The game series, based on the definition of "atelier" as an artist's workshop, draws heavily on the pseudo-science of alchemy, requiring the player to find and collect items and combine them in recipes to create better items with which to progress further in the game. Alchemy is the distinguishing theme of the Atelier series. Players control the game's character, roaming the game world to collect objects to use in alchemy recipes to create new objects, including cooking ingredients, recovery items, tools, weapons, armor, and accessories. Synthesized objects are commonly required in order to create more powerful or potent objects through alchemy. Many of the games feature a method of transferring properties of one item from the recipe to the synthesized item. Recipes also often allow the substitution of items, which can either lend better properties to the final synthesized item, or can lead to the character thinking of a completely new recipe. The games generally feature a turn-based combat system, in which the items made through alchemy come into play, either to boost the character's abilities, or for offensive, defensive, or support items.
The games' stories are typically light-hearted and humorous, often deriving conflict from a source other than an antagonist and the player ends up with a large group of characters to explore the world with. In most games of the series, the player has a limited in-game time to accomplish one or more main objectives and actions like gathering items, traveling or synthesizing spend a portion of that time. Failure to accomplish the game's main tasks in time may cause the game to end abruptly or lead to a bad end.