While most people will hear KEMCO and think, “that’s the company focusing on RPGs,” it isn’t entirely accurate. It also publishes titles from different genres. The Smile Alchemist is more of a simulation akin to the Atelier series, albeit a bit more simplistic. You can see the mobile-like elements, from energy requirements to the Wish Stone currency you earn for unlockables. It also isn’t terribly meaty. However, the cheerful character designs and hits of instant gratification that come from getting items, turning them into different items via alchemy, then turning those in to fill quests for rewards or get money so you can repeat the loop can be satisfying.
The Smile Alchemist stars a young boy named Nayc. He’s terrible at alchemy, but determined to become an alchemist. So his teacher gives him a pair of glasses that vastly increase his odds of success. After finally completing his first synthesis, via a staged scenario with the town’s mayor to make creating some simple medicine become more harrowing, you’re essentially left to your own devices. You can pursue the main story’s brief episodes, go through short side stories, or simply stay in Nayc’s little hub, endlessly grinding to earn materials and areas, buy new books, sell more products, and continually unlock more in that aforementioned loop.
In case you probably didn’t guess, that’s what I did for a shockingly long time. While it is 100% advised to go through the story, I got caught up in the pattern of gathering, creating, selling or completing requests, so I could then get more recipes, gather at hopefully new areas, create maybe different things, and sell those items. It’s catchy! Not always entirely optimized, in some ways. I hated holding down the action button to synthesize every time, and gathering could be more efficient since it means alternating between occasionally cheering and… holding a button while moving the joystick. But still, I fell hard and general enjoyed myself.
The Smile Alchemist also offers quite a pleasant aesthetic. There are some awkward localizations and times when you’ll see things like an area can unlock after “chapter chapter 2,” but the general concept is charming. Some dialogue still comes through as rather charming. Especially when larger fonts are suddenly used in conversations to emphasize tone and importance. The character designs are great, and I’m a big fan of the sprite work used throughout. This isn’t like some of these smaller games where the people you see tend to look alike. Everyone is distinctive and has personality. So even if it does get a bit rough, the heart helps endear it to the person playing.
The thing about it is that The Smile Alchemist is an incredibly rudimentary affair. Everything about it feels enthusiastic, and sometimes even vibrant. But then once you complete the same tasks fifteen times in a row in an hour, it really loses its appear. It’s clearly intended to be played in sessions no longer than 15-30 minutes at a time, as exemplified by the length of story segments. They’re often more like interludes than proper Any longer — say for the purposes of a review such as this — and the veneer wears thin. It’s almost like the stamina system isn’t there as a mobile trapping, but rather to encourage you to only play briefly, then go off and do something else.
There’s something appealing about that. I really appreciated The Smile Alchemist being I could play for a few minutes to get that boost of positivity, then completely step away knowing it’s fine and I don’t need to get too invested. It can get repetitive and the localization is a little rough, but it has heart. It’s like what if we distilled what made an alchemist simulation down to its most base qualities, ensured it was completely colorful, and rolled with it? The result is this, and it’s a delightful diversion in small doses.
The Smile Alchemist is available on the Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC. It originally appeared on mobile devices in Japan.