Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings is the third and final game in the Atelier “Mysterious” trilogy. If we take a quick look back at the previous two games then you’ll see that there have been some pretty big changes between them. Atelier Sophie was praised by many for getting rid of the time limit system, but this was then partially brought back in the sequel. Atelier Firis, however, managed to deliver a massive change providing huge open world setting to explore - a series first.

So, you might be wondering if Atelier Lydie & Suelle has continued to innovate and if there are any exciting new alterations to close out the Mysterious trilogy. Sadly, you may be slightly disappointed. There have been some changes but not all of them have been positive. Let’s get a few of the negative ones out the way with first.

For starters, the open world setting is gone and instead the game has returned to having lots of separate maps to explore. It seems a bit of an odd design choice to introduce such an immense change to the formula in the middle of a trilogy but then immediately get rid of it in the next game.

Also, rather disappointingly for those who have been following the series on Sony’s handheld console, there's no Western release planned for PS Vita despite there being one in Japan. To top it all off, there's no English dub, just Japanese voiceovers with English subtitles.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. For one thing the restrictive time limit system has disappeared again, which means that you’re free to explore the game at your own pace. You no longer have to try to balance levelling up your alchemy skills while simultaneously trying to increase your combat level and explore every area, all while a clock is ticking down in the background.

What's more, Atelier Lydie & Suelle definitely has the strongest storyline out of the trilogy.  This time around the game feels like it has a little bit more excitement to it while still having all the humour and relaxed charm that you’d expect from an Atelier game.

The protagonists of the title, Lydie and Suelle, are twin sisters who are both rookie alchemists. Unfortunately their father is a bit of waster who tends to spend most of the household’s money, which means that it’s up to the twins to try to make a bit of cash through their failing alchemy business. Things begin to look up for them when the kingdom announces a brand new ranking system for ateliers, with those on the ranking system receiving financial aid depending on their level. This spurs the girls on to try to be the best atelier in the kingdom and achieve the much coveted ‘S’ rank.

To move up a rank you need to pass an exam, but before you're allowed to take it you’ll need to improve the reputation of the atelier. There are plenty of ideas listed in Suelle’s notebook which will give you ways to improve your standing in town, with tasks such as talking to town residents, fighting monsters, or creating specific items with alchemy.

Of course if you’re going to create items using alchemy then you’ll first need to gather lots of ingredients first. There are many places to visit outside of town and while it’s not the big open world of Atelier Firis, the areas are much bigger than they were in Atelier Sophie.

Unique to this game are special “mysterious” paintings created by an alchemist long ago, and tyu’ll be able to travel inside these and explore. This creates a great excuse to have some really memorable and quirky maps; you’ll get to visit a plethora of vibrant places like a Halloween area, as well as an abandoned ice palace and an underwater environment. So while Atelier Lydie & Suelle initially feels like a bit of a step backwards when compared to Atelier Firis, the inclusion of these fantastical locations helps to create some really amusing and eye-catching locations.

As this is an Atelier game, alchemy plays a pretty big part in it and thankfully the system is just as robust and fun as ever. You’ll learn new recipes in various ways; some of them will be unlocked during the story and others can be discovered by reading books. That said, most of them will only be uncovered by performing specific actions in-game, but thankfully there’s a recipe book which gives you clues on what you need to do.

Once you have a recipe and the right ingredients you can begin crafting. The game doesn’t do a brilliant job of explaining how it all works but once you start playing around with it you’ll find that it feels fairly intuitive. And while it’ll initially seem quite simple, the system definitely gets more in-depth as you play around with it. It’s really rewarding when you begin to master it and learn how to use the most optimal materials to create powerful traits on your crafted items.

Combat, meanwhile, is fairly standard for a Japanese RPG; it’s turn based and you’ll have to use a variety of skills and crafted items to defeat monsters. Much like the alchemy, it’s perhaps a little dull in the beginning, but it starts to get interesting once you gain access to more characters. Once you have a few party members you’ll be able to form two lines, a front and back row. Those in the front do all of the attacking while the back rests and recovers. Activating certain conditions will enable the back row characters to perform extra follow-up attacks which can be used to deadly effect. 

While there are lots of people that you’ll make friends with during your adventures and plenty of characters who return from the previous games, there are only six playable characters. This is definitely a bit of a shame, and means that after a while combat can unfortunately begin to feel a little stale.

Atelier Lydie & Suelle is a rather strange concoction. It feels like it pick-'n'-mixes some of the best bits from the series while ignoring some of the newer, more innovative elements. For example, it would have been nice if developer Gust had refined the open world setting instead of just banishing it entirely - it all makes the Mysterious trilogy feel like a bit of a fragmented set. Still, the story is easily the best one in the trilogy, even if the gameplay doesn’t stray too far from the normal Atelier formula.

Conclusion

Atelier Lydie & Suelle isn't as innovative as its predecessors, but that doesn’t mean you should write it off entirely - it tells a charming and captivating story that ends up being the best tale in the whole Mysterious trilogy. There are plenty of enchanting areas to explore as well, and as always, there's a deep alchemy system for you to master.