20-year-old series shows why it works

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By Alexander O. Cuaycong
and Anthony L. Cuaycong

WITHOUT fail save for a brief interlude at the turn of the millennium, the Atelier series has churned out a game every single year since 1997. Even as Atelier Marie: The Alchemist of Salburg proved to be a critical and commercial hit, it’s fair to argue that Gust did not anticipate the title to be just the first in a beloved franchise. That said, the developer has taken nothing for granted; improvements that strengthen the brand overall have come with every succeeding release. And, in this regard, Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings is no exception; it carries its name proudly, for the most part meeting expectations of fans via a healthy blend of combat, exploration, and creativity, with a light-hearted story weaving all the elements together.

In Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings, players follow the titular Marlen twins in their quest to become experienced alchemists. Stumbling upon a painting that leads to another world where rare minerals abound, the two resolve to use the opportunity to go on adventures and hone their alchemy in hopes of one day running the best atelier in their country. All told, it’s a grand if straightforward culmination of the outstanding Mysterious Trilogy.

To players long familiar with the Atelier series, Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings provides essentially the same visual experience as its predecessors; the art style is instantly recognizable, imbibing a colorful, vibrant, and bright atmosphere. And for all the seeming shallowness of its premise, it manages to hew closely to the theme set in previous games. In fact, it’s near flawless, ably capturing the mystery and beauty of the many environments Lydie and Suelle get to explore.

And explore the Marlens will in Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings. From the town they live in to the many different locations the painting exposes them to, they are given myriad things to do. The open-world setup from Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey is gone, making way instead to a pick-a-map style of gameplay akin to that of Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland. Nonetheless, each map is detailed, and brings with it a bevy of enemies to fight for experience and reagents to collect for alchemy. Meanwhile, the turn-based combat mechanics haven’t changed, a boon in light of the gentle learning curve. Parenthetically, choosing from among party members, using items, and attacking with skills are all standard fare for veterans of — and easy pickups for newbies to — the series.

In any case, the real fun is provided by Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings via its alchemy mini-game. Players are enjoined to use and process materials into potions or food. Said materials can be acquired — by purchase or by defeating monsters in certain locations on the map — and combined with reagents to produce powerful items. While the concepts of alchemy and synthesis might seem intimidating at first glance, it’s actually easy to understand, even for newcomers to the series.

Parenthetically, there’s something cathartic about creating, and then using, potions, weapons, and crystals, all of whose efficacy is dependent on the proper blending of ingredients. The only real downside is that better materials are hard to find and drop only from more dangerous enemies. In any case, Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings brings about a comfortable rhythm of exploration, combat, and alchemy. Neither pressuring nor particularly difficult, it’s a relaxing way to spend an afternoon with the Nintendo Switch on hand.

On the flipside, the hybrid console’s version of Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings suffers from technical concerns that prevent players from enjoying it to the fullest; it doesn’t run particularly well, displaying frame rate issues despite the lower graphical requirements. Meanwhile, the combat and the story won’t surprise anyone, and might at times feel rote and mundane. And the alchemy mini-game, by far its best inclusion, relies on grinding, a task not everyone will be happy to perform.

All told, Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings is a good buy for the Switch. It’s definitely not for everyone; not all those new to the Atelier series will enjoy its plain story, straightforward mechanics, and seemingly underwhelming graphics. For longtime followers of the franchise, however, the latest release provides more of the same old, same old — which is to say more of what it has done best over the last two decades and change.