Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings is the 19th installment in the main Atelier series of RPGs developed by Gust. Atelier Lydie & Suelle celebrates 20 years of the franchise, and my return to the series since the last Atelier game I played: Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm, ninth in the main series overall.
When you return to a series after missing 10 games over two console generations, you inevitably find that many aspects have changed while you were away. The core concept of the Atelier games has not changed too much; your party contains at least one alchemist who operates out of an atelier, using alchemy to create items beneficial to the party and to NPCs.
As you follow the storyline, whatever it may be in that particular entry, you make money, and sometimes gain reputation or ranks, by taking on requests from people in the town. Noticeboard postings usually involve your run-of-the-mill “bash X number of Y monster” quests, or fetch quests that may involve crafting items with alchemy. The Atelier series has never been groundbreaking, although it is very popular, but it always had its own original feel.
Regrettably, Atelier Lydie & Suelle lacks all of the original feel of the pre-PS3 era entries, despite containing all of these key components. I went into Atelier Lydie & Suelle expecting a cutesy, fun popcorn JRPG and received a painfully bland, generic moe game with a surprisingly robust alchemy system. Lydie and Suelle (call her Sue) Marlen are novice alchemist twin sisters living with their incompetent alchemist father, Roger, in their atelier.
Compared to other ateliers in the city of Merveille, the Marlen family’s atelier is a joke – barely an odd job store. Lydie and Suelle made a promise with their late mother to have the best atelier in the kingdom. One day they stumble across a mysterious painting in their father’s off-limits basement and somehow venture inside. Within the painting they discover myriad powerful and high-quality alchemy ingredients, but when they bring their discovery to their father he dismisses the experience and bans them from the basement anew.
Undeterred, the girls set out to join the new atelier ranking system proposed by the kingdom and receive tutelage from a competent alchemist to learn how to properly utilize the ingredients they find. If Lydie and Suelle pass all of the ranking examinations and improve their reputation to the point that they reach the highest rank possible, their atelier will be considered the best in the land and their promise to their mother will be fulfilled.
Going into Atelier Lydie and Suelle, I absolutely had some reservations, mainly due to the abundant moe cuteness on the front cover alone. First, I knew that I would immediately need to change the voice language to Japanese, because any English dub of these characters was going to inevitably going to grate. I fired up the game, watched the lackluster opening cinematic, and was a little surprised to find that this was another JRPG that was English-subbed only. I was pleased until I heard the high-pitched, squeaky voices of the titular twins as they announced the name of the game. Oof. A bit painful. The audio, from the background music to the voice acting, in Atelier Lydie and Suelle is generic at best and poor at worst.
There are a few competent voice actors in the mix, but the main female characters definitely traded skill for overbearing cuteness. The background and battle music isn’t terrible, but it’s nothing to write home about. Suelle’s battle theme (battle themes change base on which twin you’ve chosen as your point man) was very reminiscent of another game I reviewed, Blue Reflection. In fact, the battle landscape and music reminded me a lot of Blue Reflection, and I wasn’t overly surprised to find out that Gust was also responsible for more than one of these pretty but unremarkable JRPGs.
Monsters roam freely on the field and touching one will initiate a turn-based battle sequence. Your options in battle are to use basic attacks, use items (for the twins this includes damaging items created via alchemy), use special skills, or flee. Lydie and Suelle battle together, alone, for the most part, but are later joined by tag-alongs such as the knight Matthias, who serves to actually lend some muscle in his basic attacks and protect the girls from any damage coming their way. Fans of the Atelier series can expect to see many familiar enemies, including the dreaded and powerful (I’m being sarcastic, of course) punis.
While exploring town and nearby fields, Lydie and Suelle can inspect sparkling items to gather alchemy ingredients. Certain parts of the environment, like large logs and giant crystals can be kicked (Sue) or smacked with a staff (Lydie) multiple times to break them apart and receive multiple items. Alchemy ingredients can also be bought at stores. All alchemy ingredients have different rankings, traits and components which can affect what they are synthesized into later on.
While you’re wandering around the field, characters in your party will occasionally comment on what you’re doing, what you’ve just picked up, or the weather or time of day. Sometimes this matches up with what’s happening in the game, but I’ve had characters complain about how it’s raining when the forecast and in-game weather is perfectly sunny and bright. I’ve also had characters talk about how late it is and how they’re getting sleepy when they have had a full night of sleep and it’s only midday in-game time. It seems to me that Gust decided to throw in some fun banter but didn’t care enough to actually have it relevant to what was going on at all times. This was one of the many small things that made the game feel really cheap and rushed.
Another aspect of the game that made it feel cheaply made and mass-produced is the graphics and character design. I can appreciate the appeal of cutesy art styles and bright, colorful, and inoffensive environments as much as the next person, but many of the female characters have a hardcore case of same-face. The outfits and character designs are detailed, but give off the distinct feeling that very little thought was put into them past “cute” and “X stereotype”.
The character designs are bland and so are the environments. There are a lot of recycled assets and each environment does not give the sense that a lot of thought went into the layout. I can easily forgive reuse of Atelier-staple assets like basic alchemy ingredients and attack items, but it’s hard to feel invested in a game when the visuals are so bland.In addition to the character designs being bland, little effort has gone into actually characterizing anyone other than the two main girls (and even then, their personalities are very much outright-stated archetypes of “quiet and caring” and “eccentric and energetic”).
I come into cute and/or popcorn-y JRPGs (like the Tales series, for example) with the understanding that most of the characters are going to be anime-style stereotypes – I’m okay with that, I know the formula and sometimes it can be executed or subverted extremely well. However, Atelier Lydie & Suelle doesn’t even try to characterize even the girls’ best friend, Lucia, a typical tsundere. You can tell what type of stereotype she’s supposed to embody from a few short scenes, but they barely give her enough screen time or non-generic responses to things to fully capitalize on the stereotype they’re trying to use!
In Atelier Lydie & Suelle, optional side content is marked on the town map with “!” for scenes with other characters and “!?” for sidequests that aren’t taken from the job board. For the purpose of review I didn’t check out too many of these, but the scenes that I did opt into were clearly trying to be similar to the skits one sees in Tales games where you get a fun little bit of banter or an event with one or more of the party members. These scenes in Atelier Lydie & Suelle are short enough to not provide anything but very, very basic characterization of the characters within, offer nothing to the plot, and simply aren’t funny most of the times when it’s clear that was their intent.
While performing alchemic synthesis at the atelier, time regularly passes. There is a clock in the top corner of the screen which shows the passage of time – general wandering around passes time slowly, but other actions like returning home from a dungeon or performing synthesis fast-forward time very far, sometimes multiple days at a time. Apart from time (day) limits on quests from the job board, changes in monster availability from day to night, and performing synthesis, I was never able to figure out much about the clock and why it needed to be included.
To me, it seems like poor design to require three days of in-game time to create one batch of bombs or cookies. Not only that, but with the passage of time you’re often interrupted with more of the aforementioned scenes from earlier. They never offer anything to the plot or even anything interesting in a casual sense. I believe one scene that interrupted my alchemy binge was literally one of the girls saying she was going shopping and the other saying “Wait! I’m coming too!”
It gets WAY more complicated
So what’s good about Atelier Lydie & Suelle? The alchemy system. At first, the alchemy system was fairly bland but inoffensive. However, as you progress through the game it becomes truly robust and customizable. Towards the end of my play time I simply spent all my time around the cauldron, playing with the alchemy system and how the same item could have many different component colours and shapes that went into adding new traits to synthesized items. As you would hope from the Atelier series, they certainly didn’t slouch when it came to their alchemy system, and for that I’m grateful.
I feel like I can’t make too in-depth of a comment on the quality of the storyline, because the internet has informed me that this is the third in the “Mysterious” series of Atelier games (Atelier Lydie & Suelle is preceded by Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book and Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey). While I haven’t been given the impression that these three games are strongly linked to one another, it could be possible that I’m missing a lot of depth in the subtext of the game that a long-time fan would not.
I had really hoped that Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings would have been more of a fun, but cheap, personal return to the series. However, I can’t say that I liked this game much at all. I would rather play an alchemy simulator that just had me wandering the fields, harvesting items and synthesizing them, with no time requirements, battles or storyline, than go the long haul with this game. I’m not overly surprised by how cheap and nasty this game felt to me, given that since the first Atelier game on PS3 (Atelier Rorona in 2009/2010), there has been a new one released every single year since then. This game taught me that the Atelier series has chosen the path of fluff over the path of gameplay and substance. Playing Lydie and Suelle only made me reminisce about the good ol’ PS2 days where a popcorn JRPG could still be enjoyable popcorn and not overly-sweet, sugary, burned kernels at the bottom of the bag.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.