In celebration of the series’ latest release, we rank its past installments.
Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings just released in America, and I am ecstatic. The Atelier series, developed by Gust, is one of my favorite video game franchises of all time. Each game stars one or more alchemists who practice their craft, forge friendships, fight monsters, and grow emotionally over the course of the narrative. The series, most of which is divided into sub-trilogies, is known for its in-depth item synthesis mechanics, which get partially retooled with each new release. In celebration of this latest release, I decided to look back at the series’ past. The following are my rankings of the series’ last five installments, spanning the current trilogy (the Mysterious games) as well as the previous trilogy (the Dusk games).
5. Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book
The first game in the Mysterious trilogy, Sophie was the first Atelier game I played at the time of its release. I had played previous installments right before this one came out and loved them, so I was excited to see what Gust would bring next. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm was quickly curbed–Sophie is easily my least favorite Atelier game that I’ve played.
Sophie isn’t terrible, but it suffers from feeling basic compared to the rest of the series. The characters don’t receive much development, and their designs are less inspired than in other installments. Plachta in particular looks absurd in her doll form; her fan-servicey costume doesn’t make even the slightest bit of sense.
The combat in this installment is also disappointing. After the prior two installments utilized six-person battle parties, Sophie knocked that number down to four. As if a smaller party with less developed characters isn’t bad enough, the pool of villains in Sophie is lame. Punis and various wolves are common foes for the early stages of Atelier games, but I found myself fighting almost nothing but those over ten hours in.
With all that said, Sophie has some cool aspects to it. It introduces a geometric puzzle-solving aspect to the item synthesis process, which is fun. The narrative concept of the protagonist learning alchemy from a talking book is also neat. It’s also worth noting that most of the game’s basic mechanics are totally functional–they just lack the unique flavor and detail that help other Atelier games shine. Overall, Sophie isn’t terrible by any means, but it’s easily the worst of the series’ recent installments.
4. Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea
The final installment in the Dusk trilogy, Shallie had a high bar to meet. The trilogy’s first two games were among my favorite videogames ever, and introduced a world ripe with unique lore. With some of the most polished combat and item-making systems in Atelier system, Shallie was posed to be the best one yet. But was it?
Nah, but it wasn’t a massive disappointment like Sophie, either. Shallie is a perfectly good game with a lot of things going for it. As I previously mentioned, most of its gameplay mechanics are well-constructed. Its item synthesis system might be the best Atelier has had thus far. The combat is a lot of fun as well. You have a six-member battle party where three attack from the front while the other trio support in the back, and you can shift characters around mid-battle as needed. There are a lot of great enemy monsters in this game, too–the bosses are legitimately intimidating, and the final boss is especially so.
Though Shallie doesn’t contribute as much to the Dusk series’ lore as I wish it had, it still adds a fair amount. The art direction is very cool, and the game has some of my favorite maps in Atelier history. The Dusk Sea–which is actually a desert of sand–is a cool play on expectations. There’s also a sunken ship level that houses a well-done narrative about loss.
On the downside, a lot of the main characters in Shallie aren’t as cool as other installments’ cast members. Almost all of them look great visually–the designs are killer–but lack narrative development. For instance, you get to choose between two protagonists, both named Shallie, and the choice of who’s cooler is abundantly clear. The game’s most standout characters are ones who return from previous installments. It’s great to see them again, but I wish the new characters stood out more.
Nonetheless, Shallie is a good game. It’s art direction is a lot of fun, the characters all look fantastic even if they’re inconsistently developed, and the world map has a variety of awesome locations. The Dusk world gets some cool new lore in this final installment, even if it’s not as much as I personally hoped for. This is a solid game all around, and it’s no wonder that it’s a lot of people’s favorite Atelier.
3. Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky
This was the first Atelier game I ever played, and it’s the reason I became an avid fan. I was at GameStop one day and I happened to see a copy on the shelf. Logy’s white hair reminded me of Kaworu Nagisa (one of my favorite characters ever) and the info on the back sounded interesting, so I took a chance. It paid off–I have almost nothing bad to say about this one.
The cast of playable characters in this game is among the series’ best. I like them all, and they’re all different types of badass. There’s a clone-girl with a gigantic sword, a wandering cowboy, an inventor with a powerful hammer weapon, a young healer, and more. The supporting cast is delightful as well, as are the various monsters and other fantasy details to the world. The game is relatively dark visually, as the protagonists deal with a phenomenon called the Dusk, but the narrative includes plenty of more light-hearted moments and themes of following one’s dreams. The overall feel is one of persevering through troubled times, which always feels relevant.
The game’s time-limit is the source of much of my praise for it, but also of my biggest complaint. You receive a different set of tasks to complete every month in-game. Some are mandatory, while others are optional but provided perks if finished. Shop inventories also reset periodically. All in all, the mixture of mandatory and optional quests is well-managed for the most part.
My biggest beef comes toward the game’s conclusion–the final battles are much harder to clear without two specific items, both of which are made from items that you can only find in limited quantities and which you can run out of for a time period. It’s not a big deal if you know what to get ahead of time–but if you’re a newbie like me, the story provides no indication that you’ll need said items. In my case, I ended up unable to beat the final bosses because I ran out of time to craft the necessary items or level up my party high enough to win without them. I loved the game, so being unable to finish it was a major bummer.
I might replay Escha & Logy someday in order to experience the ending as well as try it out again now that I have a better understanding of how Atelier games work. For now, though, I’m content with the spot it occupies in my memory–that of my first exposure to the series, and the reason I fell in love with for it.
2. Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey
My 2017 game of the year. A lot of Atelier fans aren’t fond of this one, but I am. After the disappointment that was Sophie, I thought that Firis did a great job course-correcting and reminding me why I love the series so much.
As the most recent game in the series before the newly launched Lydie & Suelle, Firis has a significant advantage over most other Atelier games graphically. The developers take advantage of this with a large world map that’s a lot of fun to traverse and makes one truly feel like they’re going on a long adventure. From forest villages to towns built into cliffs, the different locales in Firis all have their own unique flavor.
This sense of discovering a large world is made all the more enjoyable by how it fits the narrative. Firis is a young wannabe-alchemist who has a year to obtain her alchemist’s license, thus proving that she can make her dream into a tangible reality. In order to qualify for the exam, she has to collect recommendation letters, which she has to travel around to obtain. Along the way she encounters monsters, rivals, and everything else one finds on a journey. Firis’ plot is simple, but that’s not a bad thing–it provides a perfect vehicle for the series’ traditional gameplay mechanics and themes.
Firis also stands out as an example of Atelier utilizing a time-limit successfully. You have a limit of one year to pass the exam, but after that you can keep playing for as long as you want. This way, you get the best of both worlds: the challenge of a deadline, as well as freedom to roam without worry. Firis also features more unlockable costumes for the protagonist than most Atelier games. This may sound like a small thing, but it’s touches like that which put Firis in my number two spot.
1. Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk
I may not have one single favorite game of all time, but Atelier Ayesha is one of the few that would be in the running. This first installment in the Dusk series doesn’t just introduce a new cast of characters as always, it introduces a new world full or lore. It does this exceptionally, and impresses from the get-go. It even has my favorite opening animation in the series.
Ayesha stands out above the pack for me largely because of its characters. By and large, they are the coolest and most well-developed in the franchise. Ayesha’s central conflict is her search for her missing sister Nio, which is more emotionally resonant than your standard RPG fair where the protagonist aims to save the world from evil. The rest of the game’s playable characters are also likable, and it’s a pleasure to watch their bonds develop over the course of the story. My three most frequently used party members (Ayesha, Keithgriff and Juris) are probably my favorite playable characters in the entire franchise. The characters’ different endings (that you unlock by becoming good enough friends with them) make the game enjoyable even after you’ve completed the main story.
The visuals in Ayesha are among the series’ greatest. The actual level of detail might not compare to the series’ newer installments, but the bright color palette and numerous flower fields are gorgeous. This serene aesthetic makes even the most basic, low-level monsters and quests more fun than they would be otherwise. The characters also have fun designs that suit their different personalities perfectly.
Overall, everything about Ayesha impresses. The writing, characters, and music are all among the series’ best, and no other Atelier game has introduced so much lore so well so quickly. The battle and item-crafting systems might not be as polished as those in later installments, but they’re still really enjoyable in their own right. From visuals to story to gameplay, Ayesha is a great time, and has yet to be matched by any of the Atelier games that came after it.