Literally forever, because as far as I know Atelier Judie is the only mainline Atelier game with no deadline. 1 year, 10 years, 100 years, you can play as long as it takes until you achieve your objective, which is to send Judie back to her original timeline after an alchemy accident knocked her 200 years into the future.
Everything else you do until then is entirely up to you. You don’t even have to repay 50,000 cole (on a 10,000 loan) to your loanshark ‘friend’ Vitoss unless you want to. Heck, you don’t even have to finish the game. You can just go round in circles until you get tired and ditch the game. I’ve done it before. But let us not speak of it any more. I was young, and very very lazy.
Let’s focus on what makes Atelier Judie different instead. Apart from the lack of a deadline, the main thing that distinguishes it from the earlier Atelier games (Elie, Marie, etc) is the relatively small number of alchemy recipes. I’m late-game in Judie and only have 41 recipes to my name, with the hopes of getting about 6 or 7 more before the end of the game. The emphasis in this game is on item substitution and quality improvement. The same item can have wildly differing effects depending on what ingredients you use to make it. To illustrate, take a look at the meteor below:
On the right you see one possible effect, then No Data, another possible effect, No Data, No Data, possible damage and No Data. No Data = possible effect you haven’t unlocked yet because you haven’t found the right combination of ingredients. So depending on the ingredients you use you can get a meteor that causes a giant Puni to drop down for medium damage, or one that causes a giant Uni to drop down for small damage, or one that causes something else (No Data yet) to drop down for massive damage, and so on and so forth. What’s more, meteors are a synthesis ingredient for another item, so your choice of ingredients affects future items as well.
Sometimes the effect change is so radical as to make the synthesized items completely different even though they have the same name. For example you can make an Antidote that cures Paralyze, or change the ingredients and make a new Antidote that cures Poison + Curse + Sleep but not Paralyze. Same item in name only, not in effect.
Another example – making a flying broomstick with regular Gravia stones gives you a stick that can float over obstacles (you can’t finish the game without one, btw). Make a broomstick with better-quality Gravia stones and your stick can’t float, but it can warp you out of the dungeon instantly. Make it with the best-quality stones and use a good living rope in the recipe and you get the ultimate broomstick… which can’t fly or warp you anywhere, but can help you travel twice as fast on the World map. Again, same item in name only.
What this means is that foraging for the right ingredients is quite important, especially since the ingredients you can buy in stores are usually of middling to low quality. Once you hit late game and start taking on advanced enemies, the right items containing the right ingredients will save your life.
For example a high-quality Leherun cream is an excellent healing item, but since it’s essentially ice cream it melts really quickly. With a bit of work you can find an ingredient with the Doesn’t Spoil Easily+2 effect and fuse it into the cream to get an item that will at least last you through the dungeon. Win/win.
Oh right, I forgot to mention that items decline in quality with time, didn’t I? Well, they do. Least welcome feature ever. It mainly affects foods, but anything with organic ingredients is at risk sooner or later. Luckily enough there are a few things you can do to counter this. One of them is to use preservative effects like I mentioned above. Another is to use broomsticks like I mentioned to cut your traveling time so you arrive faster and fresher.
A third way is to move your alchemy studio closer to the town with the resources you need. I think Judie is the only Atelier game where you can just up and leave town with all your gear and set up a new studio in the next town over, so you might as well take advantage of that. If you need stuff from the Risa dungeon, move to Risa village to save yourself a long trip. Pop into the dungeons, grab your stuff, warp out and process the goods immediately in your conveniently close studio.
The fourth method is to “register” items with food/bomb/medicine vendors around the continent. That means giving them a copy of what you made and letting them mass-produce it for sale so you can buy it back later. Okay, strictly speaking it doesn’t actually keep the item fresh, but it does make several copies of it while it is fresh so you always have access to fresh goods. Saves you the trouble of carrying stuff around too. Once you suffer through the process of making a quality Leherun cream, you can just shop it to all the food vendors and then never have to make it again.
All these methods have their drawbacks and limitations, but if you combine them you can overcome the frustration of rotting items quite effectively. Of course some might argue that items shouldn’t be rotting the first place, and I can’t help but notice that the feature disappeared in subsequent games (after Viorate) but I’ll at least give Gust credit for trying something new. It would be easy for them to just keep adding new items willy-nilly forever so I like the thought behind a system that focuses on raising and maintaining the quality of every individual item. The thought, at least, if not the execution.
Now, on to what I think of the game itself! Well, I was hoping to save that for when I finish it, since I’m quite close to the end. A super-nice ending can make up for a lot of flaws after all. The main thing I will note now, which no ending can change, is that Atelier Judie is rather unsatisfying because it is relatively lacking in content. It only has 5 cities, 5 dungeons and about 8 bosses. Item, weapon and armor selection is poor. Palette swaps out the wazoo. Quests lack variety.
There’s a decent number of items to forage, but the game probably has about 45-50 recipes all told. Although I already noted that you can vary recipes to get items with different effects, I would have preferred it if those changes led to new item designs. E.g. a Puni-dropping meteor should look slightly different from a Uni-dropping one, that sort of thing.
On the plus side, the lack of a deadline and the small variety of makeable items might make Atelier Judie a good starter Atelier game. There’s no way to get a game over so you can try and try and try again until you get the hang of things, plus you don’t have to keep track of very many items and there isn’t much of a story to worry about. As long as you understand Japanese you can figure most things out yourself without relying on a FAQ. Being able to do what you want at your own pace is quite refreshing, to an extent.
Having said all that, I am not a beginner, not to the Atelier series nor to crafting games in general, so there’s no need to lie to myself – this game lacks content! You can make a hundred broomsticks with a hundred different effects, but in the end they’re still broomsticks! The towns/villages look the same, the scenery is all the same in-dungeon and out of it, just same-same-same everything everywhere.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying I’m not enjoying Atelier Judie. It’s just a little unambitious and unexciting compared to some of the others I’ve played. Gust tried a few new things but didn’t go far enough to justify a whole game. I’ll save any other thoughts for when I actually finish the game.