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The Smile Alchemist Review


I may have spoken a few times about how KEMCO games are always the same – always a retro styled JRPG complete with all the JRPG narrative tropes you can shake a stick at. 

But it appears they’ve listened (well, they probably haven’t, but in my mind…), as the latest foray into the market has seen KEMCO change tack – publishing a game from Asobox called The Smile Alchemist. So what is this game then, if not a retro styled JRPG? Is it a first person shooter, or a kart racing game? Well, no, it is neither of those, but as to what it actually is, well, that is a whole different question. I’d like to compare it to a visual novel, but it has other elements too, and is a bit of a hard one to explain. Let’s dive into the review and see if we can figure it out together. 

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We will begin with a bit of a story. We play as a character called Nayc, who wants, more than anything in the whole world, to be an alchemist. He has signed on as an apprentice to Cyan, and alongside Cyan’s daughter, they train to become alchemists. So far, so good, right? The elements are there for an engaging quest, but it never really takes off – for reasons I shall explain below. The narrative is split into chapters, and they are like the chapters of a book, with side stories to read as well. Basically, there is a lot of reading to be taken in with The Smile Alchemist. 

The Smile Alchemist is split into various different areas, such as a tavern, a shop and your home, and you choose to travel to a location in order to visit. In the shop you can buy alchemical supplies, as well as sell the things that you have created, while in the tavern you can hire an adventurer to go out and get you more supplies. At home, you can talk to your cat (who can answer back and have a conversation, but it is safest not to ask) and use the Alchemy pot to make stuff. So, let’s have a look at each facet in turn. 

Starting in the tavern, you can hire an adventurer to go out and gather materials for you. As you begin, you only have access to one area, but as the story progresses more locations will open up. Again, initially just the one adventurer is available, but by helping people out and following the story, more people are willing to assist. So, basically, you choose a helper, you choose a location, and you send them off to pick things up. This is done by clicking on the squares of a grid, and as you get more familiar with each area, the size of the grid area you can pick at once grows. I told you it was a hard one to explain!

Nayc can also spend his energy to “cheer” the adventurer on, and if he raises their mood enough, they can gather even more resources at once. Raise it enough and they can even action stuff on their own at the end. As the adventurers complete missions, they can be levelled up, to let them gather more stuff next time. 

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Once you have the stuff, you have to make stuff with it, right? And this is where the shop comes in handy, as you can buy books that allow you to make new and exciting things. How exciting? Well, how about a Croaky Drink (to give to a frog, obviously) or a walking stick? All these and more can be made, and the level of Nayc in the various disciplines (such as food, chemicals and so on) will determine what he can learn to make. To actually create things, it is merely a case of selecting the item from a menu, choosing how many to make, and then holding the A button until the Alchemy Pot spits the items out. We then can either choose to store said items, or go and give them to people who need them. Or it is sometimes worth selling surplus items at the shop. A bit of extra money never hurt, especially when Nayc has an expensive book habit to fund. 

There is more to do in The Smile Alchemist though, such as wander a town square where you can help random people in hope of raising the town’s level. Other than this, it is just case of wandering around, buying, selling, and adventuring, in order to move the story on. 

But it is here where the trouble comes – it isn’t always obvious how to move the story on. For instance, in Chapter 3, I had to make something but didn’t know how – I had to keep grinding away, making and selling stuff, until The Smile Alchemist decided my level was high enough to be told how to make the item I needed. This gets pretty old, believe me. 

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On the whole, it plays well though, but what about how it looks? Well, again, it is all very simple here. There is a static screen showing the person who is talking, alongside a text box showing you what they are saying; it is all pretty standard. The design of the people you meet and the locations you visit are all very nice, but there’s not a lot of action going on here. It’s similar with the sound; it’s all okay with a nice notification when you create something in the alchemy pot, or a nice “Cha-ching” effect when you sell things. Other than that, a couple of tunes play in the background, but the developers seem to have taken the “Less is more “ mantra to heart, and it is all a bit sparse. 

All in all, The Smile Alchemist is a hard game to rate. It is slow, but charming, dull, but interesting; it kind of defies description. As a change from the plethora of retro-styled JRPGs that KEMCO release, it is a success, but on the flip-side, it is a hard one to recommend; it does get pretty samey. 

The Smile Alchemist will suit if you want something different, but don’t expect everything to be plain sailing. 

The Smile Alchemist is on the Xbox Store

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