After the sprawling adventure that was Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey, it would have doubtless been tempting for Gust to adopt the same format for the series going forward. After all, the open-world format worked extraordinarily well for Atelier Firis.
But one thing we have seen numerous times over by this point is the fact that the Atelier series never stands still and stagnates. No two installments are quite like one another — and thus it stands to reason that Gust would also want to make sure they did something a bit different for Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings.
And so they did — in quite a few interesting ways. So let’s take an initial look at what this third installment in the series — nineteenth mainline title overall — has to offer.
VIRGIN INTERACTIVE ENTERTAINMENT PRESENTS… THE WESTWOOD STUDIOS PRODUCTION OF… LANDS OF LORE, THE THRONE OF CHAOS.
Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos from Virgin Interactive Entertainment and Westwood Studios (natch) is the only game that I never, ever, ever skip over the credit scenes for. I mean, come on, Patrick Stewart bellowing the name of the publisher and the developer with admirable sincerity? You don’t see that every day. Oh, also it’s a damn fine game, too, as evidenced by the fact I ended up playing this for nearly two hours without realising.
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is a story about dreams. It’s a story about ambition. And it’s a story about learning to have trust and faith in your own abilities.
While, as we’ve previously explored, the game takes a deliberately “directionless” approach to its early hours, these themes are nonetheless apparent from the very beginning of the game. And they’re explored not only through our heroine Sophie herself, but through many of the other characters, too.
So let’s take a closer look at the narrative, themes and characterisation of Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book, and ponder how these characters grow and change over the course of their respective journeys.
Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea is the final chapter in the Dusk trilogy. Whether or not we’ll see a later fourth installment a la Atelier Lulua remains to be seen, but for now, this is where it all ends.
As such, Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea is a game that brings together a series of interesting narrative threads from over the course of the trilogy as a whole — including some that began way back in Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk. So while the story stands by itself and many of its mechanics are a lot more accessible to series newcomers, the game is best experienced in context as the conclusion of the Dusk storyline.
Like Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky before it, though, you’ll need to play through as both protagonists to get the full story. So let’s start with a look at the main narrative you’ll experience first time around in the game if you pick Shallistera as your protagonist, then.
It would have been easy for the Atelier series to just stick with one alchemy system and trot it out for every new installment. And people would have probably been fine if Gust had chosen to keep the exact same alchemy system for all the games in each of the franchise’s subseries.
But as we’ve seen numerous times by this point, that isn’t how Gust does things. Gust likes to experiment, refine, reinvent and occasionally revisit past ideas, all in the name of providing an interesting and varied experience — say, for anyone undertaking some sort of ridiculous mission like playing all of the Atelier games one after another.
Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea is one of those installments where Gust decided to reinvent the alchemy mechanics, rather than refining the systems we’d previously seen in Atelier Escha & Logyand Atelier Ayesha. And it presents us with an interesting new angle to this aspect of gameplay.
Looking back over past installments of this column, I’m surprised I haven’t given Bianca any love yet. I mean, in Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride, the game in which she first appears, she literally becomes your wife. Assuming you make the correct choices, that is.
Of course, you have two other options for who to wed in that game. But as someone who grew up as whatever the middle-class equivalent of a country bumpkin is, Bianca spoke to me right from the first moment I met her. And I knew right from that first meeting that I was going to wed her.
Them other girls dun’t matter, y’hear? Well, they do, but not right now. Bianca!
Video games tend to be regarded as an escapist form of entertainment, allowing us to switch off from the annoyances of everyday life and immerse ourselves in fantastic other cultures. So why, then, would you ever want to play a game that simulates the mundanity of a “normal” existence, whatever that is?
That’s because “mundane” doesn’t necessarily have to mean “boring,” of course. And the types of games collectively known as “life sims” prove this fairly aptly, as anyone who has ever enjoyed any of the games we’re going to talk about today will attest. Although the term “life sim” is used as an umbrella description, it’s actually a fairly misleading one, as there are a diverse array of different interactive experiences that fall into that category — some of which are more well-known than others.
Broadly speaking, “life sims” tend to be one of two different types: freeform sandbox simulators, and stat-centric life sims with a degree of “direction” about them, though there’s a degree of overlap in many cases. Let’s have a look at both categories, including some prominent (and not-so-prominent) examples of both.
Final Fantasy XIII wasn’t a bad game. Neither was Final Fantasy XIII-2. And neither is the conclusion to the Final Fantasy XIII saga, Lightning Returns. Don’t just take my word for it, though; plenty of critics agree.
In one of the last issues of the sadly defunct GamePro magazine, my former colleague AJ Glasser gave FFXIII four stars out of five. 1up.com gave the game an A- rating. Eurogamer gave it 8/10. And, despite a couple of outliers, the overall consensus at the time of release was that Final Fantasy XIII was a good game — not a perfect one, by any means — but a good one. The same was true for Final Fantasy XIII-2, which scored slightly lower on average, and while I’ll admit Lightning Returns reviews were somewhat more mixed — not everyone enjoyed the game’s peculiar mechanics and structure — there were still a lot of comments about how interesting it was, despite its flaws.
Which is why it’s so baffling that I find a lot of the online discourse surrounding this particular part of Final Fantasy’s history so overwhelmingly negative.
As my house gradually returns to normal from the building site it has been turned into, we find some time between the noise of sanding and angle grinding to record a new episode of the podcast — as always, featuring both myself and Chris Caskie of MrGilderPixels!
I love role-playing games… now. Back in the ’80s, I didn’t really understand what they were, how to play them or how to enjoy them.
That’s why I’ve been particularly interested to revisit Epyx’s Temple of Apshai series knowing what I know now! Now that I well and truly “get” the genre, it’s been fascinating to discover one of the earliest examples of a graphical computer-based RPG and finally make some progress in it.
Today we’re playing the later Temple of Apshai Trilogy release for Atari 8-bit with enhanced graphics, sound and speed of play — but it’s otherwise identical to the original classic from the late ’70s, and just as fascinating an experience as I’d hoped!