I let it be known in my review for Atelier Firis I was rather excited about the possibilities of what the series had in store after developer Gust decided to take everything in a different direction. They opened up the world to a large degree and placed a larger emphasis on player freedom and exploration.
In some ways, my feelings were meant to be a sign of encouragement to have the series continue on this far more ambitious route. Unfortunately, Gust decided to take a few steps back in the sequel, and in the process and I can't help but be disappointed in the outcome.
Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings represents the finale of a trilogy that began with Atelier Sophie followed by the aforementioned Atelier Firis. Despite the transition to the new consoles, the Atelier series is stuck in a difficult spot. With little plot or meaningful character development to speak of, I'm not quite sure what Gust had in mind for the franchise in the modern era, but it's starting to look a little bleak.
The story introduces two twin sisters, Lydie and Suelle Marlen, who are struggling to make ends meet thanks in no small part to their deadbeat dad who likes to spend all the funds they earn on his hobbies. This leads to the girls having to run the shop almost entirely by themselves. Thankfully, through their skills as trained alchemists, things aren’t so bad as they work together to complete odd jobs around town.
Soon, they discover the royal family plans on holding an event where alchemists from around the nation can enter a competition to improve their skill ranking and increase their shop’s reputation. With the dream of becoming the world's greatest alchemists (along with the promise of riches) at the top of their priority list, they enter the contest. However, things aren't as innocent as they appear as ulterior motives come into play.
Let’s begin by focusing on the positive features. The turn-based combat system is once again one of the core strengths of the game. Much like the more recent entries, you're pairing up a front line and a back line of party members (both of which you assign on the in-game menu). People who have played Final Fantasy X may be sort of familiar with this concept. In this case, every party member fills a certain role, whether that's working as an attacker or a support character. Depending on the actions you take, your backline party member will react accordingly.
For example, with Suelle, whenever I performed an offensive skill on an enemy, my paired party member Alt unleashed his own attack on an enemy to pile on the damage. In another scenario, if Lydie was on the backline and Suelle was attacked by an enemy, Lydie would cast a healing spell on her. These moves don’t cost the person in the backline any of their health or magic points. Also, if a frontline character dies, the one in the back takes their spot. Just like Atelier Firis, you can also perform item synthesis during battle to immediately exploit an enemy's weakness before combat is underway. This offers plenty of enjoyable moments because it introduces a nice dose of strategy into every encounter.
Other positives to be found in Atelier Lydie & Suelle include the removal of Firis' at-times aggravating stamina system and the presentation of the so-called "Mysterious Paintings." As the name states, these are pieces of art that were illustrated using the power of alchemy, allowing people to enter inside the paintings and explore the worlds within. While this is just another way to present different elemental environments, I was still curious to see what would come next.
Getting back to the story, I can't tell if it's because fans were upset with how the Dusk subseries (poorly) wrapped up in Atelier Shallie, but at least the ending was far more conclusive, even giving Sophie and Firis their little sendoffs. Unfortunately, I still didn’t feel completely satisfied with how things were handled, partially because the stakes were so low to begin with. Atelier Shallie's plot may have dropped the ball in many respects, but I was still enjoying the atmosphere of the games to let it really bother me. Atelier Sophie, on the other hand, wasn’t able to set a strong enough foundation to carry everything through to the end.
Also, the worldbuilding in Atelier Lydie & Suelle is practically nonexistent with how much smaller and less cohesive it is compared to Atelier Firis. It's gotten to the point where it seems Gust is neglecting the story and instead placing the focus directly on the Moe elements. I shouldn’t really be surprised considering this has been a large part of what draws fans to the franchise, but I was still hoping for a lot more. This may be due to how this subseries has two artists (Yuugen and Noco) compared to just a single person in the past, creating a clash in styles that hurts the overall product.
Although I appreciate having a slice-of-life game to play as much as I love slice-of-life anime, trying to use character development as the basis for an entire plot is getting a little old. This wouldn't be such a bad thing if the characters themselves weren’t largely forgettable.
Outside of the humorous interactions between the twin sisters, no one else was even remotely as interesting as they were. Lucia is a walking, breathing tsundere stereotype (with some amusing moments); Matthias is a bland casanova wannabe; Alt is basically a male version of Plachta due to his character design; Sister Grace can't match up to Pamela, and I felt nothing but despisement towards Roger. Most of the remaining cast are returning characters that already appeared in Atelier Firis. Let’s just say I had a hard time keeping myself motivated all the way to the ending credits.
Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings offers little that I would consider enticing for newcomers. While I am still madly addicted to the crafting system, there is just not a whole lot here worth recommending to those interested in getting into the series, or even for those that are fans like I am.
I can't speak for the fanbase as a whole, but they really need to try something fresh before people start to lose interest. This is one of those properties that is in dire need of a substantive reboot, and I hope with the 20th anniversary project for the series on the horizon, that's exactly what they end up doing.
Versions tested: PC
Disclaimer: A copy of this game was provided to RPG Site by the publisher.