Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings is the final entry in the Mysterious trilogy and the 19th Atelier game overall. While its predecessor, Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey, was a highly experimental game that seemed to throw everything at the wall to see what stuck, Atelier Lydie & Suelle feels like an all-hands-on-deck course correction. In some instances, this might seem like a panic-induced over-correction, but the results have shaped future Atelier games for the better.
Atelier Lydie & Suelle is a slice-of-life crafting sim RPG, much like every other Atelier game. Compared to the two prior Mysterious DX enhanced re-releases, Atelier Lydie & Suelle was previously available on the Switch alongside its PS4 and PC counterparts. Unfortunately, performance issues on the original version were quite rampant, meaning the Switch version should have only been recommended if it was your only choice. The new and enhanced DX version offers some improvements when it comes to performance, but it also includes content previously sold separately as DLC, as well as new content. In this new release, players can also step into the painted world of Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists — an anniversary title that brings alchemists from various Atelier games together.
At its core, Atelier Lydie & Suelle is a story about loss and hardship that hides behind cheery smiles and the drive to move forward. The narrative focuses on twin sisters Lydie and Suelle Malen, two young girls who lost their mother a few years prior. They run a small yet unsuccessful workshop with their father, and the sisters take odd jobs and to try and become alchemists to help feed their family. Their father, Roger Malen, comes off as a carefree and irresponsible person who often causes trouble for his daughters by skipping out on his responsibilities or hiding away in the basement for days at a time. Due to poverty and their father’s unemployment, the twins often have to fend for themselves while their father buries himself in his newfound love for painting, his only coping mechanism, as he tries to navigate a world without his beloved.
While this setup is generally sombre, the game is more upbeat and comical than one might expect. Lydie and Suelle often act as a comedic duo, with Lydie coming across as the straight man and Suelle taking the part of the comic. Their antics are amusing and add a bit more personality to the dual leads. The supporting cast is also fairly strong this time around, though that’s partially due to many characters being from previous Atelier games. Although Atelier Lydie & Suelle has its own story to tell, it also has the daunting task of wrapping up storylines that were either barely touched upon or left by the wayside in the other Mysterious games.
The art style remains largely the same as the previous entries in the trilogy. Character models and illustrations are in-line with the originals, ensuring all three games have a unifying style that remains consistent between entries. As well as this, the menu screens in the Atelier series are packed with personality and often full of little touches like scribbled notes, bookmarks, scraps of paper, chalk, drawings, and so on. Atelier Lydie & Suelle is no different. One thing that did stand out to me, however, was the battle interface. Something about the menus and backgrounds of textboxes seemed a little more stylish than usual — they were brighter, more stylized, and I felt they made the experience more pleasant overall despite being such small changes.
Where Atelier Lydie & Suelle stands tall over prior games is its environmental design. The forests and mountain paths surrounding the kingdom look rather nice, and the added verticality is appreciated. However, the painted worlds are where the environmental artists truly make their mark. Throughout the game, the characters visit worlds painted by mysterious alchemists. These worlds are small yet fantastical and densely packed with personality. Spooky forests riddled with ghosts and pumpkins galore, sunken ships in murky caves, and long-dead frozen castles are just a few of the visually appealing and thematically intriguing paintings the cast jump into. These worlds are often vibrant and beautifully crafted, ensuring players will want to poke around and spend as much time as possible within them.
The previous game, Atelier Firis, tried its hand at large open-world maps that gave little direction. Oftentimes, it felt a bit aimless, but I believe that was the point. It was, after all, a mysterious journey. Atelier Lydie & Suelle, on the other hand, feels like the exact opposite. Gone are the massive maps that could take multiple in-game days to cross, and in their place are smaller maps brimming with gathering points and enemies. Moreover, these environments are evenly split between the real and painted worlds, and the separation adds a nice bit of contrast to the exploration.
To counter Atelier Firis‘ unshackled wanderlust, Atelier Lydie & Suelle presents players with an ‘Ambitions Journal’ to help guide you along. It also encourages players to go out and find certain enemy types, craft particular items, explore the city, talk with NPCs, buy and sell at shops, and more. This journal ensures players always have a goal in mind, and the ambitions are nice little nudges in the right direction.
Most importantly, synthesis has been revised compared to the previous game’s system. While the grid and bonus board remains, the entire process has been streamlined with a few trade-offs. For example, rather than having to craft a new alchemy cauldron or increase one’s proficiency in certain materials, players can simply rotate between items and place them where they please. Catalysts, which allow players a higher degree of freedom over the items they craft, also make their return. This synthesis system is one of the strongest and most interactive in the Atelier series, and to this day, it remains one of my favorite iterations.
Atelier Lydie & Suelle‘s combat is easily the best in the trilogy. Gust has created many exciting and flashy combat systems in the past, but Atelier Lydie & Suelle‘s is both inspired and unique. Early on, battles feel like the standard Atelier affair. Your alchemists can use items while your guardians do most of the heavy lifting via melee or ranged combat. As Atelier Lydie & Suelle has two alchemists to start with, they each have their own playstyle. Lydie is more akin to the traditional Atelier protagonist who uses a staff as her weapon and has access to all items in battle. Suelle has a more limited selection of items she can use, yet she’s a much more offensive fighter thanks to her dual pistols.
The battle system greatly expands once you recruit your fourth, fifth, and sixth characters. After getting your fourth, you can pair characters up as an attacker and as a supporter. Each character has their own playstyle when acting as an attacker while also having conditional supporter skills that can be activated in battle by their partner. When the attacker fulfills one of the supporter’s conditions, a follow-up attack or defensive move may be performed, which can lead to powerful attacks that finish off your foe, defensive barriers, area heals, or even chaotic damage chains that trigger their own support conditions.
The combat in Atelier Lydie & Suelle is fun, strategic, flashy, and exciting. The Break system also returns to ensure players can put enemies out of commission and capitalize on openings. In addition, Atelier Lydie & Suelle‘s focus on buffs, debuffs, and skill management is a nice touch that adds a bit more control and choice in battles. Even going back to it years later, I still consider it one of my favorite battle systems in the series.
As usual, Gust delivers when it comes to the game’s soundtrack. Atelier Firis was absolutely overflowing with music, yet the day and night cycle and overabundance of music left little room for individual tracks to breathe. Atelier Lydie & Suelle, however, puts its best foot forward. The music in the atelier, the towns and fields, and in battle is all top-notch. The tracks feel inspired and full of a newfound vigor as if the composers finally got a good night’s sleep and awoke to pen the tunes they heard in their dreams. A few of my favorite standout tracks are “Disorder in Order,” “Sunflower Part 2,” and Lydie and Suelle’s version of “Shooting Star.”
Atelier Lydie & Suelle is definitely a step in the right direction after Atelier Firis tried its hand at too much. As mentioned before, Atelier Lydie & Suelle can feel like an over-correction at times, and the biggest victim of this is pacing. Atelier fans like myself are no stranger to slow or awkward pacing due to the structure of the games, yet Atelier Lydie & Suelle has the extra burden of trying to wrap up as many storylines as it possibly can. By the game’s mid-point, when opening up the city map, there can be a dozen different events all over the screen. Going to any one of these may activate a scene that occasionally has little to no relevance to the task at hand. Additionally, to my knowledge, this is the only Atelier game that has an intermission chapter at the halfway point. Atelier Lydie & Suelle is one of the longest Atelier games I’ve played, and unfortunately, it feels even longer because of the pacing.
If you’ve read my reviews of the previous Mysterious DX games, you’ll recall that I touched upon performance issues for the Switch versions. Unfortunately, the problems are no different here. While this DX version does seem to run better than the original Switch release, there are still some hiccups here and there. Most notably, when playing docked, characters and backgrounds seem to have a grid on them, as if the models dither. I recall seeing this with Xenoblade Chronicles 2 in handheld mode, so I can only imagine it was necessary to keep performance stable. The usual suspects, such as pop-in and framerate drops, appear, yet when I pulled my Switch out of the dock to test it, I was surprised because the game seemed to run better. While the performance issues are noticeable at times, I didn’t feel they were a dealbreaker.
Overall, Atelier Lydie & Suelle is a great entry in the Atelier series, and it’s easily one of the stronger Mysterious entries. It competes with Atelier Sophie for my favorite in the trilogy, though the general bloat of Atelier Lydie & Suelle gives Atelier Sophie the slight edge. That said, it’s a great follow-up. Though it may take a while to reach its conclusion, it serves as a nice way to tie up as much of the Mysterious storyline as possible while also offering new worlds to explore, exciting new battle mechanics, and a refinement of an already excellent synthesis system. Of course, with the recent announcement of Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream, I’m eagerly looking forward to more Atelier.