sorts of things not just about her, but about the people around her and the world at large, too.
The way you do actually “beat” Atelier Firis — as in, see the end credits and get to save your clear data — is by seeing at least one of Firis’ companion characters’ narratives through to its conclusion. In doing so, Firis inevitably learns something about herself, and determines that spending the rest of her life alongside said character might not be all that bad.
Crucially, though, you’re not “locked in” to a particular ending. Every character makes it abundantly clear to Firis that they’d welcome her company on their own journeys through life, but that she shouldn’t feel pressured into joining them if she’s not sure. Ultimately, Firis’ decision about her future should be her own, and as such for the “full” Atelier Firis experience, it pays to see as many of these narratives through to their conclusion as possible so that Firis has plenty of options available to her when she finally wants to make a decision.
And these options are very varied indeed. In the previous part of this feature, we looked at the stories of puppeteer Drossel and aspiring alchemist Ilmeria; as you might expect, bringing both of these narratives to their conclusions provides Firis with the opportunity to continue working with them.
In Drossel’s case, Firis joins her and her father Fritz in performing puppet shows — although she has a lot to learn, still! — while in Ilmeria’s case, Firis opens her own atelier with Ilmeria, bringing her journeys to a close, but allowing her to run a business with someone she has come to feel genuine love for. Even if Ilmeria is a harsh taskmaster!
But there are plenty of other options, too. Sophie and Plachta have their own narrative to follow, of course, but this time around there’s no all-powerful, insane evil alchemist to defeat; this narrative thread actually ends up being a matter of personal growth for Firis more than anything.
In Atelier Sophie’s narrative, we learn that the best alchemists are able to hear the “voices” of materials; they can listen to an ingredient and hear what it wants to become. Many raw materials are not content simply being a lump of rock or handful of grass, it seems; many of them actively want to become something useful or beautiful, and alchemy is, in essence, the art of allowing these materials to realise their ambitions.
Sophie explains this concept to Firis as part of her narrative thread, and Firis gets a vague idea of what she’s talking about, since she has always been able to hear the “voice” of ore. Indeed, this aspect of Firis is represented pleasingly subtly over the course of the game as a whole by there being faint, ethereal, echoing sounds in the background any time she’s near deposits of ore or crystals.
In Firis’ case, though, she’s never been able to decipher whether or not the ore is actually “saying” something; it’s more that she’s aware of its presence. What Sophie is suggesting is that materials are capable of communicating some sort of desire — and this initially seems peculiar to Firis. She has no reason to doubt Sophie, however, since Sophie has clearly come a long way believing this, and concludes that she’s just not quite experienced enough to be able to “hear” things in the same way as her teacher.
As things tend to go, it takes something of a crisis for a breakthrough to occur. In this case, while gathering ingredients, both Sophie and Firis fall through some weak ground into a cave beneath the surface, and Sophie injures her leg in the process. Unwilling to leave her teacher behind, Firis desperately searches for a means to help, but she dropped her backpack in the fall. Not only that, but monsters are seemingly closing in, so time is of the essence.
What follows here is a surprisingly claustrophobic sequence in which Firis refuses to leave the cave in which they are trapped, but in which there is seemingly no solution to the problem at hand. There are several things you can search in the hope of finding something useful, but nothing that would appear to help.
Until Firis finally hears a voice; the voice of a plant growing in a dark corner of the cave. A plant that wants to become medicine; a plant that feels for the ailing Sophie and wants to help her. Firis, not entirely sure if she’s losing her grip on reality or really hearing the voice of a small bush, decides to trust her instincts and quickly knock up some medicine for Sophie; it works just long enough for Plachta and Liane to track the pair of them down and rescue them, before getting Sophie some proper medical attention.
This whole sequence naturally leads on to Firis feeling even more attached to her mentor than she already was, and ultimately leads on to one of her possible “futures” being to continue journeying with Sophie. But, as previously noted, we don’t have to leave it at that.
For example, once you’ve seen Sophie and Plachta’s narrative through to its conclusion, you can also complete the story of Oskar, a character who previously appeared in Atelier Sophie and was noteworthy for claiming that he could hear the voices of plants — and indeed carry on whole conversations with them.
In Atelier Sophie, both we and Sophie could never quite tell if Oskar was making all this up, or if he really did have some sort of talent. He certainly seemed convinced of it, though, so if it was something he was doing for attention, he was remarkably committed to the “bit”.
In Atelier Firis, meanwhile, Firis’ new-found ability to hear the voices of materials — seemingly even clearer than Sophie is able to — causes her to take an interest in what Oskar is saying, particularly when he introduces a potted plant named Chelsea to the atelier. Firis can’t hear Chelsea’s voice as Oskar can, but given her experiences up until this point, she’s not going to completely discount anything. And as such, when Oskar explains things they might be able to do to help Chelsea, Firis happily goes along with them.
The end result is, of course, that Firis develops such a connection with the plant that she is finally able to hear not only her voice, but the voices of other plants, too. And so by the time Chelsea’s tragically limited lifespan finally comes to an end, she’s more than willing to entertain the possibility that another possible future for her could be travelling with Oskar in an attempt to befriend plants all over the world.
These aren’t the only callbacks to Atelier Sophie’s narrative, however — there’s one that will make players of the previous game feel somewhat uneasy, for sure.
In Atelier Sophie, Sophie is repeatedly visited by a pair of child-like figures named Meklet and Atomina who are seemingly fascinated with alchemy, but unable to perform it for themselves. It eventually transpires that they are artificial lifeforms who were created by Plachta as a means of sealing up the spirit of Luard, an alchemist who had become obsessed with the power of “Ablation Alchemy” — a power that, while capable of creating anything, would also ultimately strip the world of all its resources.
Atelier Sophie’s finale involves Meklet and Atomina finally reaching the “Cauldron of Knowledge” that has been the main story-driving MacGuffin for the game’s main scenario, and using the Cauldron’s power to turn themselves back into Luard. After an unsuccessful attempt to talk him down, Sophie and Plachta kick the snot out of him and turn him back into Meklet and Atomina; since the Cauldron of Knowledge was destroyed in the process, it’s unlikely they’ll ever be able to cause trouble again.
That doesn’t stop it feeling somewhat uneasy when they show up in Atelier Firis, however. While those who are playing Atelier Firis as an isolated, standalone game might just find the pair intriguing, those who played Atelier Sophie immediately before will be immediately suspicious — and justifiably so.
Meklet and Atomina introduce themselves as people who are looking for a powerful alchemist to help them realise their goal. Naturally, this might raise some immediate warning flags for Atelier Sophie veterans, but follow through their narrative to its conclusion and it becomes clear that they’re honestly after some answers this time around; they’re seeking to learn the fate of someone from their original time of 500 years ago, and the only means through which they can do that is by a powerful alchemist building them a flying ship to reach their last known resting place.
Thus begins the second ship-building quest in Atelier Firis, and, from a mechanical perspective, the means of unlocking a full “fast travel” system. Firis, having already built a ship that could withstand a seemingly supernatural waterspout with the assistance of local sailors and engineers, is perfectly confident that she can build a ship that can fly, and, of course, she succeeds; Meklet and Atomina get their answers (after a challenging boss battle, because there has to be at least one narrative path that has a “final boss” of sorts, right?) and, in the process, Firis learns that a perfectly valid future for herself is simply continuing to learn alchemy and determine all its possibilities for herself.
Alongside all this, there’s the story of Firis’ sister Liane to consider. Prior to Firis passing her alchemy exam, Liane has been a constant presence, supporting Firis at every turn and displaying that sort of slightly inappropriate obsessive sisterly love that we all love so much in anime-style media.
Interestingly, though, we don’t really learn a lot about Liane throughout the first part of the game. And it seems that Liane has done that deliberately; once Firis has passed her exam and is trying to figure out what she wants to do, Liane reveals hesitantly that she already knows what she wants to do, and that she doesn’t want to involve Firis in it.
Firis, naturally, takes great umbrage at this, because not only does she simply love Liane as family, she wants to pay her back for how much support she has offered in her journey to date. Drama ensues — probably the most “serious” the drama gets in Atelier Firis — and it eventually comes to light that Liane is not Firis’ biological sister; she was adopted by Firis’ parents after her mother passed away.
Liane and her mother were seemingly fleeing from something, it seems, and over the years Liane has felt a growing pain in her chest from wanting to understand the truth behind what happened. She wants to see her homeland; she wants to know why her mother died; she wants to know the truth. She certainly doesn’t resent the Mistlud family that she is now part of, but she simply wants to understand her own past.
Naturally, she was concerned that Firis would react negatively to the revelation that they weren’t actually related; she was adopted when Firis was very young, after all, so it was likely that Firis wouldn’t even remember. As it happens, Firis has a dream about their initial meeting shortly before all this comes to light, so on a subconscious level she did remember — but, of course, being the kind and wonderful person she has shown herself to be over the course of the rest of the game up until this point, she doesn’t care if Liane is related to her by blood or not; she loves her, and she is her sister.
Once all that is resolved, Firis and Liane set off on a journey to discover the truth behind what happened, and their trail leads them to the melancholy village of Grau-Tal, a run-down little settlement that sits in the middle of a big pit in the rocky wasteland of the Weist Plain.
Depending on how you played the first half of the game, you may well have stumbled across Grau-Tal already as you were hunting for Firis’ letters of recommendation in order to participate in the exam, since there is an alchemist in residence there. Regardless of how you first arrive at the town, however, it seems that said alchemist knows more than he’s letting on — and finds himself oddly interested in Liane.
It doesn’t take long to put two and two together, and it eventually transpires that Norbert, as the alchemist is known, was well familiar with Liane’s mother — his fascination with Liane is down to how much the girl resembles her mother — and also knows the story of why they had to flee. He knows the story because he was there; he also fled.
Prior to this point, you may well have stumbled across an area called “Abandoned Village” in a zone called “Past Paradise”. Said village is, as you might expect, fallen to complete ruin — but it looks like it’s been deliberately destroyed rather than simply abandoned and left to rot. When you first encounter this area, there’s a distinct atmosphere about the place, but you don’t learn the truth behind it unless you follow Liane’s narrative through to its conclusion: this was her hometown, and it was destroyed by a dread draconic beast known as The Ruler of the Skies.
As you might expect, what then follows is a quest to kick the crap out of said Ruler of the Skies in order to take revenge for the ruination he brought to so many people’s lives — but taking on this quest brings up some interesting questions. It seems that Norbert succeeded in sealing the Ruler of the Skies in his lair using a series of alchemical totems, and the only way for Liane and Firis to go and face the beast will be to destroy them.
Of course, doing so means letting the Ruler of the Skies out again, so they’d better be damned sure they can beat it before they do so. By this point in the story, however, if you’ve been keeping on top of all aspects of your progression, you should be pretty well kitted out to take on a dragon beast, and so another “final boss” shouldn’t be too much trouble for you to take on.
Assuming you’re successful, this finally allows Liane to find pretty much complete closure. She’s learned the truth, she’s seen it for herself, she knows that she can’t change it — but she’s also taken revenge for what happened and ensured that it won’t happen again. From here, she can move forward with her life with no guilt — and focus on living as Firis’ sister, rather than the lost child of a destroyed settlement.
Though this is very much Liane’s story, Firis’ involvement only fills her with determination and love for her sister. By the time it’s all over, Firis knows that yet another possible future she would be more than happy to see come to pass would be simply continuing to travel with her sister: exploring the world, hunting, discovering things and perhaps helping a few people along the way.
There are a number of other routes that Firis’ future can take, too, but in the interests of time we’ll leave that there — save to say that the game’s “true” ending involves Firis not really making a decision at all, and instead determining that what she really wants to do is everything she wants to do. There’s no reason to pin herself down to a single thing for the rest of her life, after all — and over the course of her journey up until that point, she’s made enough friends that her life will certainly never be boring from hereon.
If you have the means of doing so, this isn’t a bad way to lead your life at all; the world is full of fascinating experiences, after all, so why chain yourself to a single thing for the rest of your life? Sure, you might not get as rich and successful as you might have been if you had dedicated yourself to a single thing for your whole life — but I’ll bet you’ll be a whole lot happier.
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