This is a story about a big sister saving the world; it’s just not the world most people think of.
The Atelier series was started by Gust in 1997. The series generally centers around the use of an “atelier”, which is the private workshop or studio of an artist. In each game, the main character has the ability to use the atelier to make items or new weapons - it’s pretty neat.
The best way to describe what the Atelier series is through the common explanation written by an Anonymous user passed down through the annals of....TV tropes.
Okay, you know how every RPG has the grand heroes chosen by fate to become wonderful friends and stand up to the evil sorcerer/empire/corporation/monster and keep it from destroying the world?
This game is not about them.
You know how in almost every RPG, buried about halfway down the final dungeon, sitting next to the second to last save point in the game there’s a shopkeeper who has every healing item in the game and every weapon or bit of armor that doesn’t require an epic quest? The one who leaves you wondering: “Just how in blazes did she get down here? I’m the ridiculously powerful chosen one and it’s almost impossible for me to do it so how did a lowly shopkeeper pull it off”?
This game is about her. (Atelier-TVTropes.org)
The series is a very different beast compared to the big JRPG franchises such as Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest. The protagonists are generally all female and the stories are relatively low stakes-help out the town, meet friends, help out friends, that sort of thing. There is no defeating some big, evil enemy that seeks to engulf the world in darkness or terror.
My first Atelier game was Atelier Ayesha on the PS3. Having grown tired of saving the world from yet another big bad (looking at you, Persona 4), I was looking for a more low-key game. Atelier Ayesha seemed perfect.
Almost all the games have an in-game timer, wherein if you do not finish the main story within a certain time frame it’s game over. Almost all actions take some time, whether it’s crafting in the atelier or running on the world map. However, Atelier Ayesha was very generous with its time system. For example, Sure, running to the first town from home took about 15-20 days off the clock, but later in the game you gain equipment and items that drastically cut down the travel time (the same path that took 15-20 days took 2 - 4 by the halfway point).
In any case, the game starts with Ayesha going out to gather some herbs to make a potion. She reminisces about her missing sister, Nio, who never came home when she went to gather herbs a few years prior to the start of the game. At the same spot where Nio disappeared (there’s only one place in her area that has the herbs she needs), she encounters Nio’s “ghost”.
When Nio disappears again, Ayesha collapses onto her knees and falls into despair. That’s when an older gentleman alchemist appears, who says that Nio can be saved so long as it’s done within 3 years.
Thus, Ayesha sets out on her quest to figure out a way to save Nio from wherever she is.
The setting is one of Ayesha’s strongest aspects. While the world is full of life and greenery, the landscape is slowly changing as the life seems to be draining away. While never explicitly said, it’s surmised that previous alchemists used too much of the land’s resources, disrupting nature’s balance and starting the land’s journey into death.
In addition, over the course of the game Ayesha recruits a number of characters to her party, and they’re a great cast of characters voiced pretty well by the English voice cast. While they each have their own stories to go through (e.g. Juris wants to slay a dragon), the game’s story is first and foremost Ayesha’s. Everyone else’s stories are optional side-quests, but the main story takes you across the continent as you try to figure out how to save Nio.
Over the 20-30 hour main story, Ayesha encounters Nio’s “ghost” on a few occasions (I believe you can encounter Nio 4 times, with 1 or 2 of those times being optional). During these encounters, a specific track, called “Guidance,” starts to play.
It’s quite heavy on the wind instruments, evoking a somber, mournful tune that hits the heartstrings as Ayesha converses with the sister she thought she lost. While the track plays only a few times in comparison to some of the other music (e.g. the town music), it’s tune is pleasant to listen to and has the ability to ingrain itself into memory.
As Ayesha continues researching how to save Nio, she also encounters a voice that seems adamant on keeping its hold on Nio. It’s only a few lines here and there, but the voice is ominous enough to let the player know that it’s probably the final boss.
After gathering enough research, Ayesha is able to talk to the older gentleman alchemist that helped set her off on her quest and learn a bit more about the strange voice. His name is Keithgriff and he’s trying to figure out a way to stop the land from dying. However, he also gives a hand to Ayesha because the research potential intrigues him. He surmises that the voice belongs to an autonomous being created by alchemy that was designed to collect and store data from the living world, presumably as a record but also as a reservoir in case the land needed new seeds to restore its life.
However over time, it seems to have gone amuck and it is no longer functioning as intended. Indeed, it’s up to Ayesha to defeat the autonomous being before Nio is permanently cataloged.
So with this new knowledge in tow, Ayesha goes to confront the final boss.
There is no malevolent machinations to the final boss, aptly named Yggdrasil. It was just doing what it was made to do...but it doesn’t matter. It kidnapped Nio, Ayesha’s sister, and it threatens never to let Nio go. Benevolent or not, it’s time to free Nio from Yggdrasil.
The music swells. It’s a familiar tune. Wait, this is...this is “Guidance”? No. This is the real deal. This is what everything has been leading up to, the chance to save your sister, the chance to be reunited with your family. There’s nothing else left to do but bring Nio back. This is what it means to save the world.
After the final battle is over, there’s still post-story content to go through, including quite a few scenes with Nio. The mystery behind the dying land remains unsolved, the physical world is still in danger of becoming a desert but at the very least, the sisters are reunited. That’s one world saved, onto the next.**
1. “Atelier (Video Game).” TV Tropes. https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/VideoGame/Atelier. Accessed July 5, 2018.
*Alternative video to showcase how well the music goes with the boss battle:
**The next two titles in the Dusk Trilogy, Atelier Esca & Logy and Atelier Shallie, still don’t answer what’s going on with the world. Given that Gust has moved onto new narrative arcs (one of which just recently finished), it’s unlikely they’ll ever return to the land of Dusk.