What makes it unique?
Atelier Annie isn’t much of an RPG like some people are making it out to be. It’s a mix of light role-playing and simulation elements thrown into a resort management game without too much depth to either aspect. It’s about macro-management rather than micro-management. It’s about learning to manage your funds and expanding an island resort, rather than leveling up and fighting monsters. Essentially, it’s a game about running a business.
By virtue of being a Gust game, it’s also pretty entertaining. The characters are all funny in their own way and their interactions with one another are always fun to read. Annie herself is hilarious, and her endless list of screw-ups only makes her more likable. Gust have some excellent character writers, and their material is as strong as always here.
Is there a story?
A very basic one from what I’ve seen so far, but that doesn’t make the premise any less interesting. Annie Eilenberg is the very definition of lazy. She spends all day sleeping and eating, and her greatest ambition in life is to find a nice guy to marry. Her family gets fed up with her and ships her off (literally) to Sera Island (and she even sleeps through the entire trip), hoping that participating in the island’s ongoing resort project will help her overcome her laziness. Once Annie arrives at Sera Island, she meets the game’s cast of crazy characters, and you take it from there.
The short term goal of Atelier Annie involves gathering materials and using alchemy to shape them into a variety of objects that the inhabitants of Sera Island require. The long-term goal is to do enough of these odd jobs so you have enough money to set up a variety of facilities across the island — such as parks, bakeries, museums, theatres etc. — and maintain a steady cash flow to further invest toward the resort project. The game has seven different endings depending on what you manage to accomplish by the end of the project.
The town on the island acts as your hub, allowing you to visit different locales and shops, such as the Library (where you can buy alchemy books to learn new recipes), a weapon shop, a general shop and the Adventurer’s Guild (where you can do odd jobs involving alchemy to earn money).
Early in the game, you’re provided with your first establishment — a shop — free of charge, which is like a springboard into Atelier Annie’s economy. As you do more odd jobs at the Adventurer’s Guild, your fame rises. The higher your fame is, the more customers your shop will receive and the more money it will generate. While you have limited control over your shop — for instance, you can decide which of Annie’s friends to assign as a clerk (each one has their pros and cons) — for the most part, you can only influence the shop indirectly. Instead, you’ll find yourself performing the role of a manager, trying to expand your industries.
You do this by investing your money in new ventures and / or by renewing existing ones to boost their income. The former just requires spending money. The latter is done by doing the available jobs at the various facilities you’ve established. For example, one of the jobs at the park involves finding a mascot for it. Another involves getting 30 units of a certain alchemical ingredient in order to set up a clean water supply. Performing jobs at the facilities you own doesn’t earn you money; instead, it increases their fame, which again contributes to your income. An increase in fame also enables you to pour more money into your existing properties, which brings in more customers (thus, again, contributing to income). One of our readers compared it to Rune Factory, but unlike RF, you aren’t performing the role of a labourer and a manager — just the latter. At the end of each month, you get to read a report on how business is holding up across each of your facilities along with a handy bar graph that shows growth or decline in profits on a month-to-month basis.
In addition to all the odd jobs you can take up at the Adventurer’s Guild, you will also be required to perform some compulsory assignments for the Sera Island Committee. Like most jobs for other people, these well net you money — lots of money, in the case of committee assignments, provided you turn in well-synthesized items — which you will then use to earn even more money. Now, re-read the previous paragraph if you want to know what to do with this money.
Atelier Annie is capitalism at its very best. Sure, there are random battles involved when you visit the different areas outside of town to gather alchemy ingredients, but the focus of the game is squarely on running a business. It’s an interesting concept, and it’s a welcome change from what you’re used to seeing in "role-playing games." There are other elements to the game, too, such as synthesizing perfect items and getting to know Annie’s crazy friends on Sera Island. Stay tuned for more coverage.