Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings Review by SwitchWatch
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Release Date: March 27th 2018
Price as of Article: $59.99 USD, £53.99 GBP
After 20 years and 19 mainline entries plus an eye opening amount of spin-offs and side games, it’s safe to say that the Atelier series is a niche but highly prolific franchise of Koei Tecmo’s. Before I get into this review I think it’s only fair to state that, although I have been aware of the series for quite some time and have almost pulled the trigger on trying them at various points, Lydie & Suelle is my first Atelier game. I suspect that as such a niche series, there will be many other people new to it too, so I feel I do have something to offer to a fair amount of people.
The basic premise of this Atelier game follows the titular twins Lydie and Suelle as they strive to build their father’s alchemy shop to be the best in the land. Despite their youthful enthusiasm they are struggling to survive through hard times. Their father, while well meaning, is a negligent soul who can’t take care of his daughters and business well enough since his wife (and their mother) passed away. There are days when the twins struggle to even afford a proper meal while their dad prefers to while away his days painting. It’s a depressing, uncomfortable situation told in a lighthearted way as though their father, Roger, is a bit of a cheeky scamp in an “Oh you, what’s he like?” kind of way.
While cleaning one day, the twins hear a muffled and mysterious voice coming from their father’s forbidden basement dwelling. Don’t worry, it’s not as dodgy as it sounds, instead the voice appears to be coming from one of Roger’s paintings on the wall. It’s not long until Lydie and Suelle are whisked away into the painting. Obviously, slightly concerned at their situation and wary of a distant stranger walking away from them, they become distracted by the fact there’s a bucketload of high quality alchemic ingredients laying around. With gold lighting up in their eyes they believe this is the way they can become the best atelier in the kingdom.
Our two main protagonists are very likeable and they each have their own personality. Lydie is the more quiet, thoughtful one, while Suelle is the more outlandish of the two and isn’t afraid to speak her mind, even going as far as telling Roger what a terrible father he is. Having two close and inseparable people together at all times helps the story progress as the two chat to each other about what’s going on and their situation. I loved how entwined and inseparable the two siblings are and because they talk so freely with one another from the same perspective, you really feel involved with them and you understand their predicaments very well.
The story overall is a bit quaint when compared to other JRPGs but I think that’s why I enjoyed it so much. It was refreshing not to have to destroy the big doomsday monster as the primary goal. It’s like a little anime world you can get lost in for a couple dozen hours. The writing is pretty much okay, if leaning a little too heavily on cutesy anime tropes at times that stop it from being taken too seriously. I’m generally not a fan of the fan-service anime story and dialogue in games, for example, I played FATE/Extella not too long ago and honestly could not bare they way they talked. Lydie & Suelle has got it spot on though. Sure it’s not for everyone, but at least those it’s not for won’t roll their eyes in contempt.
One thing to note about the Atelier series is that there are sub-series stories within the general Atelier umbrella. Lydie & Suelle is the third and final game in what’s known as the “Mysterious” story arc. Naturally, this is an unfortunate situation to be in for first timers but as a first timer myself, I honestly felt fine not knowing anything that had come before. I’m sure there are references and characters that went well over my head but I wasn’t aware of missing out on anything, which I feel is important. You can go into this entry without too much worry about what came before.
As far as the sound design goes, it’s really very nice. There is some lovely music here with lots of variety. It’s quaint, whacky and magical at times. As for a high-praise comparison, the soundtrack of this Atelier game strongly reminds me of early Studio Ghibli films, more specifically Kiki’s Delivery Service in which the European-esque setting of both that movie and this game seem so alike with their dainty, whimsical musical style. It’s really top notch.
A little out of place from the standard musical score, there’s a great opening theme tune you’d find in any anime worth its salt. It doesn’t fit with the rest of the music but it provides a nice fun introduction to the game.
And finally I have to say the incredibly weird song that plays while in the blacksmith’s will be imbedded in my brain until the day I die.
The game is fully voice acted, even in minor cutscenes which is very commendable for a game this niche. It’s all in Japanese though which some of you will love, while others will happily skip by. Honestly, it’s hit and miss for me. It’s just a little too anime at times with overly childish voices and over the top delivery. That just comes with the territory though.
Visuals and Performance
Visually the game is definitely a mixed bag. I’m not going to be overly harsh on the development studio since they are but a smallish team with admirable ambition. The character models of the main cast are great. They look like they’re straight out of an anime show with convincing looking shadings and all. There’s lots of detail even if animations are a little stiff.
The environments are quite poor though. The large town you live in is pretty vacant and explorative areas lack detail, textures and geometry. It would truly sit fine on a PlayStation 2, just without the higher resolution. I’m not knocking it too much as this didn’t impact my enjoyment of the game overall, but it would have been nice to have things filled out and with a bit more detail. To be honest, I’m quite grateful they actually tried. Games of similar budget would have settled for a menu system for a town and bobbing heads or character stills for cutscenes and the fact they actually tried and gave us some cutscenes with movement, camera cuts and direction is refreshing, especially after coming from Penny-Punching Princess and games of this kind where developers play it safe all too often.
One sour note is the frame rate which, while mostly steady, can be rather low in the open environments and in handheld mode, especially. The game tries for a 30 frames per second experience but it is often below that which is a shame. It’s not a game that should struggle on the Switch considering environments look like a PlayStation 2 game so in that regard it’s not exactly the most optimised of ports. Also, considering this release has been out quite a while in Japan already, I don’t see much in the way of a future patch to boost its performance. It can be quite jarring, and if you’re a little less forgiving about frame rates than I, you may want to consider getting this game on PS4 or PC.
The gameplay is a quaint mix of JRPG battles, material collecting and item crafting. It’s light to say the least. While there is a main quest line to follow in order to progress the story and allow your atelier to become the best in the land, there is one recurring gameplay loop for it: Entering hostile environments, picking up materials, going back to your shop and mixing them up to satisfy whoever needs what item.
There is a progression system which I like, advancing the story will allow you to go to new places which means new ingredients which means discovering new recipes. It’s very satisfying and rather balanced in my opinion but it rarely gets more adventurous.
Mixing your items isn’t complicated either. You select which ingredients you want from available candidates where quality can vary wildly. Once you’ve selected what you want there is a mini-game of sorts, although that maybe the wrong description for it. Basically, each ingredient has a set amount of squares that you can fill up a grid with. You put all of these squares from all of the ingredients to create the final product. You can boost or add special properties to your creations if the different coloured squares add up to enough and they can be boosted even more if the right coloured squares are added to spaces with the same coloured frame. It sounds a little complicated but it’s actually rather simplistic. In fact most things are rather simple and well explained by the various tutorials that you’ll come across in the early stages of the game.
As you scour the environments looking for those sweet, sweet materials, you’ll come across plenty of monsters who will try to attack you. You can preempt their offence by whacking them with your staff, giving you the upper hand at the start of a battle. The battle system is as standard as they come. You can attack, use special attacks which use up MP and delve into your bag to use items for healing or offence. It’s as simplistic as the rest of the game mechanics and doesn’t quite add a dynamic to the game that you may be hoping for. There are plenty of characters in the game that will enter your party over time so there’s variety here, and eventually you do get more interesting things such as mixing during battle, but it doesn’t add too much to the game.
With three difficulties to chose from you won’t be surprised to hear that Atelier Lydie & Suelle isn’t exactly a taxing experience. Previous entries in the series boasted a nerve-wracking timer in order to fulfil your purpose, but as a recent entry this been left by the wayside and gives you a more casual experience, stress-free. The only timers you have are in completing side-quests and even those are generous and not to be worried about.
To sum up the gameplay, it’s simplistic and on the easy side of the difficulty spectrum which will no doubt put people off thinking its too watered down to be compelling enough. I was worried too. But actually, the general gameplay loop that provided this light experience did have me hooked and, of course, the charming story was what made me stay for the whole ride even if it’s mostly complete fluff.
With a whopping £53.99 and $59.99 price tag, Lydie & Suelle presents the highest of the high for the North American market and even way above what’s usual for a release in the United Kingdom on the eShop. That’s generally the price to pay in order for fans of these niche Japanese titles to enjoy them with a translation. If you’re a huge fan of the series I’m sure you’ll find it worth it, at least with the physical release which should be found at a fairer price. For newcomers, it presents a bigger step to take. Paying more for this than say Breath of the Wild or Splatoon 2 makes handing over the cash difficult even if it’s an enjoyable, but very niche game. To be honest, there is a lot of game here and it spreads the story out very well. In that regard I think you’ll get decent amount of time out of the game, although a more reasonable price would have been much nicer.
Refreshingly grounded story
Addictive gameplay loop
Maybe too simple for some