The twentieth year of the Atelier series also brings us its nineteenth game, Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings.
While it’s no masterpiece, this final entry in the Mysterious trilogy reminds me of why Atelier games are so special to begin with.
In 2015, we received the first entry in Gust’s Mystery trilogy with Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book, which was a highlight of the franchise. Along with introducing us to my personal favourite protagonist, Sophie Neuenmuller, it also came with a revamped alchemy system that greatly improved on its predecessors. The second game in the trilogy, Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey, was a less impressive leap forward although still an enjoyable entry in the series. For Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings, there is a lot riding on its shoulders.
At first glance, Atelier Lydier & Suelle makes a good impression. The game’s painterly aesthetic, thanks to returning artists NOCO and Yuugen, is delightfully pastel. While the Atelier games may not be as visually impressive as other more popular JRPGs, they’ve always taken advantage of their unique style. It’s a look that seems familiar for the series by now, but still hasn’t lost its charm or distinctiveness. Despite Atelier Lydier & Suelle making marginal improvements to its tech, however, it still looks like a game that could have been released on last generation hardware, which may be a hard thing for newcomers to reconcile.
Its dual protagonists, Lydie and Suelle, are twin sisters who live in Melveille, the capital of the Adalatt Kingdom. They live there with their father, an oafish single parent who struggles to keep a roof over his family’s head. His ineptitude is played for laughs, which works because of how funny he can be, and the titular sisters are forced to help out the family business’ atelier. Like any Atelier protagonists would, Lydie and Suelle have high ambitions of their own and are intent on becoming the best alchemists the kingdom.
The sisters unwittingly discover that the paintings their father creates in their locked-off basement lead to worlds of their own. The mystery eventually becomes a personal journey for the protagonists who discover their mother, who died of sickness years earlier, still exists within the worlds of these paintings. It’s a touching and emotional story, about dealing with grief as much as it is about achieving your personal dreams, but it also touches on the people that support you along the way.
Lydie and Suelle are unfortunately less engrossing characters than their predecessors, mainly thanks to how indistinguishable they are from one another. Although their inseparable relationship is endearing, it’s a relief to see characters from the rest of the trilogy appear throughout. A reunion of sorts for the trilogy at large, characters from Atelier Sophie and Atelier Firis make appearances, as well as play important roles in the story. While it’s not important if you’ve played the two previous games, it certainly helps make Atelier Lydie & Suelle a more fulfilling experience.
Like every Atelier game, Atelier Lydie & Suelle’s core lies in its crafting system. Building off of Atelier Sophie’s revamped grid system, there’s a few new changes to the grid system but it still works in mostly the same way. With each ingredient in a recipe, you’ll have a differently coloured group of spheres, almost like tetrominoes. The way in which each ingredient is arranged on the grid will create different reactions, giving the items and equipment you create different effects. Crafting can often feel like a puzzle as you try to figure out which combination of ingredient placements will turn out best.
When everything works just as you’d hoped, it feels rewarding to carry these items forward into combat. The progression of Lydie and Suelle as alchemists is paralleled with your own progression with its system as you slowly learn its many intricacies, like the new Enhancing Agent ability. While it may not make a large leap forward, what’s on offer here is still some of the best on display in the entire genre.
Combat in Atelier Lydie & Suelle is also fairly similar to past entries, although it boasts some small tweaks that improve the overall experience. As you slowly build your party, you’ll pair characters up in its new Collaborative Battle system in which characters become teams of vanguard attackers and rear guard supporters. Vanguards take more damage than rear guards, thanks to them being placed in front, but they also can dole out more damage in return.
You won’t be able to take advantage of this system until later on in the game, however, so the early hours may feel less impressive, but once you begin to fill out your party everything will begin to click into place. Since Lydie and Suelle themselves aren’t particularly adept at fighting, it allows them to still play important roles while the other stronger characters do most of the damage.
I loved this aspect of the game — seeing how Lydie and Suelle weren’t perfect at everything helped reinforce their relatability. It’s hard enough trying to become expert alchemists, running their own atelier and making sure their father isn’t getting into any trouble. Throw on top of that fighting monsters five times their own size and it seems like they’re just asking for trouble. All too often the JRPG genre is populated with heroes from humble beginnings that somehow able to defeat literal Gods by the game’s end, not to mention become expert racers/fishermen/etc.
This different take on your typical fantasy world is part of the Atelier series’ charm, even 20 years in. Other games as of late may tout their unexpected diversion from norms like these, but Atelier has been doing it for years. In Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings, there’s a charming story and intricate systems that help make it one of the best entries to date. I can’t think of a better way to help celebrate 20 years of this long-running series.