Practically speaking, the Atelier series is probably among the best collection of RPGs that you’ve never played. This low-key and generally bubbly franchise seems like it hasn’t quite managed to shatter that ‘glass ceiling’ into mainstream appeal, but that hasn’t stopped Gust from lovingly improving upon the core gameplay over the decades. Though Atelier Ryza is all the rage right now the Mysterious trilogy that preceded it had a lot going for it, and it deserves a good look now that it’s all on the Switch as Atelier Mysterious Trilogy Deluxe Pack, or as individual downloads. The DX versions for all three titles offer up the definitive experience for each game, making for a collection that appeals to both newcomers and long-time fans.
The Atelier series is known for its smaller scale, more character driven stories, and that storytelling style is present here in all three Mysterious games. It’s never about saving the world or killing a god or overthrowing an oppressive regime, but rather overcoming simple goals or solving intriguing mysteries. Atelier Firis, for example, follows our titular character’s quest to explore the world beyond the cave she was raised in, and to hopefully pass an exam that would certify her as an alchemist. Atelier Sophie, on the other hand, centres its plot around a magical talking book Sophie finds which gains more memories as she writes new recipes into its pages.
The stories told here aren’t anything particularly ground-breaking, but they do manage to entertain even if they don’t amaze. Many of the side characters introduced over these three adventures are rather one-note in their personalities and depth, but each nonetheless contributes something meaningful to the overall feel of the story. Then there are the absurd and amusingly ‘anime’ things in each story that just aren’t ever addressed. In Lydie and Suelle, for example, the twins don’t seem the least bit concerned when they accidentally get dragged into an illusory world within a painting for the first time, as if this is something that merely happens every Tuesday. Those of you expecting a memorable and highly emotional narrative may be a little disappointed by the stories on offer here, then, but sometimes it’s nice to just turn off your brain and let yourself enjoy such delightfully airy entertainment.
Gameplay across all three titles remains mostly the same in its overarching design, which ultimately centres around the robust crafting system. Some of you may groan at the thought of yet another modern game with a ‘crafting system’, but Atelier games are arguably where the very concept of crafting in RPGs originated. This isn’t just a simple matter of, say, turning three boar skins into nice coat, you have to work for it and resourcefulness is often rewarded. For example, a recipe that calls for a certain kind of grass might allow you to use anything in the ‘plant’ category instead if you don’t have that specific grass on hand. Further, every ingredient has a specific quality and rarity attached to it, and different ingredients can bestow different abilities and bonuses on the item in question. For example, you can choose to give a healing potion a heal over time effect that works after its initial use, or you can give it a buff that bumps up your strength for a few turns.
Once you’ve got everything picked out, even the process of making the item itself is involved, as you’re asked to play a sort-of puzzle to fit all the ingredients in the cauldron. Each ingredient has a Tetris block-like shape and colour, and correctly lining up these shapes with bonuses on the grid can bump up the quality or quantity of the item, or imbue it with even more beneficial characteristics. Suffice to say, the crafting systems on offer here put the equivalent systems in most other games to shame; creating new objects and maximizing their benefits becomes a fantastically enjoyable little game all on its own.
Of course, there’s a whole RPG adventure around this crafting, too. When you’re not playing mad scientist in the Atelier, you can head out to a variety of locales to fight monsters, socialize with townspeople, and collect ingredients for later usage. Atelier Sophie and Lydie & Suelle structure this by giving you a series of isolated places that are connected by a large overworld map, while Atelier Firis connects it all together by giving you a huge open world to explore. Which design appeals to you more really comes down to personal taste, but all three games are keen to introduce new areas, enemies, and items at a fairly brisk pace to keep you invested.
Combat plays out in a typical turn-based structure that borrows a little bit from Final Fantasy X. Party members and enemy turns are marked out on a timeline to show you who’s going next, and you can use this information to your advantage to better prioritize targets and actions. If you see an enemy down the timeline winding up for a big attack, for example, you can have everyone defend to take the edge off when it comes. It’s not a terribly deep battle system, but it’s a lovely crucible for testing the equipment and items you slap together back at the atelier, and things like elemental weaknesses give it that extra bit of nuance to keep things interesting.
For these DX versions of the trilogy, Gust saw fit to toss in a series of tweaks and extras to make things a little sweeter this time around. Most of the previous DLC is included, and each game has had a little bit of extra content thrown in, such as a collection of late-game super-bosses in Firis or a side-story episode in Lydie & Suelle that features characters and references from Atelier Nelke. Less flashy (but not less important) are the additional quality of life features included, such as a run button or the ability to speed battles up to twice as fast. Performance remains relatively solid across all three titles, too, with only the occasionally noticeable frame drop in especially busy areas. It’s not perfect, but none of them run as poorly as Lydie & Suelle’s initial Switch debut, and that solid performance carries over to both docked and handheld modes.
Now, the real question is whether this whole trilogy is worth the punt, or whether you should just opt to snap up one or two of the titles standalone. For our money, these games are each distinctly different from each other, but all are of the same relative quality. Everyone will have an opinion on which is superior, but it’s really tough to go wrong with any of them if you have to choose. Though these three releases form a trilogy, the plot threads connecting them are quite loose and don’t really amount to some grandiose story, so you don’t have to worry much about spoilers. If we had to make a suggestion, Sophie would probably be the best for a newcomer—both because it’s the first release in the trilogy and the simplest in gameplay—but you really don’t have to worry about barrier to entry with any of these titles.
Each of these releases will run you about forty to fifty hours to clear, with maybe another ten to twenty on top of that if you want to go for full completion. Each entry is great bang for your buck, then, and buying all three together in the bundle is cheaper then picking them individually from the eShop. On the other hand, playing all three of these games back-to-back is quite the time commitment and the difference in feel between them can blur as the dozens of hours roll by. If you do stump up for all three, we’d recommend you pace yourself and resist the urge to marathon them all in one go. Take the time to let the feel of each one sit with you for a bit before jumping into the next one; it’ll make for a much better experience in the long run.