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Atelier Annie: Alchemists of Sera Island (DS) artwork

Atelier Annie: Alchemists of Sera Island (DS) review

"Nearly every action costs precious time, in fact, and there are no do-overs (though you can play through the whole adventure again after the credits roll and keep any of the items that you gathered on your first run). The setup works nicely, ensuring that more ambitious players can find a decent challenge in developing their empire while younger siblings and other amateur adventurers are free to take their time enjoying other less challenging aspects of the game."

Sera Island is what you might call a resort in training. Positioned west from the mainland, it boasts beautiful vistas, a tidy little village and the sort of resources that the empire-building mainland sees as irresistible. As the tale of Atelier Annie: Alchemists of Sera Island unfolds, the tropical paradise also features one new addition: a lazy girl name Annie who has just woken to find that her privileged life is a thing of the past and that she now must work to earn her keep. Her job? Transform the island into a thriving resort within three years' time.

Previous Atelier games have featured sprawling dungeons, ambitious plots, anime-style artwork and generic but generally enjoyable combat, all held together by alchemy. With Alchemists of Sera Island, the developers chose to mix up their core formula just a bit. To that end, they've increased the emphasis placed on the alchemy and they've trimmed down the dungeon exploration so that it hardly even exists. The story is still told with the signature artwork and even a surprising amount of voice work, but Sera Island is a simple place and Annie is a simple girl. The result is a cheerful romp that hides more depth than most gamers would tend to expect from a DS release.

There are a few simple ground rules. First, you have only three years to turn the quaint little island into a bustling resort. Second, you'll have to learn and utilize alchemy to do so. Finally, you'll need a little help from some unlikely friends. As you compete in bi-annual contests, build new structures, recruit mascots, gather ingredients and meet new friends, you'll succeed or fail based on your abilities as an alchemist. There's no avoiding it.

As always, alchemy involves more than just tossing ingredients into a pot and hoping for the best. The activity holds everything together because it requires you to engage in the activities that inspire adventure in other titles. First you must discover the necessary goodies. You'll therefore spend much of your time dashing around the island to visit the various regions that become available to you. Those regions never occupy more than a single screen. A sparse enemy population means that your item gathering wont' be difficult in the slightest if you first purchase the proper equipment. You simply stroll onto the scene, unearth goodies from a few well-marked points, battle a few random foes and then return to town so that you can turn raw materials into something nice.

Not all of your ingredients come from gathering points, of course. There are two shops in the game. One offers general equipment and the other provides you with a ready source of supplemental ingredients once you have located them in the wilds. There's also a library where you can purchase books that give you access to new recipes, including traits with which you can imbue your creations. Until you get the hang of things, it can seem like everything that's available to purchase is horrifically overpriced, but you'll find that money is never an issue for the skilled alchemist. The only thing that you'll ever permanently find yourself lacking is the time to do everything that is available to you.

Alchemy sessions consume a minimum of one day's time, particularly if you're making a lot of something or if the something that you're creating is especially complex. When you wander around the map from one point to another, that also eats up a few days. Nearly every action costs precious time, in fact, and there are no do-overs (though you can play through the whole adventure again after the credits roll and keep any of the items that you gathered on your first run). The setup works nicely, ensuring that more ambitious players can find a decent challenge in developing their empire while younger siblings and other amateur adventurers are free to take their time enjoying other less challenging aspects of the game.

Some players won't appreciate the game's approach to character development and time management, particularly when they just want to head back to the shop and mix up a fabulous broth and find that exercise delayed by a scene that seems to exist strictly to provide comic relief. Even when the scenes are amusing (which is most of the time, depending on your sense of humor), there are times when you may be trying to keep several objectives in mind as you make your way to your cauldron. A scene depicting Beaux coming to grips with his hunger or Gillian abandoning her post to seek out ingredients for her foul-tasting potions can definitely mess with your concentration, even if you're left smiling. The game does include a handy journal so that you can check your current assignments and easily tell which tasks you've nearly completed, but sometimes the frequent interruptions remain unwelcome.

The need to improve your resort exacerbates such issues, since you can't upgrade any of your establishments without bringing a bunch of rare items to the characters who manage them. You'll often need to dash around the various gathering points to locate key ingredients, then head to a store to purchase a few stray components, then return to your lab and mix it all up, then make the trek back to the business where the item was initially requested. Along the way, you might very well pick up another two or three assignments. That's a lot of work for what seems like a mundane goal, but the end-of-month reports always reflect the resulting increase in profits and that makes everything worthwhile. Once Alchemists of Sera Island has you under its spell, there's never a shortage of things to do with the time allotted to you and the rewards are constant. The game was clearly developed with longevity in mind. There's simply too much stuff to experience in a single trip through the game unless you know precisely what you're doing right from the start.

Of course, that surprising depth is precisely what makes Atelier Annie: Alchemists of Sera Island such a terrific match for its intended audience. Packed full of humorous fluff, engaging and addictive gameplay and some unexpectedly polished production values that make it easy to forget about a few persistent but forgivable flaws, the title definitely has what it takes to keep fans of the series absorbed for a good 15 or 20 hours... and then some. If you're looking for something substantial on the platform and the thought of alchemy and fetch quests doesn't turn your stomach, make some time for Sera Island.


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Staff review by Jason Venter (January 14, 2010)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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