Inside Pulse 12

Review: Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky (Sony PlayStation 3)

Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Developer: Gust
Genre: RPG
Release Date: 03/11/2014

It’s tough getting motivated to jump back into a series after being so far behind, but with one as long running as Gust’s Atelier series, it’s something of an inevitability. Fortunately, there are a number of great jumping in points, and last year’s Atelier Ayesha was one of them. It was the first part of what is known as the Dusk trilogy, and the latest release, Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky, continues that universe.

That isn’t to say that you need to have played Ayesha to enjoy this title. There are a number of references made to the events that occurred in that game, as well as recurring characters, but Atelier Escha & Logy feature two new protagonists and a completely unrelated storyline. For what story exists, anyway.

Much like 2006’s Atelier Iris 2, there are two main characters rather than just the one, and both play a central role in the gameplay and plot. You are asked right from the beginning to choose one of the two title characters, as depending on your decision, your experience will be slightly different. Supposedly, playing as Escha is more in line with the other Atelier games, while choosing Logy is akin to a more traditional JRPG experience. As my primary playthrough was with Logy, it seemed very much like an Atelier game to me. I also played a bit of Escha’s story, and short of a few cutscenes that were changed around, I didn’t notice much difference. Perhaps I didn’t get far enough.

Logix Fiscario (or Logy for short) arrives in the remote town of Colseit to lend his alchemy skills to the local R&D division. Once there, he meets his fellow alchemist counterpart, Escha Malier, who grew up on the apple orchards there. They find early on that, while technically working in the same occupation, they have very different methods to the things they do. Escha does things the old school way of synthesizing in a cauldron, while Logy needs more specialized equipment. By putting their two skillsets together, they’re able to accomplish any project that the R&D department sends their way.

Really, that’s about all there is to the story. While Atelier Ayesha managed to successfully cast off the overdone save-the-world motif that is so prevalent in RPG’s in favor of an equally interesting find-my-missing-sister plot device, the same cannot be said of Escha & Logy. The central plot, aside from setting up waves of characterization (to which it does fairly well I might add), doesn’t involve more than synthesizing an item or exploring an area before your deadline is up. It isn’t until the final hours of the game that you realize what your ultimate goal is, and even then, the game provides a reasonable conclusion if you don’t complete it in time. In fact, beating the final boss is just one path to one of the game’s eleven different endings, with a New Game + feature in place to help you obtain the rest.

In essence, there isn’t much that actually “happens” in the game, at least in regards to the story.

What Atelier Escha & Logy does do successfully is put together an interesting cast of very quirky characters. Several of them are alumni from Ayesha, but the majority of your interactions and party members are going to involve newcomers, including an engineer obsessed with reaching the edge of the world, a treasure hunter that begs for handouts despite his wealth, and a woman so obsessed with her work that the concept of taking breaks and sleeping are foreign to her. Each one is simply a co-worker in regards to their relationship with your main characters, though their individual motivations and backstories can be explored at length as the game progresses.

Now, the basic flow of Atelier Escha & Logy works like this: you are given an assignment by Marion which has to be done within so many in-game days. The clock doesn’t tick in real time though, but instead passes each time you travel somewhere, gather reagents, or perform synthesis. You are also given a set of optional tasks that can be completed for bonus rewards. You are paid at the beginning of each month based on what you do, and these funds can in turn be used to finance recipe books, items and research (which can be anything from increasing experience gained from battles, reduced travel time and so on). It’s a time management simulator in a nutshell, though nothing as stressful as last month’s Lightning Returns.

Synthesizing items is the real bread and butter of the Atelier experience, and this is no exception. Escha uses her cauldron to mix ingredients together based on set recipes, though the end result of the item depends very much on what specific items you use. For example, a recipe might call on the use of a plant, but will leave it up to the player which plant to use. If you’re developing a healing item, you may wish to use one with more effective healing properties, or you may even opt for one that can cure status effects. It’s up to you what you want to design, and that’s what makes it so addictive.

New weapons and armor are found almost exclusively through synthesis as well, though you may get lucky and find them on monsters. This is where Logy’s expertise comes in, as he is the one in charge of developing your gear. Don’t have recipes for new equipment? You can modify your existing gear to add elemental resistances or boost attack power simply by using what you already have equipped as a basis for new synthesis.

If that all sounds very overwhelming to you, I wouldn’t blame you. Even after finishing the game, I still don’t have a complete grasp over how to fashion the ideal items and equipment, even though the game takes great pains to introduce new features and mechanics as they crop up. Certain ingredients have elemental affinities as well as innate properties that can be passed onto the resulting item, plus those elements can be translated into skills used as the synthesis takes place. It’s really something you have to experiment with to truly “get it.”

There’s a ton of optional content outside of your main assignments. A character named Solle will have a list of things that he wants, or monsters to be quelled, and you can pick and choose as necessary in order to raise your ranking. Higher rankings, of course, lead to new experiments to purchase, further building up your characters and efficiency. He’ll also give you snacks. I’m not kidding.

In between all of the cutscenes and item crafting, there’s a little turn-based RPG action to be found. Colseit is the central hub where most everything major happens, so unlike Ayesha, there aren’t other towns to visit. This is nice in a way, as it means you don’t waste days traveling to far off places to turn in a quest that might exist in another town. On the other hand, it makes the game’s world feel small, even with all of the places to journey to. In fact, even the forests and ruins you explore come in bite-sized chunks. Each dot on the overworld map represents a new locale, and within that, almost every room or screen is represented by another dot. These dots don’t unlock until you’ve visited the ones that preceded them, but you don’t even have to completely explore them to move on. There were occasions where I entered one, turned around and walked out the way I came in, and suddenly the next one was open to me.

As with most RPG’s, these areas are rife with enemies to battle, and taking a swing at them will give you a slight advantage. You can bring six characters into battle with you, with the three in the front line being the active participants. Only Escha and Logy can use items, but all characters can attack, use skills, or move around the battlefield. During a character’s turn, they can switch places with a member of the back row without sacrificing a turn. If someone gets KO’d, they’ll automatically get swapped out without being prompted by the player, making your back row effectively your second line of defense. A support gauge in the right-hand corner dictates your ability to step in front of another character to receive a blow intended for them, as well as the ability of anyone in the front and back rows to land an attack when it’s not their turn. Each member of your party is mapped to a button so that they can be called in at any time, whether on offense or defense, which makes the experience far less passive than it would otherwise be.

The characters animate well and are generally well designed, save for a few weird quirks (what’s up with Escha’s tail?) The cel-shading as it is presented here makes it feel like you are watching an anime, though I noticed the engine has a hard time keeping up in places. It’s particularly noticeable when the camera is panning around the scenery, and you can see the frame rate struggle to maintain consistency. This is a bit surprising given how tiny most of the areas are, though perhaps the small turnaround time from the last game had something to do with those hiccups. At least the anime scenes that are peppered in throughout the game are nice looking, though the ones during the opening hours were far more abstract than what I’m used to.

Atelier Escha & Logy restored the dual audio option that went missing during the last release, so fans of the original Japanese dialect will not be left out in the cold. The English voiceovers are generally pretty good, though I thought it odd that anime veterans were relegated to supporting roles whereas the main characters didn’t sound like anyone I had heard before. My guess is they’re trying to give the spotlight to the fresh blood, though their inexperience does show in some places. The soundtrack takes a back seat to everything else, as it’s not quite as memorable as older titles in the series. Even the track that plays during battle sounds very muted and will likely be drowned out by all of the battle cries and explosions.

If you’ve been keeping up with the Atelier games at this point, I can’t think of anything that would turn you away from Escha & Logy. The ability to experience the story from two different viewpoints is a nice change, while the combat and map navigation have been streamlined as to be more efficient. On the other hand, the world and the various locales you visit seem much smaller than prior games, and the lack of a compelling centralized plot makes it easy to lose interest partway through the adventure. At least the addictiveness of the item creation is not lost here.

Short Attention Span Summary
Despite being the second part to a trilogy that began with Atelier Ayesha, it’s worth noting that Atelier Escha & Logy requires very little understanding of its predecessor to be enjoyed. It shares a few minor characters, but it has brand new protagonists, a new story, and takes place in a different area of the world. The lack of any major events that occur in the game are likely to turn off some, though it does have some great characterization and multiple endings that change depending on whose perspective you are playing from. The alchemy/synthesis is as addictive as ever, even if it isn’t all that easy to understand, allowing you to build weapons and healing items from scratch with the properties you want. Just keep in mind that playing science lab for extended periods will inch you closer to your deadline. If you want a plot driven adventure that focuses on preventing the end of the world, you’ve come to the wrong place. However, if you’re looking for an easygoing RPG with an emphasis on item creation and time management, look no further than Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky.

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