Gust and Koei Tecmo have been busy releasing oodles of charming Atelier games recently so let's journey back to Arland and see if Lulua can fill the shoes of her legendary alchemist mother.
Atelier Lulua stars Elmerulia "Lulua" Frixell and if her last name looks familiar to you then that's because she's the daughter of Rorolina Frixell who fans know as Rorona. That's right; quite a few years have passed since the original Arland trilogy and now, it's a quadrilogy!
Anyway, Lulua is dedicated to proving herself to her mother or, more specifically, trying not to embarrass her. Shortly into the story, she discovers a book that appears blank to everyone except her. So, she goes on an adventure to slowly uncover the mysteries of this book and Arland as a whole. Along the way, you'll travel to familiar cities such as Arls and the Arland capital as well as Lulua's lovely home of Arklys. Thankfully, her atelier is situated on a wagon so she can move it between locales with the help of her horses Teke and Paka.
Lulua's mysterious book (wait, didn't Sophie have one, too?) actually ties in perfectly with the gameplay as you decipher Alchemyriddles in order to fill it in. This involves performing typical tasks such as battling enemies, exploring locations, synthesizing items, etc. The thing is, you're not explicitly told what to do in order to decipher these riddles although you are given plenty of clues and context so it's usually easy to figure out what to do in order to complete each task and progress in the story.
It pleases me to say that the gameplay in Atelier Lulua is intuitive, streamlined, and fine-tuned to create a constantly exciting dynamic whether you're fighting foes, gathering materials, or crafting items. The battle system is rather basic although a couple of complexities make it feel fresh including the ability to have characters perform follow-up attacks and interrupt which allows you to potentially gain a strategic advantage. Exploring is enjoyable, too, seeing as you gain access to exploration tools like fishing rods and bug catching nets quite early on which makes traversing the gorgeous sprawling environments even more fruitful. Alchemy is also fun but it's fairly utilitarian as it doesn't feature any fresh mechanics although the ability to synthesize many things at once is appreciated.
Atelier Lulua is the best looking and sounding game in the franchise that I've played so far. Aside from the previously mentioned colourful environments, I found the character animations to be downright adorable whether Lulua is eavesdropping behind a piece of furniture or goofily saluting after a job well done. I wouldn't go as far to say that it's AAA quality but the amount of care put into the world makes it feel like a lighthearted anime come to life which is even more appealing than if it were realistic, in my opinion.
The audio is fantastic as well with loads of upbeat Celtic-inspired tunes that make the game world consistently wondrous. Of course, the characters are absolutely delightful as fans have come to expect and the Japanese voice cast does a great job of bringing them to life. However, there is no English voice option which is apparently the norm ever since Atelier Lydie & Suelle released and that's kind of a bummer. I understand it's a ton of work to record that much dialogue but this is a full priced game so it's quite disappointing.
Throughout Atelier Lulua's 10 chapters plus epilogue, you'll accomplish a huge variety of objectives, both optional and story-related. As always, there are requests from the locals that you can complete to earn sweet cash and materials but here, you reap greater rewards depending on the quality of goods that you hand over. Lulua's book contains a ton of optional Alchemyriddles that will teach you new recipes, too, and there's a huge checklist of the ones that you've deciphered so being able to master all of them will take a substantial amount of time. Finally, you'll want to regularly visit each town to watch lovely cutscenes and deliver items to key characters.
Before wrapping up this review, there are a couple of downsides that I'd like to discuss. For starters, Atelier Lulua's core gameplay definitely doesn't take many chances which is okay if you just want to play another Atelier game but I couldn't help but wish there were more aspects that made it stand out from its predecessors. Another aspect that I felt was kind of annoying is when you're forced to grind for an indeterminate amount of time. For example, the book may hint that you need to fight battles and synthesize items to progress but there's no gauge or specified numbers so you just have to blindly grind until the book is happy.
Atelier Lulua is up there with the best that the series has to offer. Although it doesn't do anything exceptionally unique, it's an enjoyable and rewarding adventure set in such a memorable and charming world that you'll find it hard to put down.
- + Familiar gameplay with plenty of fine-tuning that makes it intuitive and fun
- + Delightful visuals, music, and cast
- + Great variety of objectives to master
- - Gameplay doesn't take many chances
- - Some parts require grinding
- - No English voice option