We paraphrase the oldest maxim in the book when we say "never judge a game by its title". If you did judge Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings on its name alone then you might never get round to playing it, and thus it will from now on be called ALAS:TAATMP for short. Ok, jokes aside, the latest game in this long-running series is the final offering in the Atelier Mysterious trilogy, and we've been playing it on PS4 where it lands this week.
This JRPG sees us transported to an atelier (if you don't know what one of those is, Wikipedia tells us that it's a professional artist's workshop) populated by a family of three: a father, who is a bit of a loser in that he fritters all the money away, and his twin daughters, called Lydie and Suelle, who seemingly bully their dad a bit and are determined to return the atelier to its former glory. Being rookie alchemists, we have to learn with them as they pick up new recipes and level up their abilities to make new things. It isn't really explained very well how to do this at first, but soon it becomes quite intuitive with better items giving you better quality goods. The better the ingredient quality is, the more coloured patterns it gives you to place on a grid, and if you place all of the pieces well enough, you'll make something of a high quality. This system does get more interesting as you get more experienced and you really do feel you're learning along with the twins.
The story in this game is quite good, and it revolves around a widower father bringing up his two twin daughters after their mother passed away. The twins, aided by the kingdom's new atelier ranking system, want to raise up the ranks to the coveted 'S' grade. To do this you need to complete certain challenges such as killing a wide variety of creatures, helping people around the town with their requests, and making new things in your alchemy pot. Clearly, to make these various items you'll need to head out into the world and get the ingredients you need to make them.
The game world itself is not open, instead you have a map where you can travel to various locations by clicking on their titles. This was a little disappointing and it probably would have made the game better if you could wander around at your own pace finding critters and objects. Once you get to the forests and swamps, you must fight and collect as much as you can carry to get on with your alchemy projects back at the atelier. Most of the time it works fine, but it can be quite hard to identify what certain items look like when you're searching the levels, which means that looking for one specific item can occasionally drive you a little bit crazy.
One thing we didn't like was the spawning of creatures, for example, one task saw us collecting eggs from a griffin and once it was defeated we just jumped out and back to the same map and it was there again in the same location ready to be killed again and give us more eggs. This made the game a little predictable and lessened the fun. Another source of disappointment was the fact that when running around town there were various characters you couldn't interact with and buildings you couldn't go inside, even though they were totally open; you couldn't get past the invisible walls. Also, there were various things like flower beds and chairs that you couldn't jump on or over. It made the game feel a little rushed in truth, but the graphics, on the whole, were really beautiful, especially in the anime style cutscene moments and inside some of the worlds you could jump to.
Talking about the other worlds, the catchy title mentions the mysterious paintings which are dotted around the kingdom. Once stood in front of these, the twins are able to jump inside the paintings which allow us to visit worlds like an abandoned ice palace and a Halloween style map. This means that there are lots of nice locations for the characters to visit and exploration isn't limited to just forests and farms. It also means that a wide variety of enemies are available to be battled such as ghosts and blob monsters. While on the subject of battling, our twins, along a few other people they pick up along the way, fight monsters in a turn-based fashion choosing from standard attacks, specials, items and defends, which is pretty standard in JRPGs. While this is cool, it's nothing really new and isn't exactly a game changer. You can also avoid a lot of the battles by just running past the critters on the levels. The monsters are usually represented by just one moving beast, but when the battle unfolds there could be several of them to face. This lottery meant that most of the time we were just dodging the conflicts if our health bars were a little low. The combat system does, however, get more interesting as you pick up new characters to fight or heal with, and you can form two rows of battlers.
The soundtrack had a very smooth fantasy feel to it and suited the game perfectly, somewhat reminding us of an atypical JRPG outing. The one bone of contention that we did have is that the game isn't dubbed into English, instead having people talking Japanese with English subtitles. If we were learning Japanese, this might have been more fun, but we really would have said arigato if they had had English voiceovers. The impact of this meant that it was harder to connect with the story and the characters. We really enjoyed the difference in the personalities of the two twins and their interactions, but maybe it would have been more interesting if we weren't reading all the time.
Overall ALAS:TAATMP is worth a play if you're into JRPGs, especially if you're an Atelier fan. It's the final outing in the Mysterious trilogy, although while it wraps things up with a nice story, it doesn't significantly build on the changes made in the previous two games, and therefore it ends up being a little bit unsurprising as to what's going to happen. However, not taking risks doesn't make it a bad game and we enjoyed our time being alchemists in the atelier. The combat, the soundtrack, and the overall feel are all pretty straightforward, and while we enjoyed our time searching for items to make things to sell, there was a feeling that we'd done it all before. Having said all that, if you're an Atelier fan (and even if you're not) and you've got thirty odd hours to kill and fancy a JRPG shot from the third person, then this one's worth a go.
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