If you’re a fan of RPG’s then March has been a fantastic month for you, especially if you’re a PS3 owner. We started the month with the release of the excellent South Park: The Stick of Truth, and on March 11th both Dark Souls II and Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky released. For me, the latest Atelier game came at just the right time as the South Park game had gotten me in the mood for some classic turn based JRPG battles and I’m not really the biggest fan of turn based combat.
I don’t have a long history with the long-running Atelier series, but I’m not a total newcomer to the series either. Back in 2012 I played and reviewed Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland and greatly enjoyed it. Unfortunately I never got around to picking up last year’s Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk, so I missed the beginning of the Dusk games. Luckily, you don’t need to have played Ayesha to get into Escha & Logy. However, a few of the characters in this game were also in Ayesha including Ayesha’s sister Nio who references her sister and past events. So there’s definitely some callbacks that players who played the previous game will get.
For the first time in the Atelier series, players have the opportunity to play as one of two characters: Escha or Logy. The story is going to be largely the same, you’re just experiencing it from a different view. Escha is the traditional alchemist using the cauldron to synthesize items, and is a little more lighthearted while Logy is more focused on exploration and using a blacksmith like trainer to craft weapons and armor, and he is a little more series. Character events change based on which story you play, so completionist will need to play through twice, but overall the two stories are basically the same and if you’re playing as Logy then Escha is your companion and helper, and if you’re playing as Escha then Logy is your companion and helper. Having the option to play as a male or female character with different strong suits makes for a better game experience.
As with any Atelier game, Esha & Logy is really all about time management. Series veterans might be a bit turned off by how the games keep simplifying it and getting easier/more lenient, but newcomers will appreciate the less stressful system. Your goal is to complete a quest for the R&D department that you work for in four months and also try and complete as many side missions as you can. For the main quest, you’re going to have to venture out of the city and into the many monster filled locations. Traveling on the world map to these destinations runs days off the calendar, as does gathering items out in the field and synthesizing items. In the beginning, you’ll likely find that you’re completing every single mission in a term with no trouble and with many days to spare where you can enjoy free time. But don’t get too used to that happening. Eventually, if you don’t plan and prepare you are going to really begin to fill the crunch as the days tick down.
For the first while you’re going to think everything is way easy as you breeze through the first three terms. If you’re like me, you’re going to be more concerned with gathering items and synthesizes things so you can increase your alchemy level. But let me warn you… don’t make that mistake. Engage in battle as much as you can during the first three terms and level up your party. If you don’t, you’re going to be in for a nasty surprise that’s going to totally kill your fourth term. I’m referring to a boss character that you’ll have to defeat to be able to reach your fourth term quest destination. This “Rampage Beast” is about Level 27 and completely decimated my level 15-17 characters. I wasn’t expecting it and by no means was I prepared for such a difficulty spike after making short work of everything previously. That left me with having to enter as many battles as I could where I could gain meaningful XP, eventually return to the city to empty my basket and replenish everyone’s health and items, and then head back out. Meanwhile, the days poured off the calendar (seven days to the fourth term quest location plus seven days back to the city, multiple times before I finally spent the cash to bring that down to only five days) and yet the Rampage Beast still decimated my low-level 20’s party despite my almost defeating him.
Speaking of combat, the change in the battle system between Meruru and this one is a great one. The turn based combat is faster and deeper thanks to the new system. You can have three main party members in battle and three additional party members on the back line as support.
As far as turns go, only the front line characters can attack with a scheduled turn, however as you battle you’re filling up a support meter. The support meter allows an another character to follow up an attack or guard against an attack. As you progress, you’ll even unlock powerful super/special support attacks. If you fill up your support meter far enough, which is fairly easy to do, then you can attack with all six characters one after the other during one turn to deal massive damage.
Using the support meter to guard characters with low HP can also help save a battle and you’ll want to regularly be keeping a check on things and rotating in characters to try and keep a strong front-line going. Characters on the back line very slowly replenish some health. You’ll also want to do your best to keep both Escha and Logy alive and in the battle or able to come into the battle as they are the only two party members who can use items (such as a healing item or something like a bomb to damage the enemy).
As with any Atelier game, a large chunk of your time is going to be spent in your atelier crafting items. Now I thought the alchemy stuff was intuitive and easy to learn in Meruru, but here it’s even better without sacrificing any of the depth. There is just so much stuff in this game that you can create through alchemy. For newcomers who maybe wouldn’t care for the alchemy aspect, playing as Logy allows you to let Escha do all of the creation of items; you just pick the ingredients and the effects at the end and she does all the work. Or you can do it all yourself. The game is very accommodating to newcomers who maybe just want to make an item that they have to have and don’t much care about anything else, while also allowing series veterans to craft powerful versions of items by finding and using the best quality ingredients and in the best combination possible. It’s just a really deep system that is fun and easy to understand.
Now when you’re not in combat and you’re not creating items using alchemy, you are more than likely going to be engaged in character events. These events are as easy as ever to watch and read (and sometimes listen) to because a red exclamation point will appear on your fast travel menu and you can fast travel to any location in the city. It makes it a breeze and you don’t have to worry about missing something because you didn’t wander into an area on a specific day or talk to a specific character at a specific time.
Likewise, they’ve added field events for when you’re out in the monster-filled areas. These can be simple things like finding rare items, allowing you to gain more battle experience, uncovering a relic or document, and even summoning in strong monsters to test yourself in battle against (which if you beat it, can nab you some nice XP and rare items). The meter for the field events fills up a little bit every time you gather an item and it happens pretty fast; it’s a nifty little feature to add some interesting stuff while out gathering and getting into combat.
All of this comes together really well to create a game that is deep and both easy to learn and harder to master. Just like the previous entries in the series, Atelier Escha & Logy sports a cel-shaded graphic style that is absolutely gorgeous and probably the best the series has looked. The presentation really comes together even more thanks to some endearing voice acting (your pick between English and the original Japanese) and an amazing soundtrack.
Unfortunately, the frame rate can be not so smooth at times (though it is mostly stable and not at all a problem) and there was one time where I got stuck in an infinite loading screen and to exit the game. That problem caused me to lose quite a bit of combat experience, dropping me down about four or five levels since I last saved. It has happened since, so I’m not going to say that it’s a problem, but it is something to be weary of and you should save as often as you can just to be on the safe side.
For those of you who care about the story though, you’re going to have to look elsewhere. Just like with Meruru, I found myself not caring whatsoever about the story and the why I was doing the main tasks. I’m not an anime fan and most of the story just doesn’t interest me and isn’t why I play the game. There are some games I play because I genuinely like the story, some that I like the story and the gameplay, and those that I couldn’t possibly care less about the story for and only play because I enjoy the gameplay… this is one of those games. I find myself often spamming the ‘X’ button just to get through the dialogue as fast as possible to get back to actually playing. And let it be known that there is A LOT of dialogue in this game and a lot of it isn’t voiced. For those who do care about the story though, this is the gist of the plot as written on Wikipedia:
The game’s story takes place about 4 years after the beginning of Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk in a far away place to the west of the Twilight Land where the local administration hires two new alchemists, Escha and Logy as members of their R&D division. While learning the ropes of their new occupation, Escha and Logy gather friends and companions as they unlock the secrets of the nearby ruins and help the citizens in a world that is still recovering from a catastrophic event known as “The Dusk”.
There’s not going to be much to it; this isn’t a game that is going to have an amazing narrative that will leave an impact or anything. To me, it was as simple as assuming the role of a new member of the R&D division and doing that job by completing my assignments within the four months you have to do them each. Did not care about the why.
I really enjoy being able to play and run around as Logy. Escha is cool too, but just having Logy there is a bit more inviting to some players. While I was a big fan of the Meruru game, one of the things that I didn’t necessarily like about it was how overly cute it was and some of the more questionable aspects of it. Granted I didn’t read a lot of the dialogue in this one, but I didn’t come across any of the bizarre and questionable sexual overtones like there was in Meruru and that’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned.
If you have never played an Atelier game before, then this is as good of a jumping in point as you’re going to find. Gameplay and presentation is absolutely top notch; developers Gust have really outdone themselves in that respect. The combat is fast paced, easy to follow, and offers up plenty of opportunity to be strategic. It’s turn based combat at its most exciting and most fluid. The alchemy stuff is once again phenomenal and a joy to experiment with and something that you can use up a lot of your time doing if you don’t watch out. There’s endgame bosses and New Game+, so there’s a ton of stuff to do for the people who really get into and a lot of replay value. It’s simply a fun lighthearted game that is an absolutely must play for any JRPG fans.
Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky gets a four out of five: GREAT.
* A digital copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.