Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings DX Review (Switch)
The extensive Nintendo Switch Atelier journey, which began March 27, 2018 in the West, has finally come full circle. Three years and 11 releases later, we’ve arrived, surprisingly, at the DX version of the very first Atelier entry to come to Switch: Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings. Over these past few years, I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing all 12 games on Switch, and Atelier has become one of my favorite RPG franchises to date. You might even consider me a “fanboy” at this point, though honestly this entry has proven to be more emotionally conflicting than anything else.
As a whole, the “Mysterious” subseries has probably been my least favorite I’ve played, even though all three entries have their merits and feature engaging gameplay loops. Lydie & Suelle DX has been tasked with tying up “Mysterious” plotline while reining back in the Atelier formula after Firis made some rather bold changes, and while it is successful at both, it ultimately isn’t enough to make the trilogy at large one of my favorites.
Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings DX is set eight years after the conclusion of Atelier Firis. It follows two twin sisters, Lydie and Suelle, as they try to make their family-run Atelier the greatest in the kingdom. Whereas most Atelier entries treat alchemy as a rather rare profession, it is surprisingly common in the kingdom of Adalet, of which the twin sister’s shop is considered a joke at best. Their aspirations for greatness, however, go beyond their sisterly bonds, as their father, Roger, and late mother once shared this dream, as well.
While Roger gives off the appearance of not really caring about the goal anymore, it is clear that the loss of his wife pains him daily. Nonetheless, aiming to keep the dream alive, Lydie and Suelle enroll in the Adalet Atelier Ranking System in order to slowly work their way up to the best atelier in the kingdom. This objective not only has the twins venturing out to all corners of their world, but also within Mysterious Paintings – living, breathing worlds full of materials, creatures, and mysteries. These are slowly collected by Adalet royalty and presented to kingdom alchemists as a reward to gaining new ranks. There’s even one of these paintings in the twin’s basement, though Roger – for whatever reason – keeps it under lock and key…
Although the story of Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings DX starts off relatively straightforward, there are some branches that aim to shake things up a bit. The main objective will remain improving your alchemical skills, thus the notoriety of the atelier itself, but this is accompanied by saving the world. Twice, really. One of these instances makes total sense, but the other feels like it was thrown in there just to “check a box” and would have been better left on the cutting room floor despite the main story feeling quite sterile at times.
Collectively, the narrative is pretty underwhelming, and many of the reveals are pretty much expected. The new additions to the cast aren’t very noteworthy, though they will occasionally have some interesting moments. With this being the endcap of the trilogy, naturally, the majority of the cast returns to reprise their roles from the previous two games. Truth be told, the best part of it all for me was not the returning Mysterious cast, but rather seeing the return of the blacksmith Hagel, who is easily one of my favorite characters in the Atelier universe.
Does Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings DX do enough to bring the trilogy to a proper conclusion? Sure, but that doesn’t make up for this set of games still feeling like a bit of a downgrade (narratively speaking) in comparison to the Dusk games that came before it, as well as the new Ryza entries that succeeded it. From what I can tell, all “endings” can be achieved in a single run, though you’ll need to put in a lot of effort in order to see the game’s “true ending” (which, admittedly, I did not see myself).
After Atelier Firis took the new open world approach and applied with mixed results at best, I was happy to see Lydie & Suelle go back to the basics in many ways. For starters, the game has returned to a smaller, but more meaningful world that is tied to a node-based world map. Lydie and Suelle will be able to travel to all sorts of destinations both within the Kingdom of Adalet, as well as through the various painting worlds that open up over time. Their base of operations is in the heart of the realm, Merveille, which is where all key characters (including the twins) reside.
In Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings DX, the primary objectives (aka gameplay loop) are as follows: increase the reputation of the atelier, receive the test for the next atelier rank, complete it, then explore the newest painting before repeating the process anew. The girls will start at rank G and must reach rank S if they truly want to be the greatest atelier in the entire kingdom. This primary objective style has been used in prior Atelier entries, but generally those have been accompanied by strict time limits. There is only one brief event that features a very relaxed time limit here. Beyond that, the player can take as much time as they want climbing the ranks.
Lydie and Suelle’s ambitions journal is the key to increasing the shop’s notoriety enough in order to take on each rank exam. These generally boil down to talking to certain NPCs, creating specific items via synthesis, and gathering materials or killing key enemies in a number of different areas. There are a ton of “ambitions” for each rank, but the player isn’t required to complete each and every one to ultimately advance to the next rank. They start out simple enough, and some can even be completed prior to officially receiving their entries in the ambitions journal.
This really speeds up things in the early hours, but as time goes on, ambitions get increasingly tedious to achieve. What starts out as discernable objectives eventually spirals out into rather vague requests that ultimately could take some luck, outside influence (ie. a guide), or a lot of free time to fulfill. Regardless, once Lydie and Suelle have gained at least two (sometimes three) stars of “reputation,” they can then take on the next rank’s exam. In general, these exams take far less effort to complete than the prerequisite ambitions do. Achieving the next rank will keep the narrative ball rolling, open up new optional character events (that really aren’t optional since they can grant powerful passives to said characters, but I digress), and open access to new locations, materials, and alchemy recipes.
Both Atelier Sophie and Atelier Firis managed to excel in terms of synthesis thanks to the new color-coded puzzle system, as well as inspiration-based recipe learning, and Atelier Lydie & Suelle continues to carry that torch. The synthesis… formula (see what I did there?) has been tweaked ever so slightly to make the process even more approachable than before, but just as engaging. Once materials have been selected, the player can choose different catalysts that will change up the color grid in which they place them, making it easier to create items with specific effects, properties, and traits.
On top of that, enhancing agents can be applied that make it easier to achieve the desired color-specific bonuses for any given synthesis. For me, synthesis is the all-star feature of the entire trilogy, and I’m sort of sad that it didn’t survive (or was otherwise abandoned) the transition into Ryza (although Ryza’s synthesis system is still good).
In the turn-based battles, the player’s party consists of three primary characters and three supporting characters, the latter of which will step into a primary role should their better half fall in combat. While swapping pairs of party members is possible at any time, the support row will always have limited functionality as long as their front (or primary) row pair is still alive. The entire cast has an array of unique support role functions that may or may not activate based on their chosen pair, providing a reason to experiment and mix and match party members in order to achieve the ideal/desired functions.
For example, Firis in a support role with either Lydie or Suelle (but probably any alchemist) will follow up either twin’s elemental-based bombs with matching – often devastating – elemental attacks of her own. All playable party members have access to Atelier’s iconic alchemical items in combat, but only a select few (ie. actual alchemists) can use the strongest ones. What the twins cannot do, however, is guard incoming attacks for other allies, a tool that is essential to keeping alive squishier party members against more formidable foes.
There are additional combat features (combination attacks, battle mix, etc.) that will not be outlined here, but here is one important takeaway: blowing up enemies with powerful items has and likely always will be fun, and keeping gear up to date helps as well. All things considered, Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings DX is a little unbalanced in terms of difficulty, with a certain important fight towards the end (but not quite at the end) being especially brutal. It’s doable, of course, but going from 0 to 60 instantly is pretty annoying.
Remember me mentioning the return of the beautiful, bald blacksmith known as Hagel? He is key to upgrading weapons and armor, just like the good old days (Atelier Arland veterans will know him well)! The materials used – not the actual weapon/armor craft itself – has always played an integral role in player power, but never as much as they do here. On top of better quality components increasing the base stats of gear, weapons can be fitted with two synthesizable components that will vastly increase their potency, though armor is a bit more straightforward and does have subcomponents. Decking out the entire party can cost a pretty penny, but it’s well worth it in the end.
How are you going to afford all of these things, though? Merveille’s own notice board, of course! On top of receiving a stipend with each new rank, the best way to accumulate money is to fulfill requests from the notice board. These are essentially fetch/kill quests that will reward the player with items or money depending on the request. Many of these aren’t worth the rewards or effort, but occasionally requests will be made that are simply too easy to turn down. Either way, the notice board is a great way to generate some additional revenue.
If this all sounds a bit by-the-numbers, that is because it is. For an Atelier experience, Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings DX plays things rather safe, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When the core of it all is so engaging, you don’t necessarily have to have an insanely robust narrative or an unbelievable setting to keep things entertaining. Where the game falters, however, is by wearing out its welcome.
It can take upwards to 40-50 hours to achieve the normal ending of Lydie & Suelle, and it feels just a bit too long when considering the objectives at hand. While I had no problems with Ryza’s longer base campaigns compared to the Arland and Dusk entries that were often completable in 20-25 hours (not seeing or doing everything, of course), something about the longer experience here just feels a bit “off.”
Whether it be the result of a very redundant objective loop (NOT gameplay – there is a difference), or just an underwhelming narrative in the trilogy at large, it honestly feels like the game could have had three or four less atelier ranks and fared a lot better as a result. All that, in combination with the aforementioned ambition requirements getting increasingly more tedious, honestly made Lydie & Suelle start to feel like a chore to conclude.
It’s still undoubtedly a solid Atelier experience, but it is by no means among my favorites of the franchise. Moreover, the DX version includes a bunch of previously released DLC, several quality-of-life improvements (ex. speed toggles), as well as some brand new content specific to this release. Like any Atelier game, there are a TON of extras that can be done here should the player want to invest more time in it.
Thanks to the inclusion of painting worlds, Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings DX boasts a ton of unique scenery that simply wasn’t viable in Atelier Firis’s open world, and certainly wouldn’t have been rendered as sharply within Atelier Sophie’s original Playstation 3 hardware constraints. The player will visit locales consisting of dense thickets, overgrown swamps, and desiccated wastelands, to more unconventional locales (via paintings) like halloween-inspired forests, rolling plains with seas of stars in the sky, and much more. Even Merveille itself is pleasing to the eyes, though all of these exist with some caveats.
Performance can be a bit of a rollercoaster, with more populated/dense areas chipping away at the framerate. Furthermore, painting worlds lose a bit of their luster from their associated HUD overlay of rotating colors that, I guess, is supposed to remind the player that they’re in a painting, but is more distracting than helpful. It isn’t unbearable, but an optional toggle would have been appreciated here. On the other hand, the superb soundtrack in Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings DX helps make up for some of the previously mentioned presentation gripes, and may in fact be among my favorites of the entire series.
Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings DX and the Mysterious trilogy as a whole are probably my least favorite entries in the series. Despite that, they are all still worth your time and money if you are a fan of the Atelier loop. While I can’t say whether the new content alone makes Lydie & Suelle in particular worth picking up for returning players (I haven’t played through it, and even if I did, I did not play the spinoff title – Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists – in which it was based on), the quality-of-life features alone may be enough to convince some to give it another go. In my opinion, it isn’t the finest example of what the series has to offer (save for synthesis nuances, which may very well be the best in the entire series) but it is still a journey worth taking.