Let’s make a trip back to the PS1 era, shall we? It was a fun time of testing things out, after all, and a time when an experimental low-budget game made by a nobody could still be well-received on a console stuffed full of polished RPGs with better budget. Atelier Marie is the first Atelier game–the game that started it all and made Gust have an iconic series. It was back when Gust had a rather…lacking budget, and it shows. Nonetheless, it is a fun game centered around item-making, and has the peaceful slice-of-life tone that carried on to the Arland games.
Marlone (Marie for short) is the student with the worst marks in the history of her alchemy school. Her mentor, Ingrid, ragequits trying to teach Marie alchemy normally and instead makes her open up an alchemy workshop. Marie is supposed to run the workshop and help out those in need with alchemy, and five years later, she has to present an item that shows her cumulated knowledge of alchemy. If Ingrid approves of said item, Marie will be able to graduate. With that said, Marie has to learn to make a variety of items, increase her popularity by filling item requests at the tavern, make friends with adventurers around town and explore dungeons for materials.
Being the first game in the series, Atelier Marie plays very, very simply. There are only 100 items total in the game, including gathered materials and excluding weapons/armour. There are no traits or quality values, you either make the item or you don’t. It’s very simple, but still fun watching your item collection book fill up. The items are divided into four categories, depending on the color of the item (well technically there’s a fifth category that consists of one item, but that’s special). I’m pretty sure they’re the four elements of fire, water, earth/grass, air. To be able to make more types of items, you have to buy recipe books from the academy, and later read books in the library. There are no books to be found in dungeons.
Marie has to go to various locations outside of town to gather materials, and she can hire two adventurers to go with her. Well, technically she can hire her sickly best friend and the jerk from school who’s getting the top grades too, but their combat ability pale compared to actual adventurers. Adventurers will charge you a fee whenever you leave town with them, and they have a friendship value that increases as you bring them with you. They get an event at higher friendships, but it’s very brief and usually doesn’t offer a unique CG because Gust had a low budget. The game lacks interaction between multiple characters, as whatever events you get are pretty much Marie + the other person only. You can take job requests from the tavern, which will increase your popularity and raise the chances of adventurers agreeing to go with you (yes, they may refuse to go with you at times).
In battle, you have the standard attack, guard, change position (there’s front, back, and middle line), special, item, and run (which almost never works). Strangely, using special attacks don’t deplete MP, it just delays the character’s turn more. Meanwhile, items use up MP. The special attacks evolve as the character levels up, so Marie’s special will go from single target to all-target. Your party starts out very weak, and can get wiped out by even the basic wolves. Gathering areas outside of town are probably the laziest aspect of the game ever, as you don’t even get to walk around in them. It is purely menu driven. When you arrive at a location, you’ll get 3 options: Search for 1 more day, camp menu (where you check your status), and go home. That’s it. The first option will advance a day, and you’ll either get some more materials or get attacked by enemies. Going home brings you straight home. You can use items in the camp menu, but you can’t change equipment outside of the workshop.
Unlike later games which separated the protagonist’s levels into an alchemy and adventuring level, Atelier Marie just has one level type for Marie. She can level up by both fighting monsters and making items, so Marie will end up much higher-levelled than the adventurers. As a result, reaching level 50 and getting the more impressive endings is easier than the ones that require you not to reach the level cap. Also, since you only have 100 items to make, you actually feel like you have time to do everything, and aren’t punished heavily for messing around and wasting days too much. In fact, it feels like the game gives you too much time, as I had to sleep for a year to get my Legendary Person ending. You can easily obtain all 100 items within the 5 in-game years you get.
The graphics didn’t age too badly, since 2D sprites and isometric environments generally age pretty well. The character design is very 90’s manga style, which I like. It was a relaxing game, and worth playing to see how the Atelier series evolved. I really wish there were more scenes between the characters though, as most of them are adventurers who frequent the tavern and have every reason to interact. There are only general endings that determine Marie’s career, and no character endings. Story is very brief compared to later games, but that’s to be expected considering the age and budget of the game. It seems like Gust made an updated re-release called Atelier Marie Plus which consists of an extra ending and more events, but I mistakenly downloaded the vanilla version of the ISO.
Overall, the game lacks polish, but creating items is still fun, and I do enjoy the atmosphere. It’s a simple, relaxing game. I love a lighthearted slice-of-life in a fantasy setting, which is why I like the Atelier series. Slice-of-life is always more fun when it’s not about a life similar to your own.