I love the Atelier series. I’ve been with it since it debuted in the West with Atelier Iris, and I’m still here now. It’s provided countless memorable adventures, and its trademark alchemy mechanics — regardless of iteration — have always been both welcome and enjoyable in my book. I love the Atelier series. And that’s why it pains me to say that, after playing Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings, I’m a little worried about the franchise’s future.
Now, let me set things straight here and now — I’m not here to bash the game, nor the series. On the whole, I can honestly still say that I enjoyed it. All of the things necessary to make an Atelier game were there. In some cases, things were even improved. But I couldn’t help but feel as though this game was just trying to quickly wrap things up. This is supposed to mark the end of a trilogy. It’s the game that brings characters from three different games together. And it does do that. But, when compared to previous final installments, I don’t think that it does it as well as it could have.
Moe Money, Moe Problems
Following the casual nature of Mysterious trilogy thus far, Atelier Lydie & Suelle centers around twins and alchemists-in-training Lydie and Suelle (Sue, for short) Mallen, as they, along with their father, attempt to eke out a living for themselves within Merveille — the capital city in the kingdom of Adalet. Although Merveille as a city seems to be doing well enough, you can’t say the same for the Mallen family. After the passing of their mother several years go — an event which seemingly transformed their father into a deadbeat — Lydie and Suelle have barely been doing enough to scrape by — placing them about as far away as humanly possible from their goal of running the best Atelier in the kingdom. One day, however, the two discover a mysterious alchemic painting in their basement which sucks them into a different world, thus setting into motion an unforgettable journey.
Based on what I’ve just laid out, you’re probably thinking that this entire game takes place inside of a painting. Or that, at the very least, most of it does. There’s no need to feel badly if you do; I thought so as well in the beginning, too. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. For the entire first half of the game, the paintings serve as little more than a means of progression. You’ll wander throughout a painting for a short while, view a few scenes which don’t have much impact on the rest of the game, and spend the rest of the game in the real world. To its credit, the game does kick into high gear about halfway through. The beginning is so slow that I could see it putting people off. But hey, at least you can actually feel the plot progressing this time.
Atelier Lydie & Suelle may have a more concrete feeling of progression, but that still doesn’t mean that it’s managed to escape the collective meet-and-greet that is the Mysterious trilogy. When you aren’t out saving the world or trying to help your family collectively get through emotional trauma, you’ll be ambling around the streets of Merveille looking for people to chat up. Being the final chapter and all, Lydie and Suelle does its best to jam-pack as many Mysterious references into the game as possible. And, honestly, it does a good job. From Firis and Sophie reminiscing about their past adventures, to Drossel asking Corneria if she’s ever been a doll before (an impressively meta joke), Atelier Lydie & Suelle wholeheartedly rewards its fans for playing through the series thus far. The interactions are pretty cute most of the time, too. And that brings me to my final point.
Even at the risk of getting roasted, I’ll come out and say it; Atelier Lydie & Suelle is too moe. I’ve noticed since the beginning of the Mysterious trilogy that the games have been trying hard to be extra-cute. Don’t get me wrong, I’m more than fine with a little bit of anime cheesecake. But if you eat too many sweets, you’ll get cavities. You get what I’m saying? Previous installations in the series have had plenty of tropes thrown in, but Lydie & Suelle seems to be the most trope-filled of the bunch. Personally, I’d love another PS2-era Atelier title. I’m well aware, however, that “cuteness is justice”. I guess that all I’m asking of GUST is that they give the cute characters a little more personality than “quiet moe” and “feisty moe” next time.
Painting by Numbers
Coupling with its more concrete sense of narrative stability is Atelier Lydie & Suelle‘s mechanical setup. Contrary to the last two Mysterious games, in which it was sometimes hard to gauge what exactly you were supposed to be doing, Atelier Lydie & Suelle features an incredibly concrete, cyclical means through which progress is made. Each “progress section” of the game takes place in three parts. You begin with raising your Atelier’s reputation. This is done through the completion of tasks laid out within Sue’s “Ambitions Journal”. Acting similarly to Atelier Shallie‘s “Life Tasks”, the Ambitions Journal consists of into four main categories, detailing battle, alchemy, social, and other miscellaneous goals which the player must complete. The game doesn’t require you to complete every task, granting a large amount of flexibility to the player, but trying to complete everything is usually enjoyable as well.
After strutting your stuff, you’ll eventually receive an invite from Mireille (the princess of Adalet) to participate in a Promotion Test to raise your Atelier’s rank. The game touts these as being important and, plot-wise, they are. Mechanically speaking, however, they work very similarly to Ambitions Journal Tasks, asking the player to create items or slay monsters. Unlike with the journal, however, the game grades you on these. This means that, even if you pass, doing so with a flourish is beneficial in the end.
Finally, after successfully raising your rank, the game will (almost) always present you with a new painting to explore. I’m not actually sure what I was expecting with these, but I’ll admit that I’m a little underwhelmed by them. Atelier Lydie & Suelle isn’t lying when it says that each painting holds its own, unique world. The only issue is that some of them feel like they’re just using modified Sophie and Firis assets. Even when you do get a new-feeling world, there isn’t much to do aside from the usual collecting and battling. On top of this, the game also features a number of “normal” locations which you can explore. These are nearly identical in terms of gameplay. Oh, and fair warning to potential Switch players out there — don’t expect this game’s gorgeous graphics to shine as brightly as they do on PS4 and PC.
It took me a while to get the hang of this trilogy’s take on alchemy. Once I finally did, though, I found myself enjoying a lot. And, as a self-proclaimed fan of “Mysterious synthesizing”, I can tell you that Atelier Lydie & Suelle tweaks the trilogy’s puzzle-based alchemy in in all of the right places. Completely omitting things such as cauldrons, time limits, and individual item levels, Lydie & Suelle heavily streamlines the synthesizing process and introduces things one step at a time. Perhaps the biggest new feature is the introduction of Enhancing Agents — items which can alter an ingredient’s colors. Alchemy still remains somewhat confusing and asks a lot of its players. But, thanks to the improvements made in this game, it’s easier and more fun than ever to start synthesizing.
Obtaining new recipes works similarly to past games, with players gradually unlocking them as they play through the game and completes tasks. Some recipes within the game are so easy to unlock that you’ll do so by accident. Others, however, have more specific requirements (especially synthesis-related ones). The combination of easy and difficult unlocks for recipes, combined with how useful and exciting each new item is, makes collecting and completing recipes a lot of fun in this game.
When it comes to combat, Atelier Lydie & Suelle most definitely mix things up the most. Borrowing elements from older Atelier games, turn-based combat once again reverts back to being a 3-man party. Backup characters also make a return. They don’t work quite as differently as they once did, however. Rather than being able to freely switch between your reserve characters, Lydie & Suelle pairs characters together in attacking and supporting roles, meaning that it’s only possible to switch between whichever characters are paired up. While curious, this restriction does become beneficial. Supporting characters are able to back up their paired attacker with a number of skills. Each of these skills comes with a unique trigger (such as using a tool, or recovering HP), making some of them difficult to pull off, but in general, they prove to be immensely handy.
Covering also comes back. Unlike with Firis, however, it doesn’t seem quite as necessary. At least not with Sue. You see, while Lydie very much follows in the footsteps of Firis in terms of combat potential (good skills, capable of using any item, but horrible stats), Sue is an absolute terror on the battlefield. She boasts decent defense, high HP, and excellent attack and speed. Yet still, you can choose to protect her. If you’ve just got Sue or Lydie out, this isn’t a big deal. The problem I’ve run into, however, is when both characters are fighting. Before an enemy attacks, it will let you know if one of the Mallen twins is being targeted. But not which twin. This may sound nitpick-y to some of you out there, but when most of your party consists of glass canons, I can assure you that it isn’t.
There’s also no mistaking the re-balancing of skills in this game. Skills in the past have always been useful, but are always easily surpassed by alchemy items. Alchemy items still hold an advantage in Lydie & Suelle, but it seems as though the advantage isn’t as great as it used to be. I often times found myself relying on character attacks more than my own items. And that was even further solidified when I finally managed to get my hands on some good (like, really good) equipment. Making good items is, and should always be, a top priority in Atelier games. I won’t deny that it’s nice to let your characters beat down your enemies with their own abilities, though.
A Mysterious End
Truthfully, I feel as though I might have been a little tough on Atelier & Lydie Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings. But that’s only because I want this series to continue on for years to come. When all is said and done, I did have fun with this game. I would recommend it to any pre-existing Atelier fans, but would do so while cautioning them that this probably won’t become their favorite game in the series. Looking toward the future, I’m not entirely sure what will become of the Atelier series. All I can say now is that I hope that GUST has taken something away from the Mysterious trilogy — be it good or bad — and will use what they’ve learned to make the series the best that it can be.
FINAL VERDICT: 3.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC ; Publisher: Koei Tecmo America Corp. ; Developer: GUST Co. Ltd. ; Players: 1 ; Released: March 27, 2018 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.