One of the things that becomes clear shortly after you start playing Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings is the fact that the game, as a whole, is deliberately a lot more focused than its immediate predecessor.
We touched on the basic ways in which this is achieved in the previous chapter, but now it’s time to take a closer look at how the game as a whole unfolds. It strikes a good balance between what we can think of as the “old-school Atelier” format and the freedom that some of the newer titles offer, making for a satisfying and enjoyable game that can be experienced at your own pace.
In other words, you’ve got as long as you want to accomplish the twins’ goal of becoming the best alchemy atelier in the kingdom — though that doesn’t mean they won’t have a few deadlines to meet along the way!
The early hours of Atelier Lydie & Suelle are, as you might expect, spent establishing the context of everything that is going on and introducing characters. We learn who Lydie and Suelle are, we learn that their father has good intentions but often ends up being a bit of a waste of space — and we learn that despite this, our heroines are determined to do right by their dearly departed mother.
We learn that Adalet is a kingdom that respects alchemy enough to put its own “ranking” system in place — though the certification process that Firis goes through in her own game is still seen as pretty much the pinnacle of the qualifications an alchemist can achieve in their career.
And we learn that despite their somewhat contrasting personalities, both Lydie and Suelle are more than willing to put the work in to make their atelier a success. Now, just how do they go about doing that?
The initial stages of the game are relatively straightforward; an in-game To-Do List informs you what you should be doing next, and as things get rolling all you really need to do is follow the instructions you’re given. Where things start to get interesting, however, is when Lydie and Suelle decide to sign up for the newly implemented Atelier Ranking System that the rulers of Adalet’s capital Merveille have put in place.
Getting started with this involves taking an entrance examination which, it turns out, is not as straightforward as it might appear at first. Following the provided recipe to the letter, Lydie and Suelle end up making a distorted version of the requested item — and as such, they end up failing.
From this, we’re taught that sometimes you need more information to go on before you jump into an attempt to accomplish an objective. Or, sometimes, to make a mistake you can learn from — an important life lesson in general, and one which their father Roger is intimately familiar with.
Once Lydie and Suelle determine what the problem actually was and successfully correct the recipe, we can be considered to be into the game proper. The narrative progresses in chapters, with each chapter tending to correspond to Lydie and Suelle working towards and achieving a new rank for their atelier.
There are several steps to this process: building a reputation before they are eligible to take the exam, taking the exam itself — and then, as part of the narrative, exploring a newly revealed Mysterious Painting as a reward for their successful studies and application of their new knowledge.
The first part of this process is where Atelier Lydie & Suelle’s gameplay is at arguably its most “freeform” — though there’s still a sense of structure to it. In order to improve their reputation, they scribble down a set of “ambitions” that they would like to achieve in their diary — these take the form of objectives with clear goals and criteria for success.
Each chapter — or rather rank of the Atelier Ranking System process — features four main tabs of ambitions for Lydie and Suelle to work on. Each tab is themed, and across all the available objectives pretty much every aspect of gameplay is covered in one form or another: exploration, combat, synthesis and socialising.
The objectives start out simple — make a specific thing, hunt a certain number of a specific enemy — but as Lydie and Suelle progress through the ranks, they become a little more complex. Alchemy objectives might task the pair with attaching particular traits or a minimum quality level to a final item, for example, while battle ambitions may simply give a type of enemy to look for rather than a specific named enemy.
The range of objectives on offer mean that you can generally focus your style of play on the aspects of the game you enjoy the most — though it does tend to work out that the most “optimal” way of playing tends to be engaging with a little bit of everything and not getting too bogged down in one place or another.
While you’re working on these objectives, various events will occur around Merveille, either as time passes or as Lydie and Suelle strike up relationships with various characters. Sometimes these are simple scenes that depict their growing friendship with other players on the game’s stage; sometimes these encounters result in a quest to complete.
In the latter case, these “subquests” are optional, but are an important means of advancing particular characters’ stories if you hope to see their ending by the time the game’s finale rolls around. Plus in many cases, you’ll find that completing the subquests awards you with helpful items and other benefits — for example, working on the tasks that Lydie and Suelle’s father offers them can result in very helpful additions to their workshop such as expanded storage capacity.
For the most part, though, the events and subquests are independent of the game’s main overall sense of progression; they simply provide alternative things to do that ultimately help to flesh out the game world and make it feel much more “alive”. This is something that the series has always done — particularly in its more “constrained” installments such as this one — and it works well to establish a sense of context, and keep you from feeling like all you’re doing is working down a checklist.
One aspect of gameplay that does often interact with the “ambitions” system, however, is Merveille’s request board. Here, as in many previous Atelier titles, quests are posted asking for the defeat of a certain number of monsters, the synthesis of a particular number of items or the gathering of a particular number of ingredients. Not all are time limited, but some are; while the game as a whole lacks any sort of time pressure, you will need to meet the deadlines of the requests if you want to reap the benefits.
Rewards are, of course, on offer for completing requests — and in some cases there are bonus rewards for completing them in a particular way, such as with a minimum quality level or specific trait attached in the case of synthesis tasks.
There’s no real need to “grind” them as in the Arland games, though it is worth noting that money is relatively hard to come by in Atelier Lydie & Suelle; you tend to get a stipend at the start of each chapter that grows as the twins’ rank improves, but aside from that, your main income will be from completing requests, as monsters don’t drop very much money at all, and selling gathered items (and most synthesised items, for that matter) is certainly not a quick route to profit.
This is actually kind of in keeping with some of the game’s themes, though; as we talked a little about when we discussed the setup of the game as a whole, the opening of Atelier Lydie & Suelle leads us to believe that the family as a whole is well off enough to own their own property in a busy town — but that any money which does come in these days tends to be frittered away by the twins’ father on art supplies or wasteful, ridiculous things that he thinks will help him with an alchemical “project”. With that in mind, it makes sense that Lydie and Suelle would have to put the work in themselves in order to line their pockets.
Once Lydie and Suelle have completed at least two thirds of the ambitions they have in place for that particular point in the story, you can move on to take the exam for the next atelier rank — alternatively, you can continue working on ambitions in order to completely fill out the book if you so desire, and doing so is a good means of ensuring you’ve got a good grasp on everything that is available to you at any given moment in the game’s overall progression.
The exam itself is fairly simple: you’re presented with a task to complete which is sometimes quite vague, and then sent off to go and achieve it. What’s interesting about exam tasks in particular is that they tend to have varying degrees of success; you can do the bare minimum in order to succeed, or you can exceed expectations. This is represented by a meter that appears any time you consult with exam administrator Mireille, so you can always take a look and see where you’re at and whether or not you need to put any work in.
In many respects, this side of things is quite similar to the class assignments in Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis, only here you have a much better idea of if you’re going to “pass” — and by how much — before you present your final submission.
Despite being an “alchemy” exam, the exams themselves don’t always task you with synthesising items, either; they may also task you with gathering items out in the field (in which case you’ll need to determine both the best field areas in which to find them and the gathering triggers around those fields that tend to drop the target items in question) or defeating monsters.
Sometimes, of course, the game subverts your expectations to a certain degree; one noteworthy example comes partway through the game where you’re sent off to go and lay the smackdown on a party of monsters that has taken up residence uncomfortably close to the town, only to find that a certain travelling alchemist we, as the audience, are already familiar with has already taken care of matters.
Naturally not wishing to take credit for something they didn’t do — they’re decent people, after all — Lydie, Suelle and their rival/friend/big sister/ohohoho-ing princess Lucia admit that someone else took care of their objective, and that they wouldn’t mind doing something else instead. This whole sequence is yet another means through which the game demonstrates Lydie and Suelle are very much serious about what they’re doing; they want to succeed on their own merits, not by taking any shortcuts — even though both of them have lazy days when they don’t feel like studying!
And the rewards on offer are significant for them; the game’s opening sees the pair sucked into a “Mysterious Painting” in their father’s basement, which he usually keeps locked, and enraptured with the vision of a beautiful woman who appears to live within the painting. Unable to reach her, though, their father becomes uncharacteristically stern towards them when they mention the painting, and he prevents them from looking at it again.
As such, the twins are filled with curiosity as to the truth behind Mysterious Paintings, and that’s where the third part of each chapter comes in. It just so happens that the Kingdom of Adalet has been collecting and restoring Mysterious Paintings — which, as should be abundantly clear at this point, are alchemical paintings with “worlds” inside them — and were looking for some brave souls to go and investigate them. You know what happens next.
The Mysterious Painting part of each chapter tends to be the most “narrative-centric” part of the game, since each Mysterious Painting is effectively a dungeon with mostly linear progression and something to accomplish at the other end. This is rarely as simple as “beat a boss”, however; in the first, Halloween-themed Mysterious Painting the twins explore, for example, they read a sign which claims they have been cursed, and that they must proceed through a spooky forest to a graveyard in order to have said curse lifted.
Not everything is as it seems in Mysterious Paintings, though — they are Mysterious, after all — and there are plenty of surprises in store for the twins as their journeys continue.
So that’s the basic gist of how the game as a whole works; everything else builds on that. And thus from here, we’ll take a closer look at the specific mechanical systems that Atelier Lydie & Suelle uses — and, of course, their similarities and differences with that which has come before.
In the meantime, I’ve got a big order for Healing Pads with a 5,000 Coll reward on the line, and they ain’t gonna make themselves…
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