Ever since I started playing the series back in 2015, Gust’s Atelier games have been a consistent source of comfort within the relentless hype cycle of mainstream gaming. The series is always a reliable provider of delightful female characters, vibrant and colourful anime visuals, all wrapped up in the warm familiar blanket of turn-based combat. They are games about meeting people, making friends, and growing together – all set in idyllic rural towns and their surrounding natural biomes. Worlds built from traveling vendors, whimsical bards daydreaming in the woods, of fresh baked pies and bubbling cauldrons. A place where you help others and where others help you in return. Time and time again, I have been able to find a sense of community and belonging in the Atelier games that I don’t often get in other games.

Atelier Firis is the latest in the long running franchise and is the first to feature a large open world. Previous entries faked the sense of a larger game world through the use of smaller game areas that were treated like traditional game levels that could be selected from a world map. It was always a simple and functional shortcut for a studio churning out yearly releases on a modest budget, but it did limit the capacity of the games to convey feelings of expanse or adventure. But what the Atelier games offered instead was a feeling of being grounded in a place. Because your workshop was a building in a town, venturing out into the world was never permanent. It wasn’t about going on a grand, personal journey but rather about finding ingredients, artefacts and places that could be brought back for the benefit of your community. The Atelier games were never about exploring the world, instead they were about returning home.

Atelier Firis, unlike other entries in the series, is a game about displacement. When I say this, I don’t mean to imply that the titular character Firis is displaced in the explicit game narrative, but rather that her willingness to move away from her community to explore the wider world removes the player from the virtual community that normally forms the bedrock of the Atelier games. The game begins with Firis longing to see the outside world, having spent her whole life up until now living with her family in the underground, gated community of Ertona. Few people ever leave the town, and even fewer come in – but a surprise visit from the alchemists Sophie and Plachta (returning characters from a previous entry) presents Firis an opportunity to leave her hometown to become a full-fledged alchemist. In order to embrace the larger, more open world that Gust have created, Atelier Firis decided to abandon the bricks and mortar workshop that had been your home in previous games, instead opting for a new portable, tent-like version. A house on the go is well suited to a game like Atelier Firis, but it disrupts the comfortable rural domesticity that made the other games feel so warm. It’s practical and even makes the game more fun in many ways, but it does so at the cost of also feeling distant and cold.

Atelier Firis is probably the most fun the series has ever been. The characters are still a vibrant tapestry of delightful oddballs and the writing is still light-hearted and funny. But for me, the Atelier games have always been comfort food. That’s what I sign up for every time I buy one. But this time I have struggled to connect with it. Atelier Firis is a lot like eating a home cooked meal out of a Tupperware container by the side of the road. The flavours, the aromas, they’re all comforting and familiar. But that doesn’t change the fact that the food wasn’t heated properly, the seating arrangements suck and the ones you love are nowhere to be seen.

About The Author

Angus is a writer, a worrier, and a digital media wanker. He is a devoted fan of Dark Souls and Bayonetta with a profound weakness for alt-games, visual novels, and cute anime trash. Firmly supports diversity, video game accessibility, and believes there’s a game out there for everyone. Tweets and shitposts @angusuow.