After the sprawling adventure that was Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey, it would have doubtless been tempting for Gust to adopt the same format for the series going forward. After all, the open-world format worked extraordinarily well for Atelier Firis.
But one thing we have seen numerous times over by this point is the fact that the Atelier series never stands still and stagnates. No two installments are quite like one another — and thus it stands to reason that Gust would also want to make sure they did something a bit different for Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings.
And so they did — in quite a few interesting ways. So let’s take an initial look at what this third installment in the series — nineteenth mainline title overall — has to offer.
Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings focuses on a location that we’ve heard a lot about in the previous Mysterious games, but which we’ve never actually seen firsthand: the kingdom of Adalet.
Through characters like Julio (who appeared in both Atelier Sophie as a playable character and Atelier Firis as a side character) and Shanon (who was a party member in Atelier Firis) we’ve learned that Adalet is quite a traditional kingdom with castles and knights and all that sort of thing; it seems to be quite an affluent, well-off place, too — and one with a great respect for tradition.
These impressions are certainly proven correct fairly quickly as soon as we arrive in the world of Atelier Lydie & Suelle. Our heroines, twin girls who live in the city of Merveille, capital of Adalet, are seemingly reasonably well-off — though their alchemy business is struggling a bit, at least partly because there’s so much competition in the town. Not only from their childhood friend Lucia, but also from Atelier Firis‘ cast member Ilmeria, who has set up shop just a couple of doors down from them.
The main reason they’re struggling, mind you, is nothing to do with the business itself, but rather it’s everything to do with their spendthrift father Roger. Roger is both an alchemist and a painter, though he spends the majority of his time doing the latter — and spends an enormous amount of money that the family doesn’t really have on art supplies.
Roger was left to take care of the two girls after their mother passed away some time prior to the events of the story. He clearly loves his girls a great deal, but he’s not the best father, sadly; that said, the girls have grown up in such a way that they’re more than willing to tell him when he’s making a mess of things — and to step in and sort things out when required. Which is, as you might expect, pretty frequently.
Lydie & Suelle enjoy a rivalry with the aforementioned Lucia, whose atelier is already proving quite commercially successful. In an attempt to catch up with her, they befriend Ilmeria, who agrees to take the pair on as her students. She quickly teaches them the basics of how to operate as an alchemist in modern society — coming up with new recipes is absolutely key — and sets them on their path to improving their atelier’s reputation and commercial viability.
Key to this is a new initiative run by the kingdom, known as the Atelier Ranking System. Through this system, the alchemy workshops in Merveille are all ranked between “Unranked” and “S” according to their performance, and rewards are offered for progression.
Said progression is achieved through a combination of improving the reputation of one’s atelier, and then taking a progression exam. As you might expect, these two things make up the backbone of Atelier Lydie & Suelle’s game structure — though unlike previous Atelier games which have adopted a similar format, there’s no time limit to worry about here for the most part.
There are actually quite a few previous Atelier games which make use of this whole “prove yourself” structure — including the several which didn’t make it to the west prior to the Atelier Iris series. The three Salburg games in particular are all focused on developing the reputation of the protagonist’s atelier, accomplishing various goals and proving that alchemy has a place in society.
More recently, we’ve also seen titles like Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland, Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland and Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky all unfold in a similar fashion, albeit each with their own distinct twists on the formula. There’s a reason Gust keeps coming back to this formula: it helps keep the game focused, and provides a sense of ongoing progression that keeps players interested in the long term.
This isn’t to say that the heavy degree of freedom that Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey offered was somehow a “bad” thing, mind you — more that it’s a good idea to change things up every now and again so that not every game in the series ends up becoming a vast, sprawling adventure that potentially has no real “end” other than that which you define for yourself. (Indeed, even if you unlock all the “endings” for Atelier Firis, there’s still plenty more you can do if you want — particularly if you play the “DX” version!)
We’ll talk more about the overall game structure and mechanics of Atelier Lydie & Suelle in a later part of this feature, but as an overview for now, the game unfolds in discrete chapters, with each involving several distinct parts.
The main objective for each chapter is for Lydie and Suelle’s atelier to get promoted to the next rank, but before they can take the exam that makes this happen, they have to improve their atelier’s reputation. This is accomplished rather differently to how it was in Atelier Rorona in particular; in that game, you may recall, reputation was primarily a result of how many sidequests you picked up and completed successfully, and attaining the best ending in the game was dependent on maxing out this value by the end of the time limit.
In Atelier Lydie & Suelle, meanwhile, your reputation is increased by obtaining three “stars”. These are acquired by looking through various entries in the “Ambitions Journal” that the twins keep, and accomplishing the objectives therein. In each chapter of the story, there are four pages of objectives you can work on, and completing the majority of the objectives on a single page rewards you with a star.
Thus you only need to complete about two-thirds of the available objectives in total in order to move on — but as with most systems like this, there’s a strong implication that you might not be playing the game “optimally” if you do not complete all four pages when you have the opportunity to. You can go back and complete them later if you want — but given that the objectives are generally geared to what Lydie and Suelle will be capable of at that point in the story, you may as well take them on when they show up.
The objectives are generally themed into various categories. One might involve making friends with various people around Merveille; another might involve personal growth of some description on the part of Lydie and Suelle; another still might require them to improve their alchemical abilities. In practice, they work quite similarly to the Life Tasks in Atelier Shallie — the difference here, however, is that you don’t gradually discover the tasks as you play the game; they are, instead, presented explicitly to you at various milestones.
Once you’re satisfied you’ve fulfilled Lydie and Suelle’s “ambitions” sufficiently, you can head on over to Merveille’s castle, where the Atelier Ranking System exams are administered. Here, you’ll receive a particular objective to complete, and successfully accomplishing this raises your atelier’s rank to the next letter grade — simple as that.
The early game introduces the fact that these objectives might not be as straightforward as they first appear; in the case of alchemy-based tasks, for example, you might need to tweak the recipes somewhat — or at the very least find out some additional information — before you can accomplish the goal successfully. In other cases, you’re given minimal information with which you complete your task, and must figure certain things out for yourself.
Assuming you successfully pass the exam, what generally follows is the introduction of one of the titular “Mysterious Paintings”. These are paintings created through alchemy that actually contain little worlds inside them, and the kingdom of Adalet is interested in both collecting and understanding them. Since Lydie and Suelle accidentally stumble across one in their house’s basement — one which may or may not have been painted by their father, though he is quick to both deny this and lock them out of the basement from thereon — they are ideally placed to investigate the situation.
But more on all that as we look at each aspect of the game in detail; that’s the basics of both the narrative and mechanical setup for the game — from there, a great adventure begins, and you know it’s going to be another memorable one.
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