After a sour opener, this town builder becomes surprisingly engaging.
The Atelier series consists of some of the most incredibly in-depth RPGs on the market today. There are so many systems to keep track of, solely to keep progression trucking at a fair pace. The systems are constantly evolving, too, forcing you to adapt as you head into new pastures. Sometimes I just wish that the Atelier games threw us for a curve and did something completely different. Hey, how about a town builder title with the old RPG style elements? Oh wait, that is exactly what Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World is, isn't it?
To call Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists a complete departure from everything that makes Atelier well... Atelier, is a tiny bit disingenuous. The journey still sees you fighting monsters in turn-based battles, crafting items through the power of alchemy, and building relationships with characters. That being said, the adventure side of things has been stripped away and been replaced with town management elements. You will have to build up an economy, make the town thrive, and put your simulation skills to the test. Right on cue comes Nelke, an upbeat aristocrat who has found herself in quite a pickle. The situation is far worse than she was expecting, and building up the town will take longer than both of you would expect.
From the outset, it took a while before the game started gaining momentum. The opening hours were filled with story elements and non-playable tutorials. Those two hours felt like an absolute chore and made me think about quitting the title altogether. What doesn't help is that you're forced on a path until it's over, which really adds to the frustration. There is some intrigue to finding out through text how to play and letting the player decide if they need more help, but Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists has zero interest in such an approach. I think it is somewhat disrespectful of the player's time and effort.
After that poor first impression, the game steadily began to draw me in. It is an utter joy to build up the town of Westwald, with plenty of room for story and gameplay bits. Like I mentioned previously, you are basically creating a bustling economy. Throughout the in-game weeks, you will have to find ingredients so that alchemists can make items for you to finally sell. With the resources gathered, you will be able to improve the town and make the output just that tiny bit larger. It will result in building up fields and structures, creating new resources, and continuing the same loop from there.
Somehow the game managed to keep me engaged even in the menus as they are highly entertaining. The options there to construct the town are widespread, and it feels very motivating to work towards a goal. There is a constant slew of requests from the townsfolk, goals to complete, and targets to be reached. Nelke rewards you for raising the population and reaching a certain money threshold, which makes the title a total time sink. The game keeps you up to date, too, ensuring that you know the next step in the process.
Outside of the weeks, there are also ''holidays''. On these days, you will talk to townsfolk and develop bonds with them. By doing so, you will create new opportunities in the future and open up new requests that may end up benefiting the town. Another point here is that the characters are incredibly well written. I was stoked to talk to characters, knowing that they had something to say. You can also go on investigations, where you visit regions to collect brand new materials. Sadly, don't expect much in the way of exploration here. The player walks down a fairly linear path, with only turn-based battles to spice things up. Even these, however, weren't all that special. In fact, you can turn on auto-battling and let the game do the work for you. It was that uninteresting.
As far as the presentation of Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists is concerned, things are fair enough. The game can chug at moments, but nothing too game breaking. The colors across the game are quite nice and well suited to the platform. I am particularly impressed with how well the character models look on Switch, though some other textures could've been a teensy bit better. Luckily, the soundtrack and overall flair completely make up for that.
Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World is a unique spin-off that I quite enjoyed. Not everything works about the title, like the investigations and opening portions of the adventure. Particularly the latter could've been so much better by not throwing me into an unskippable tutorial. Once you get handed the reigns over the journey, it is a surprisingly fun town management game I couldn't stop playing.