[Disclosure: A review copy was provided for the contents of this article]
Whenever I go to pick out a JRPG from the myriad selection now available on western shores, I generally try to avoid tired cliches wherever possible. With that objective in mind, I hope you’ll forgive me for initially doubting that Atelier Lydie and Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Painting had the credentials to offer anything even remotely interesting.
Players control the titular heroines Lydie and Suelle; a pair of teenage sisters who insist on dressing almost exclusively in renaissance inspired burlesque outfits. As the third game in a trilogy (bear in mind that this is the first one I’ve played) some players will already know that Lydie and Suelle run a struggling Atelier (basically a crafting shop) with their utter fuckwit of a father. This backstory is delivered mercifully quickly, whilst access to a surprisingly open fast travel system means you’ll be delivering bandages to uninteresting NPC’s in literally seconds.
Just as soon as it becomes apparent that the Atelier business is both hard work and rather underpaid, the sisters learn that their city plans to introduce a formal grading system for all businesses. Those rated highest will receive additional funding, as well as fame and lucrative, exclusive contracts. But how will the sisters compete with the better established and more esteemed Ateliers? Under normal circumstances, they wouldn’t….
But, thanks to the moronic parental unit that I mentioned earlier, they suddenly find themselves able to tumble into a painting that is filled with rare and powerful crafting components. Whilst you might be hoping that this discovery leads to a rapid succession of ever more interesting locations to visit, that’s not really how Lydie and Suelle works. You see, no matter how big a dickhead he is, dad somehow manages to restrict access to his cellar (where the magical painting thing happens) every time the girls really need him not to.
The game therefore becomes a kind of gameplay loop involving five or six specific gameplay elements. There are lengthy dialogue sequences between the girls, their dad, their friends and other occupants of the town they live in. These often cuff or collar the actual crafting sequences, which almost always involve randomly clicking through confusing menus to determine the best mix of ingredients for any given creation. Sometimes quality matters, whilst on other occasions the prospective buyers don’t give a shit how crap the item you peddle to them is.
Actually doing the selling simply involves running around various locations (or fast traveling) to fulfill the requirements of a given shopping list or other contract. It’s mostly inane, with some of the least interesting dialogue in the game – at least the scenes with Lydie, Suelle and their father can be funny from time to time. I’m loathe to say that the main thrust of the game is the exploration scenes (because they are, at best, 50% of the game) but they are undoubtedly the best bit.
The girls (and up to four other playable characters) are free to roam around the painted landscapes, all of which are imaginatively realized. There are a fair few to visit, including early entries that feel like saccharine sweet wonderlands, to more interesting later entries that are themed around events like Halloween, for example. Combat features during these parts of the game as well, although it is far from as taxing as veterans of the genre might expect.
The player party takes turns to trade blows with their enemy until one side falls over. Item use and special abilities are the order of the day, but the game also uses a front and rear rank system that allows characters to withdraw and rest mid battle. I honestly don’t think I was defeated in a single battle during Lydie and Suelle, but that’s alright – fights break up the more mundane parts of the game and deliver loads of crafting components. After all, what monster isn’t best diced up and made into either a soup or a bandage (the choice is yours?)
Whilst Atelier Lydie and Suelle is undoubtedly a mish mash of various components (most of which feel underwhelming) it somehow comes together as more than the sum of its parts. It’s multi-platform approach means that it looks crap on the PS4 (I imagine it’s ok on Vita and Switch) and the soundtrack is completely generic. Even so, the main characters have a charm that is undeniable and the game world is bright, vibrant and imaginative. I can’t say that this is a game for everyone, but for fans of JRPG’s that can stomach something a little different, I recommend that you: