It was a day earlier than Steam said, but a day later than Google said. But I started last night. Played for a few hours (5.3 according to Steam), and it still feels like the tutorial. There’s something to be said about that, but obviously I can’t give a full review at this point.
Game starts as these sorts of games often do: the protagonist (Ryza in this case) is bored of their little farm town, and wants to go on an adventure. If you’ve ever seen The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Ryza is basically Haruhi, but without the crazy. She drags her two friends along into all sorts of trouble (with the subsequent getting in trouble after getting caught); one goes quite willingly (basic meathead/future warrior type), while the other hates all the danger and such, but he’s every 80’s nerd stereotype, so of course has no actual spine to resist Ryza’s force of personality (plus, if he stayed behind, he’d have no protection from the town bullies, also straight 80’s stereotypes). And, as usually happens, the kiddos get in over their heads, only to be saved by someone more experienced: in this case, an alchemist and his assistant/bodyguard.
If the above sounded kinda vague, it’s because I don’t remember any names. Not entirely a bad thing: the friends are their own guys, who have their own interests besides being dragged along with Ryza’s whims. But that also means they’re not quite in the forefront when stuff happens. So far, this is just a slice-of-life adventure for a girl, who’s life just happens to include killing monsters to take their parts to make stuff with. I’m sure we’ll get into a grander adventure in time, but for now it still feels like the training wheels are on. Appropriate, because Ryza et al are still noobs, but a five-hour tutorial seems a bit much.
Mechanicaly, however, this is a big departure from previous Atelier games. The battle system is ATB, like FFVII and the like. This really changes things up. Everything is very fast-paced, especially since you can’t queue up commands (yet, at least). So, while you’re trying to figure out what to do on your turn (you only command one person at a time, though you can switch at any moment at all), everything else is advancing as well. Also, items don’t get used up – you have a certain amount of points, which get used up as you use items. You can “spend” items to refill those points, which leaves said spent items unavailable to be used until you return home from base. I’m not sure how I feel about all this, yet, so I won’t make a verdict.
Also, alchemy is different from the past. Here, you fill in a grid with items, which replaces the block puzzles of the Mysterious games. Adding different items in can unlock other places in the gird, which enables unlocking different bonuses to the item. Some grid spaces require certain items, while others only require certain categories. I’m not sure what things are actually required, though, to make the base item. Unlike previous games, there are no set recipes, because you can fill in the grid mostly how you want. Again, not really sure how I feel about this, but I’m becoming more used to it.
Overall, I’ve really enjoyed what I played of it. Unfortunately, this is Halloween season in various games, and ESO in particular requires some actual participation for the dailies (the event is a huge grind if you want to actually get anywhere, because of the huge RNG component to it). That will limit my playtime substantially, but still, I’m looking forward to what time I do get with the game.