The 19th Atelier game in 20 years, Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings is intended to be developer Gust's capstone for their anniversary. The final Atelier game in the Mysterious trilogy, Lydie and Suelle mark a return of dual protagonists since 2014's Escha and Logy. The Atelier series is nothing if not consistent, with drastic changes coming infrequently. Indeed, the only major change from its predecessor Atelier Firis to Lydie & Suelle is that there's no longer any English voice acting. Nevertheless, here's what we think of the early stages of Atelier Lydie & Suelle.
For those not well-versed in the cutesy Atelier worlds, here's a brief primer. Within the Atelier universe, magic and alchemy are not pseudosciences, but very real, and essential parts of life. From everything to weapons of war to a simple pair of pants, alchemy has a hand in creating everything in Atelier's Renaissance-inspired settings. Often, though not always, the Atelier games will feature a day-night cycle along with a calendar system. Traveling, crafting, exploring, and just about every action advances the in-game timer. The central plot judiciously ties into the calendar, and the metagame often becomes balancing adventuring with the storyline.
Common features in Atelier games are the saccharine designs, charming humor, and a generally laid-back attitude. Atelier Lydie and Suelle is no different. The titular twins, Lydie and Suelle are teenagers, tasked with handling their family's alchemy requests. After the untimely death of their mother, the twins' deadbeat father turns to painting literal doors to dreamlike worlds. The twins, spurred on by an image of what seems to be their mother, must balance the family's atelier reputation with exploring increasingly intricate paintings. The Atelier series has been no stranger to drama before, as the entire Dusk trilogy dealt with the impending apocalypse. While I'm still early in the story, I'm looking forward to seeing where the twins' adventures take them.
Speaking of the twins, the dynamic between Lydie and Suelle is engrossing. Past Atelier games with dual protagonists forced players to choose between one of two storylines to play through. Here, the twins are intertwined. Lydie is the older sister, fond of housework, reading, organizing, and the overall better alchemist. Suelle, on the other hand, is an energetic tomboy who's afraid of bugs, yet a genius in her own right. You can switch between which character you're controlling within their home, and each interacts with the world in different ways. Lydie wields a staff and uses it to whack trees for fruit. Suelle uses guns and breaks rocks by kicking them. The two, in absence of their mother, are doing their best to appear grown up, but it's clear they've still got a lot of maturing to do.
Players can find crafting materials both in the paintings and out in the real world too. Actions, like collecting water, picking herbs, or knocking over trees, should bear fruit. However, if you want the high-quality materials (and want to complete some quests along the way), you're going to have to run into some monsters. Battles are not random, and there's an always-handy turn indicator set up on the right-hand side. True to form, battles are turn-based and never terribly difficult. Indeed, the money earned from killing monsters is essentially meaningless, when compared to quests.
Perhaps in response to earlier criticisms of the combat system, Gust has added more features to battling this time around. Now, you're able to craft items in the middle of battle, as long as you set the necessary ingredients beforehand? Forget to equip a critical healing item? Just take a moment to stir a psychedelic cauldron and whip something up in a flash. Atelier Lydie & Suelle's battle system is also organized around the ideas of "pairs." Characters from both Atelier Firis and Atelier Sophie join your party, and unlock special skills, so long as they're paired up with the right characters.
Visually, Atelier Lydie & Suelle looks strikingly similar to Atelier Firis. Where it differs is in the painted realms. There's a colorful, bordered haze around the edge of your screen. Each step leaves behind a multicolored footprint. There's a dreamlike quality to the music and landscape. It's still too early to tell just how much of these painted worlds draw from works like Alice in Wonderland. Still, there's definitely a whole lot of artistic imagination realized here.
As a whole, I would describe the Atelier series as something like a cup of hot chocolate during a cold winter: sweet and warm enough to thaw out even the most frozen of folks. Atelier Lydie & Suelle is more of the same in that regard. Assuming there's no drastic dip in quality, I'm looking forward to experiencing the rest of the sisters' story.
Atelier Lydie & Suelle was previewed on PlayStation 4 with a code provided by the publisher.