Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the World is an interesting side story taking place in the Atelier games’ universe. Something of an off-shoot, Nelke is a strange combination of a lite roleplaying game mixed with a lite town management game that takes place in the Atelier games’ setting. One thing to keep in mind is that this is not a traditional Atelier game; thinking it is will lead to some serious disappointment.
In fact, when I first received Nelke I was a bit disappointed in it; not that I was expecting a standard Atelier game, but rather that it was so very different from what I was used to out of the Atelier franchise that I was, for lack of a better term, turned off by it. I gave Nelke a go after a bit of a break (surgery; it sucked) and came to a different conclusion; Nelke & The Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the World is a fun, casual experience that is wildly different from the primary Atelier games.
Nelke starts out from their capital with orders from her father to manage a small town in the wilderness; from there you meet the various characters, from the town mayor to carpenters to locals just going about their business. After the initial introductions you will be walked through the process of starting up and managing your town. From placement (and color) of local shops will be up to you, as will the types of goods that they sell. The goal? Make the town prosper.
In order to achieve that goal you will be navigating the surrounding wilderness and this is where I struggle a bit with how different it is. With other Atelier games it felt far more like a traditional RPG where you have something of a dungeon, you navigate through it grabbing resources / fighting enemies, then you return to brew your potions. With Nelke you are plopped on a self-propelled “road” and the characters that you have chosen to bring with you on your “walk” will chat amongst themselves; you will have the option to run, walk, or head back to town (thus ending the expedition to the local area).
If you encounter enemies on your walk (you will), battle commences; truthfully I am not a fan of the battles, largely because they feel a lot like a cheap mobile game. To me they are just not fun and the game could work just fine without them. They almost feel like an afterthought and it cheapens the experience. As your town grows and more buildings are built, shops created, and the need for micro and macro management increases, you will find that Nelke is even further from traditional Atelier games. Sure, you might see/meet Alchemists that you are familiar with, but by-and-large Nelke is more reminiscent of a vision novel meets spreadsheets. Now this is not a bad thing, but certainly not something many may have been expecting.
I have long loved the Atelier franchise, but maybe I am in something of a small subsect of Atelier fans, but I have been more invested in the characters and the type of gameplay it offers, and far, far less in the actual world. When I reflected on it, it is this type of outlook / enjoyment that I have had with the franchise that is likely at the center of why I am just incapable of connecting with the odd, almost mobile game-like experience that is Nelke & The Legendary Alchemists.
Where I struggle, too, is that Nelke is a mix between light city-builder, Alchemist game, visual novel, and side-scrolling, turn-based RPG-lite, and while it does each adequately, it does none perfectly or even exceptionally. I really do hope this is an experiment in branching out from the mainline Atelier games, as it does not captivate nor does it have the heart, the way that the mainline titles do.