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.
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.