Developer: Gust Corporation
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Release Date: March 11, 2014
ESRB: E for Everyone
It“s hard to believe that the Atelier series now celebrates its fifteenth main entry with the release of Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky. Even if fans in the West have seen a good majority of the most recent official Atelier titles, the series actually has a history dating as far back as 1997, back in the PS1 era. The Atelier series is a fickle breed. There are a few constants, like having a deep focus on item-crafting and annualized releases, but the series changes just enough to have fans not be entirely sure what to expect with each new entry.
Last year“s Atelier Ayesha was one such example of trying something rather different with the franchise's name. Ayesha had a bigger emphasis on its entirely new setting and more serious overall storytelling, and it served as a part one of an entirely new trilogy (meaning it is independent from the previous PS3 Atelier "Arland" trilogy, which includes Atelier Rorona, Atelier Totori, and Atelier Meruru). As a game, however, I felt it took quite a few steps back from the actively engaging Atelier Meruru. Still, even if the series has the occasional disappointment, Gust has a habit of learning from their mistakes with their direct sequels if their previous â€œArlandâ€ trilogy has taught me anything. I expected no less from part two of the Dusk trilogy with Atelier Escha & Logy.
At the start, protagonists Logy and Escha are drafted to the R&D division of a small rural(-ish) town called Colseit due to their abilities as alchemists. The R&D division of Colseit is in a bad position, with dwindling government ratings and constant member dropouts, causing them to be severely understaffed. With promising abilities and different skillsets, Logy and Escha have to work together in order to strengthen the status of the division as well as trying to help improve the living conditions caused by the decaying region for those around them.
With the focus on two main protagonists, this leads to both the main gameplay structure and narrative gimmick of the game. At the start, the player has the choice between either protagonist“s story. Escha has a bigger focus on item-crafting and her story feels more like traditional Atelier games due to its more light-hearted tone, while Logy“s story is slightly more serious and battle-centric in his mission objectives, making it more akin to entries like Mana Khemia or Atelier Iris. That said, even if the two protagonists have their occasional deviation for both gameplay and story scenarios (as well as their various narrative endings), there is a lot of overlap between them for the most part. Choosing one character will not be terribly different from the other as it is just a matter of personal preference.
In actuality, the storytelling is pretty minimal in Escha & Logy, especially coming off of last year's Atelier Ayesha. Like almost any other Atelier game, what storytelling that there is is usually be conveyed through the many character interactions. There are returning characters and nods to the previous game, but as a whole it has surprisingly little expectation that people have played the previous game at all. This leaves newcomers rather free to check out this new title with next to no narrative hitches (minus one, rather significant, but passively delivered spoiler of Atelier Ayesha). Despite knowing that, it is disappointing that the setting/characters Atelier Ayesha tried its best to build up are almost entirely ignored in this new game.This is further emphasized because the new supporting cast of characters are not as interesting as earlier games although Logy and Escha themselves are handled better than main protagonists in most earlier games.
Even more important than the storytelling in Atelier titles, though, is the gameplay. Logy and Escha are assigned new objectives from the R&D division in four-month in-game intervals. During these intervals the player has one primary task which is essentially required (at least to be on track for the good endings), and a bunch of optional secondary objectives which dictate their ratings, monthly stipend, and the amount of free time they have for other stuff. The objectives mostly require players to either synthesize, explore different parts of the region, or battle the occasional foes.
A lot of the appeal of Atelier titles is actually through their seemingly carefree design. Atelier Escha & Logy is no different for the most part considering the ease of the main objectives and the flexibility in how you can approach them. Atelier entries tend to be charming in their simplicity and light-hearted tone, avoiding the grandiose narrative scale that so many RPGs have, but are also very pleasantly surprising in their depth and deceptively engaging structure.
This especially applies to how they utilize item-crafting, or alchemy, which is a staple of the series. The main objectives do prod the player in trying out crafting, for obvious reasons, but little by little the player will notice that it is more than just a means of completing the story objectives. Crafting goes towards many important aspects like character equipment, healing/attack items to use in-battle, assigned narrative objectives, to even tools that can make traversing the region all the more convenient. Atelier Escha & Logy probably has the best implementation of crafting in the series that is less limiting than the previous game. Alchemy itself becomes kind of like an entertaining puzzle when trying to best utilize different materials and their properties during the process. It may sounds complicated on paper, but really it just means there is more purpose to forging individual items, doing it well, and learning the surprising amount of depth behind it.
There is more to Atelier than just item-crafting, of course. The lead characters have to explore different parts of the region to obtain new materials for alchemy, battle monsters, or complete specific tasks assigned by the R&D division. Combat has seen a pretty big improvement over Atelier Ayesha (which was definitely a step back from Atelier Meruru), with faster/flashier animations, but also maintaining Ayesha's position-based battle system.
What is really new, though, is you can switch party members in and out of battle at any time, similar to games like Final Fantasy X or Mana Khemia. This lays the groundwork to be able to not only be able to change between almost all party members mid-combat, but also have them protect fellow allies from damage, follow-up attacks, or use unique special skills. This aspect only gets cooler the further you get in the game, like using the combination skill "dual draw" where Logy and Escha use two attack items at once to create an entirely new attack of greater power. At the end of the day, however, it is unfortunately easy to not fully utilize the cool improvements done to the battle system, because of the game's lack of difficulty and most battles not requiring too much thought.
The biggest problem I have with the game is that even if it may have the best mechanics in the series, from combat to synthesizing, it is not structured to be as actively engaging as earlier titles. The four-month deadline structure is rather restrictive because if you are able to complete all objectives ahead of time (which is very easy to do for veteran players), you can have next to nothing to do in-between until the next set of tasks. For most of the game I found myself with way too much in-game free time. I hate to bring the comparison up so often in this review, but Atelier Meruru actively fed you new goals to do even if you were essentially ahead of the main story objectives. In contrast, Escha & Logy deliberately limits where and when you can progress, including the rate where you can obtain new tasks and synthesizing recipes. It may be strangely specific complaint, but I believe that it is a crucial to why I think this game has more intermittent levels of enjoyment for more seasoned players, like myself.
With every new Atelier game it seems like it“s the same story with the presentation. The environments are still rather bland overall and most have the detail of something you'd encounter from the PS2 era. However, the character models are vibrant and faithfully render the anime-esque style, even if they have sort of stiff animations. On the audio side, it seems like the localization team is getting better at handling the English dub casting. It isn't amazing or terribly noteworthy overall, but I found myself picking English since I much preferred the voice for Escha in particular over her Japanese counterpart, as well as certain other characters, and that's saying a lot for a person who normally defaults to Japanese when given the choice. The music maintains the relatively high bar Atelier Ayesha established, even I don't think it is as great as that soundtrack, but it has a more consistent musical style with the jazzy flair to a lot of the music tracks that stands out in particular.
Atelier Escha & Logy takes another step towards making the series more approachable as well as making a lot of smart subtle refinements and changes to the gameplay. The structure is unfortunately more linear than past iterations due to a more controlled deadline system, which series veterans can find rather limiting. Looking past that, though, Atelier Escha & Logy makes for an easier recommendation than most Atelier entries since it remembers how to make an enjoyably light-hearted gameplay experience that still manages to sneak in a surprising amount of depth and gameplay substance. It doesn't quite hit as a master specimen of the series due to some narrative/structural issues, but it serves as a very promising example of the series moving forward and proves the series is still quite welcome even now.
+ Two different playable main characters, each with a different focus, and plenty to work towards
+ Combat and crafting aspects are the best in the series
+ Solid musical score with a jazzy flair
+ Lots of subtle mechanical refinements to the series“ quirks
- Narrative is pretty minimal and the overall character interactions are less interesting than earlier games
- Series veterans can easily find a significant lull in things to do between deadlines due to the more linear structure
- Certain gameplay systems are underutilized
Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10)
Atelier Escha & Logy creatively experiments with its own newfound strengths and some lessons learned from games past. It doesn't make for the definite Atelier experience, but it's proof that it is moving close to it.
A download code was provided by the publisher for this review