Atelier Viorate –Alchemist of Gramnad 2– is just your standard alchemy simulation game like all the other Atelier series games before and after it. I know I played it on the PS2 many, many years ago, but I didn’t remember much about it when I picked it up again on the PSP last week. All I remembered was it was an easier version of Atelier Judie with a shop and a lot of carrots in it. And that’s a pretty accurate summary of the game if you’ve played Judie. If you haven’t, I’ll go into a little more detail below.
Viorate’s parents want to move out of the downtrodden village of Karotte, but Viorate refuses to go along because there’s no guarantee there’ll be any carrots where they are going. And Viorate looooves her carrots. She decides to stay home and become an alchemist under the influence of wandering alchemist Aizel. Now she has three years to set up and run a thriving shop selling synthesized goods before her parents return to whisk her off to parts unknown.
Standard alchemy game fare. Buy or find books containing alchemy recipes, buy and find ingredients, throw them in a pot according to the recipe and then use or sell whatever comes out. As with Atelier Judie, the quality of the ingredients used has a big effect on the resulting item. In other games either each item has a single effect or you can get different effects by varying the ingredients or reagents used. In Judie/Viorate it’s all about the raw materials. Use really good candles and you’ll get really good bombs. Use really good cheese and you’ll get really good cheesecake. Simple enough to understand.
Of course there’s a catch: how do you get the best ingredients? If you’re lucky you can find them in the wild, but can you get them back to your atelier before they go bad? Well, unlike in Judie, you usually can. The original Viorate on the PS2 slowed down the rate of decay from Judie and then the PSP remake relaxed the freshness system even further, so it’s much less stressful and frustrating than in the previous game.
But still, after you get the ingredients home and make an item, how do you stop that from going bad? Simple, you just build a handy-dandy icebox right in your studio and presto, no more trouble. No more traveling halfway around the continent to access the only cold storage in the world. Alternatively you can “register” certain items with other alchemy shops around the continent so they can produce your Leheruns and Flams and Spinach and other items at the same level of quality as the sample you gave them. So for very fragile items you can carry the non-perishable ingredients to the closest pub (you can synthesize in pubs too, don’t ask me how), go foraging for the ingredients, make the goods and then register them on the spot for optimum freshness. Super convenient.
Long story short, Atelier Viorate’s alchemy system has all the fun and complexity of the conventional Atelier alchemy systems but with much less of the frustration Judie introduced. My only little complaint so far is that there aren’t that many items to make. And if you’ve played other Atelier games, most of them aren’t original either. But I haven’t even finished my first 3 years and gotten my 2-year extension yet, so there’s still time to get more recipes and raw materials.
As far as I know, not having played the PS3 games, the shop system is unique to Atelier Viorate (apart from the useless gimmick in Atelier Annie). It’s a stretch to call it a ‘robust’ shop simulation, it’s certainly not deep enough or addictive enough to make it worth spending time on versus being out on the road foraging and fulfilling quests. And since she can rope trusted associates into manning the store for up to 3 months at a time, Viorate’s only job is to fill the shelves with random stuff and then go roam the world until she gets bored.
Well okay, it’s not quite as simple as that. The success of Viorate’s store determines whether your game will end in failure after 3 years or whether you’ll get an extra 2 years to play. Furthermore, the better the store does, the more people come to visit Karotte Village. The more prosperous the village gets, the more stores and other facilities open up for your convenience. Plus money is pretty hard to come by, so the little you get from the store really helps. Either way you ignore store management to your own detriment.
So what exactly can you do? First, stock quality items in your store. You will lose customers if you have a lot of spoiled, broken or low quality items in stock. Duh. It also helps to carry a variety – some food, some medicine, some weapons, but you can specialize in a few categories instead if it’s too much trouble. Secondly you can go around the surrounding towns and villages doing quests at the local pubs to promote your store. It’s probably the fastest way to grab customers and the most Atelier-like as well.
Third, it helps a lot to take part in the yearly village auction, especially if you win. You can get over 100 extra visitors that way, and since your goal is only 500, that’s a big boost. Lastly, probably least important but most lucrative, you can take advantage of fads or ‘booms’ to move a lot of products quickly. One sneaky way to do this is to synthesize the fad item as soon as the boom starts and then register it with your local store. Then you can buy it, mark it up at a premium and make lots of cash, money and moolah, suh-weet.
Very little of that requires Viorate to be in the store herself, though. Unless you’re really into shop simulation games (in which case you should play something else) it’s best to put some decent items in your store and then focus on driving up popularity by fulfilling quests. If you can get some good business going from the Karotte Village and Fasbender pubs (tip: sell the free Fasbender booze for quick money) and participate in all three auctions, that should be enough to get the 500 visitors you need to clear the 3-year time limit.
That means the store management part of Atelier Viorate can be thought of more as a mandatory side quest or minigame rather than a main attraction. It’s not annoying or tedious and doesn’t take anything away from the game. I’m not convinced it adds anything either, especially given how low-key it is, but it works in the context of this particular game and Gust had the good sense not to carry it forward into other games, so we’ll leave it at that.
Battles and exploration
Foraging is just going around picking up items off the ground. However there are field obstacles that you’ll need alchemy items to get around if you want to get to the really good stuff. For example you might find a big pool of water in your way. You can fly over it with a flying broom, or dive under it with an air drop, or freeze it over with a Leherun bomb, it’s all up to you. Can be frustrating early on when you don’t have any of this stuff, otherwise it’s just a minor inconvenience later on in the game.
Combat is standard turn-based random battles with a 3-member party. You get 1 skill point on level up to improve your battle skills. Apart from that and buying equipment there isn’t much party customization to do. Almost everyone is useful so just pick whichever character you like. I usually use a combination of Brigit, Roland, Rodfried and Bart.
For the first few dungeons you can get by pretty well with your starting equipment. After that store-bought equipment will carry you for a while, especially if you’ve strengthened some good skills by that point. Eventually though, you’re going to want to craft custom armor and weapons with buffs and protections and status effects. E.g. fire protection will come in handy when fighting a fire boss and LP-draining weapons are always useful.
As alchemists, Viorate and Aizel can also use powerful healing items and bombs to carve a path through enemies like a hot knife through butter. And they will, just as soon as I actually get round to crafting some of those things. I will, I really will, one of these days. Right now I’m still scraping by on whatever I can cobble together from the leftovers in my foraging basket after fulfilling quests. But I’ll get round to making good stuff, really I will.
Overall impressions of Atelier Viorate
I’m not done yet, but I’m having a great time. It’s been a very long time since I played a PSP game for so long that my wrists started to hurt. A long time since I moved one aching wrist only to realize the battery light was flashing and then plugged the PSP in and kept right on playing until it was fully charged again. I’d almost forgotten that feeling, I’ve been playing so many lackluster games lately.
It’s great to explore new areas and fight new enemies, barely making it out alive only to heal up and dive right back in again. I like all the playable and non-playable characters without exception, I enjoy the alchemy system especially when I get a new recipe, it’s exciting to see Karotte Village develop from backwater boonies to thriving town based on my efforts alone, etc etc. There’s plenty to like about Atelier Viorate.
There are only a few minuses to the game. For one, I feel like the scale of the game is a bit small. There are several field areas to explore, which I’m grateful for, but a lot of areas are walled off until you can create higher-level items, by which time you can’t even remember where you couldn’t go before. Plus the continent feels a little empty of people. The towns and villages you visit aren’t lively and don’t feature any interesting NPCs or extra activities to do. No wonder your parents emigrated.
Second complaint, there aren’t enough alchemy recipes! The flams are there, but where are the mega flams and giga flams and other familiar world-destroying goodies? I think I already mentioned this earlier in this review, but it’s a pretty big deal in an alchemy game. Maybe I’ll luck upon some more recipes as I explore dungeons and defeat bosses.
Last complaint: I find playing around with item attributes tedious. I want to make lots of different items instead of making one beer that does X and the same beer again that does Y this time, and the same beer a third time until I get a useful effect from it. It’s good for the perfectionist who wants to make the perfect honey and the perfect handmade paper and stuff. And it does offer great game-breaking potential once you fit several great effects onto a single item and then mass-produce it, buuuutt…. In this particular case I prefer quantity over quality, is all I’m saying.
Still, all that only slightly affects the fun I’m having with Viorate and co. After all, it’s not like I’ve made all the items I have access to, and there’s so much of the map I haven’t explored yet that I don’t even know where to start. I haven’t cleared out the thief’s hideout, I haven’t explored the sea tower, I haven’t entered Vestrich Navel, I haven’t gone through the long tunnel that’s supposed to lead to another city, I haven’t cleared the swamp across the river, phew! That two-year extension might barely be enough to scratch the surface of all those things. Depending on the ending I get and the things I get to carry over, I might be tempted to do a replay of Atelier Viorate once I’m done. See you then!