The Atelier games are like a favourite old blanket. There’s a comfort in the soft familiarity, yet they’ll come a day when it’s time to buy a new one. Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings is the final entry in the Mysterious storyline, and 19th main game in the series. After so many titles, I can’t help but wonder how much wear there is left?
For the uninitiated, Atelier Lydie & Suelle is a turn-based JRPG with lots of crafting elements. You play as twin girls, and alchemists in training, Lydie and Suelle. They’re determined to run the greatest atelier in the kingdom, as a promise to their departed mother. But not only is the atelier going unnoticed, their father spends any money they make on painting tools instead of food. Yet all is not lost. After following a strange voice to their father’s basement (highly suspicious), they get transported inside of a painting. Here they discover high quality ingredients that may just be their ticket for success.
So the focus is about becoming acknowledged by the town’s folk, while doing a little adventuring on the side. Events progress in a similar way to Atelier Shallie’s life tasks system. First raise your reputation by completing tasks set out in Suelle’s notebook. Then, take an exam to up your rank and earn the right to proceed with the story. It’s simple, but helps to give the impression that you’re actually improving your alchemy skills over time.
It’s easy to take a step away from the main quests and spend time doing side-missions and chatting with NPCs. Completing tasks for people actually follows separate little stories for each person. You can help your dad with his silly inventions, get ahead of your rival, and learn from other alchemists. Okay, so it’s nothing overly deep, but there’s much more motivation in getting to know people through an ongoing tale, rather than simply doing odd-jobs for a few experience points.
Anyway, you can’t be the best alchemist around without doing anything, so we better get to work. Firstly, we need to gather materials. This means going out into the world picking up items from bushes, hitting rocks, catching bugs, and fishing. My favorite places to explore were undoubtedly the mysterious paintings. These themed environments are wonderfully unique, from a pumpkin filled spooky forest, to a seaside adventure with a skeleton pirate. They all have their own little story, which would be awesome if they were any good. Short, and often completely meaningless, it’s such a missed opportunity for some fantasy-styled adventures.
Once enough materials have been gathered, though, it’s time to go back home for some alchemy. New players can rest assured that it sounds more complicated than it is. Everything is taught at a good pace, as well; you’re never expected to read through crazy walls of text explanations. On a basic level it follows the same formula as previous Atelier games. Gathered materials have their own quality and stats which affect the finished product. In other words, if you want a decent sword, you first need good metal to make it out of.
Each material is then represented by its own particular shape and color. How you choose to place these on a crafting grid dictates how the final product will enhance. For example, filling the grid with materials of the same color is one of the easiest ways to gain benefits. Later, you can also use a catalyst material to change up the grid itself. Things get pretty customizable as you can change up the size and available buffs from the particular catalyst used.
I will say, if you’re not super invested in the alchemy, Atelier Lydie & Suelle isn’t for you. The crafting can be quite slow, especially if you’ve got a lot to make. And the game doesn’t remember past grid combinations, so things must be re-made every single time. You can’t ignore it either, as most battles rely on you having decent quality items. About halfway through the game, a boss stopped me in my tracks for about 2 hours. It wasn’t because I hadn’t grinded for levels, but due to not paying enough attention to crafting better equipment. The game was clearly wagging a disappointed finger at me for skimping on alchemy practice.
Battles themselves use a turn-based system which mostly compromises of the standard line-up of an ‘attack, special move, item’ menu. In a new addition for Atelier Lydie & Suelle, you can also perform some quick alchemy for extra damage. After meeting certain conditions, such as catching an enemy by surprise, Lydie and Suelle can use gathered materials in the inventory to perform a ‘battle mix’. It’s an interesting concept, but I tended not to have the right items on-hand to really make the most of it.
Your party of six is set up in two lines of three. While those in-front attack, the back line can add supporting damage, healing, or buffs, dependent on their specialty. The front and back rows can also switch around during battle. This is especially useful against strong foes, thanks to those in the back regaining health over time. Similar to the alchemy section, new mechanics are slowly added to help keep fighting fresh, such as being able to pull off an extra powerful combo attack.
There’s a certain amount of strategy to your choice of formation, but it’s best to just play around with it and see what works for you. I personally liked keeping Firis is on the back row thanks to her impressively powerful assist attacks. Sadly, there isn’t much room to experiment, though, due to the small cast of possible party members.
After Atelier Firis and Atelier Sophie gave 9-10 party members, and with Atelier Shallie Plus giving double, Atelier Lydie & Suelle’s six feels severely lacking. Okay, all these guys get to play a part in the story. It’s arguably better to have fewer characters who all to get development time, than having a load who get forgotten. Yet, I personally loved the bigger cast from previous games. Their unique battle styles helped to keep things engaging. There is DLC on the way that will add two more playable characters; it’s just unclear why they’re not available within the main game.
Whats more, at first I was in love with the monster designs. Atelier Lydie & Suelle has some of the cutest bunny rabbits I’ve ever seen and…are those ghosts wearing top hats? As I played though, it became noticeable that sprites were repeated a lot. I don’t mind too much in the ‘real game world’, but the paintings are supposed to be unique places from painters’ imaginations. Then, how can they have all dreamed up the same monsters? It just takes away from some of the adventure.
It’s a shame that limited party members, minimal story for each world, and a general lack of new ideas leads to Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings feeling a bit lackluster. Yet dammit if the cute characters and heartfelt charm don’t keep you coming back for more. It’s an Atelier game, even if most of it is just taken from past titles. The blanket may have become a little raggedy in places, but still wraps you up in the light-hearted fluff that we’ve come to expect from the series.
This review is based off a PlayStation 4 copy of the game. A copy was provided by Koei Tecmo.
Despite lacking the variety of previous Atelier games, Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings has a happy charm that makes it hard to put down.