For nearly two decades, the Atelier series has graced one platform or another every year with a new adventure of alchemy. These yearly entries in the long-running JRPG aren’t all standalone stories, but come together in loosely connected trilogies, and after the third game in a trilogy comes out, the next game is usually the start of a new one. With the end of the latest Mysterious trilogy, though, Gust is shaking their usual release order up a bit by revisiting their first 3D trilogy with a surprise fourth entry in the form of Atelier Lulua.
The Atelier Arland trilogy started back on PlayStation 3 and followed instantly iconic protagonists Rorona, Totori, and Meruru. While those games all took place around the same time period, Atelier Lulua takes place many years later, putting the teenage daughter of prior protagonist Rorona into the spotlight as our new heroine. That daughter is Lulua, and she is an instantly classic Atelier protagonist. Full of energy and personality, she made an immediate impression on me and was always a joy to see bumbling around on-screen. Her wish to surpass her mother’s legacy is an interesting struggle that leads to some great growth and character development over the course of the game. Lulua is goofy and lovable from minute one, but she also comes to be a heart-warming and touching character by the time the credits roll.
The rest of the cast is equally lovable. New characters like the supportive childhood friend Eva or the extravagant battle magician Ficus Finis bounce off Lulua in entertaining ways, coming together really well as a crew. For fans of the Arland trilogy, though, the numerous returning characters are sure to bring a smile to your face. Seeing characters like Liona and Piana and the ways they’ve grown and changed is a treat, and doubly so for the return of protagonists like Rorona. The story of Atelier Lulua has a lot of developments concerning older characters and the lore of the Arland trilogy that might fly over your head if you’re coming in blind, but you’ll still be able to appreciate the goofy writing and the adorable characters regardless.
For all of the returning characters present in the game, it’s a shame that so few of them get to be involved in the gameplay side of things much. Atelier Lulua, like many Atelier games before it, blends alchemy and item management with JRPG battles and dungeon exploration. Many of the returning characters in the story are party members from older games, but despite this, you only have 7 playable characters to choose from in Atelier Lulua, and most of them are newcomers. Even prior protagonists Totori and Meruru, who play a significant role in the story, are relegated to being DLC characters.
Thankfully, despite a slightly shallow character pool, combat in Atelier Lulua is better than ever. Party formations are changed from the six-person squads of previous games to five, giving you three front-line attackers and two back-line support characters. The smaller and streamlined party leads to quicker battles, which is a huge blessing later into the game.
There’s also a really interesting new battle mechanic in the form of the Interrupt ability. Alchemists in your party can equip a useable item and then, after performing enough actions in combat, use their Interrupt to instantly use their specified item in the middle of any character or enemy turn. It’s a really satisfying ability that lets you pull off slick moves like instantly reviving a downed party member.
Alchemy is practically identical to how it operated in previous games, with only minor changes and improvements. One of these is the ability to see if a synthesis will succeed or fail before you make an item. You can also use booster ingredients to force an item to succeed or fail, which is great because late-game recipes will actually require failed synthesis items as ingredients. It’s an extra level of control during alchemy that makes the process feel a little more involved.
Progression in this game isn’t heavily timed like previous Arland games. Instead, you advance the story and unlock new recipes by solving the Alchemist Riddles. Lulua was hit in the head by a mysterious book full of ancient text that only she can see, but as you perform actions in-game, the text starts to get decoded. These actions range from visiting new locations to discovering certain creatures and even crafting specific items. The hints that the book gives you can sometimes be too vague, but at the end of the day the Alchemist Riddle system encourages exploration and experimentation in a way that I really appreciated.
All of this comes together in a package that is as cute, bright and charming as any other Atelier game. Character designs are beautiful, maintaining a good balance between JRPG ridiculousness and realistic utility that the last few games strayed away from. Atelier games aren’t the same without their music, and the audio of Atelier Lulua is as soft and elegant as ever. It has the same sort of instrumentation and atmosphere as previous games in the series, but manages to toss in some unique jams for battle themes and boss fight songs.
On Switch, the visuals are incredible. Docked mode hardly looks any different than the PlayStation 4 version of the game. Models are sharp, environments are crisp and the performance is solid. Undocked, the resolution takes a dip and you start to get minor frame hitches sometimes, but it still holds together incredibly well.