Warning: Spoilers for the first half hour of the game will be mentioned in the first few paragraphs.
I’ve never played an Atelier game before this one, but after completing this game it definitely makes me want to change that.
In Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings you play as Lydie and Suelle, two twins who lost their mother at a young age, leaving them to carry on their promise of becoming the heads of the best atelier in the whole of Merveille. This, however, proves difficult as there are many things in their way that makes their journey rather complicated. Such as: their deadbeat father who keeps spending all their money, underlying forces that may or may not be ominous and their alchemy skill not being all that great. All in all, the two girls are struggling and I was shocked to see how far GUST had gone to show how Lydie and Suelle are beaten down by things that I didn’t expect in a game that looks far too cutesy to embrace such dark topics. Poverty and starvation are just two of these things, but as the story goes on you soon realize that despite the bright colors and moe-look, these two girls truly are facing some terrifyingly realistic problems. It was a good, if somewhat unsettling, surprise.
I truly enjoyed that GUST went this route. Don’t get me wrong, the game is still super adorable and it has moments that are completely wholesome and beautiful to witness, but it was nice for the game not to be completely riddled with cutesy scenes that became eye-roll inducing. The characters were fairly enjoyable and dialogue didn’t seem forced or obtrusive, rather the opposite. Everything about the characters seemed to flow naturally and it was great to watch them grow as the story went on. Sure I didn’t like everyone, but I felt as though the game did a brilliant job at portraying how different the characters were from one another. To be frank: everyone was very charming and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The story itself was also pretty good, it just took a very long time for me to actually get to the juicy parts of it. As I’ve stated previously, Lydie and Suelle want to become the best alchemists of all time, but to do that they need to achieve a rank level of ‘S’. To do this they must first raise their atelier’s reputation (by doing quests, raising their alchemy level, etc) and then create new things in order to pass the examination period. It sounds dull and, at first, it can be but as you progress on the game gets much more thrilling and rewarding to play. That said, I can understand why many would give it a miss due to the first few hours as it can feel like a chore, all I’ll say is that the reward for sticking through is a very rewarding story and cast of characters.
So let’s talk about the main component of the game: alchemy. Alchemy is a big part of the world of Atelier and thankfully it is a rather fun part too. You’ll develop your alchemy by learning new recipes, which can either be unlocked by progressing through the game, discovering ingredients or performing specific in-game actions. Though don’t fret, the twin’s recipe book gives more than few hints on how you’ll be able to learn certain recipes, so you won’t need to spend forever trying to figure out what to do. Fortunately, once you have the ingredients you can then begin crafting! The game isn’t the best at explaining how to do that, but it becomes simple once you do it a few times and make note of quality and how that quality is divided up between the ingredients you use. For example, one ingredient could have the quality number of 70, but if your other ingredients are in their 30’s then the overall quality will be less. So try and get the best ingredients you can. This is expanded further on as you progress, quality ingredients becoming more and more significant.
Quality ingredients are usually found in the mysterious paintings that you find scattered around the world. The worlds are extremely beautiful, particularly the one that pretty much had a Halloween aesthetic going for it, though the beauty of these worlds was what made spending little to any time in them so frustrating. Despite it being called Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings, there just didn’t seem to be a lot of these paintings at all and at times it felt as though the paintings were just tacked on because they were supposed to be important. Arguably, yes they are, but they sure didn’t feel like it at the time I was playing the game.
The world outside of the paintings isn’t much better, either. On the twin’s way to becoming the greatest alchemists in the world they’ll have to fight a ton of monsters, which is fine if the environment and maps seemed as though they were any different. It felt like a very narrow world, and while I don’t mind that kind of thing sometimes, it felt very limiting to what I could experience of Merveille and the places outside of it. It never felt as though I was experiencing anything new after a while, and so the adventure grew stale with only the characters and story being the thread that kept pulling me along for the ride. It was disheartening and I only wish that there had been more paintings to jump through. Anything but being stuck in corridor hell.
Another thing that bothered me was the combat. I’m very much used to turn-based JRPG’s, hell, I grew up with them! But it quickly grew boring as there are only so many new things you can make with alchemy to make combat interesting. Thankfully once you recruit more than the twins (six characters will be in your party altogether, including Lydie and Suelle) it does liven up quite a bit. The three characters in front will be the one dealing damage and kicking butt, whilst the other three at the back will take care of defenses and/or recover from a previous scrap. Some circumstances will allow the back characters to do a move along with the characters at the front, unleashing combos that are deadly and fierce.
If you enjoy JRPG’s that push you to discover and understand new things, then I really think you’d be a big fan of this game. While it may not be the best place to start if you want to get into the Atelier series, it has to be one of the best JRPGs I’ve played this year that didn’t just rely on fan-service tropes or a cute art style. Try it, I think you’d be urprised at how much you may like it.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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