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  1. Developer: Gust Corporation Publisher: Tecmo-Koei Platform: PS4, PS Vita, and PC Release Date: March 7, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the PS4 version of the game Year after year it has become a routine for me to try out the newest Atelier role-playing games. And, frankly, as someone who plays so many RPGs in general they have been a refreshing contrast among many grander-scaled and traditional examples in the genre, so I have not exactly regretted it either. There is something genuinely charming about a series that cares more about somehow making crafting whimsical and fun (also deceptively deep) with solid RPG fundamentals underneath than anything else. As I have learned, however, it only really takes one game to really sour one on an entire series going forward. Last year's Atelier Sophie was just that for me. Atelier Sophie was the first entry in the series that I honestly felt like my time was wasted in playing and I probably would have been better off ignoring altogether with how little enjoyment I got out of it. So, to say my enthusiasm for the direct follow-up and newest release in the series called: Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey on PS4, PS Vita, and even PC, was tepid is putting it lightly. That said, to avoid making hasty judgement about the newest Atelier release, I decided to try and walk a mile in Firis's shoes. Or, well... actually many. Firis does a whole lot of traveling in her game as it turns out. Unfortunately, Firis's adventure begins rather slow and confined. She has lived her entire life in an underground mining town and has barely caught a glimpse of the outside world. Well, until former main protagonist of the previous entry, Sophie, literally blows open the town's door with an explosive made from alchemy. During Sophie's brief visit Firis spends it learning how to use alchemy as an apprentice and also to convince her family, as well as the local mayor, to let her hone her natural talent for the alchemist craft by exploring the outside world. The townsfolk agree to let her leave town only on the condition that Firis is able to obtain an official alchemy license within the span of one year, or she'll be forced to return home. After the prologue, the title becomes comes far more open-ended, and with the exception of Atelier Meruru, is probably the most free-flowing of recent entries. Firis only really has to get three letters of recommendations from registered alchemists, and pass an official license test, before the completion of the main story. Everything in-between, from the places to explore or the people you meet, is pretty much up to the player in how they attempt to approach it. The basic loop of Atelier Firis's main story is exploring new areas, obtaining letters of recommendation, as well as refining both combat and alchemist prowess. With the looming year deadline, which is not even that strict, adds more incentive to continually move forward too (until post-game which I will get into later). Because of the nature of being continuously on-foot, Atelier Firis plays with series conventions a fair bit. For one, there is no central hub that is in a fixed location to practice alchemy. Firis literally brings her lodging and portable "Atelier" in her magical backpack (a gift from Sophie). Alchemy itself sees very little change from the prior game, despite how items themselves are more disposable now. To put it plainly, it imbues a sort of puzzle-like approach to the alchemy system and the properties, and quality, of items can be changed based on how smartly one smartly implements the ingredient "pieces". Honestly, if there is one thing that did not need much change from the prior game, it was the fun and additive alchemy system. Just about every other aspect plays and feels better than the prior release. Heck, it even looks significantly better, with a much more fluid presentation featuring well-realized anime-like character models in addition more varied environments to trek through (though, the latter is still very underwhelming for HD console standards.). More importantly are the changes to combat and gameplay progression. Atelier Sophie's biggest problems were in its baffling steps back in regards to combat, poorly handled approach to day/night cycles that caused obtaining new alchemy recipes and gameplay progress to slow to a crawl. All of which have been significantly revamped for the better in Atelier Firis. Combat is faster, more active, and just more enjoyable in general. Progression is a lot less rigid as well, with most content being far more optional and less time of day dependent, leading to far less tedium in the inherent flow than the prior release. It is an entertaining flow, but not entirely seamless. The open world itself can feel rather empty until essentially reaching the newest town, for instance. Even if it uses a few tricks to maintain player interest, like the frequent "That's it! I've come up with a new recipe." moments for Firis's often bizarre alchemy items when you gather new ingredients or kill different monsters, there is not a whole to lot to do outside of many towns otherwise. This primarily because gameplay progress feels more organic when you have sidequest objectives from townsfolk, or you try to complete tasks to get letters of recommendation, while also concurrently exploring. Regardless, I was rather surprised to realize that I missed entire towns and recruitable characters before seeing the initial credits roll. This shock applied more so when it had only just over fifteen hours of playtime, which seemed rather short even for Atelier standards. Turns out, there was actually much more game afterwards. Atelier Firis may be the strangest game in the series where I would be willing to argue that the best parts of it are actually after beating the main story. Basically, the time restriction entirely disappears and gameplay features open up very dramatically. This includes areas that were formally inaccessible can now be explored, new playable characters can join, lots of character sidequests become available which lead up to various unique endings, or even gameplay features like genuine fast-travel appear. Which, to add on that last point, the game has serious back-tracking problems otherwise. Though you can optionally get items to increase moment speed prior to it, like a literal magic broom or a certain changeable outfit for Firis (which there are several of with different effects) until getting the fast-travel in post-game. I think the most important post-game content are in the character sidequests. Most recruitable characters barely have a presence in the main story aside from filling a party member slot. Or, at the very least, they are made more interesting in post-game. One good example is Firis's sister who goes by Liane. She feels like she has one defining character trait during the main story, which is being overly protective of Firis and doting on her constantly. In post-game, however, you learn quite a bit more about her and why she even became even explorer in the first place, which is darker than you would expect. To give further reasoning, a few of them have unique bosses to showcase the cooler nuances of combat, and that they have truly excellent musical pieces to accompany them helps too. Though, I must emphasize, the overall story script is still not great (even if better in post-game), but it is certainly more satisfying than main story and in gameplay context too. While I would not say it is exactly the peak of the series, Atelier Firis in pure gameplay fundamentals and concepts imply a very promising step for it going forward. It deliberately fixes most of the mechanical/structural flaws of its predecessor to help emphasize the strengths of the addictive, deep crafting system and enjoyable combat system. There is also a very flexible approach to gameplay progression that the series has not seen in quite some time. If the game was simply better at populating its open-world, and did not hide much of its better content in post-game, it'd become a much safer recommendation for would-be curious adventurers. Pros + The open ended exploring philosophy allows a fair bit of freedom in how you want to approach the main objective with much that is truly optional + Addictive crafting and entertaining combat system + Character models look great in-motion + Charming soundtrack + Post-game is rather dense and is the most satisfying part from both a gameplay and in narrative context Cons - Open-world can feel rather empty at times before reaching the next town to feed one new potential side objectives - Too many of the better parts of the game are after beating the main story - Backtracking becomes an issue for a good while - Cringe-worthy character writing and storytelling at times Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good A worthwhile departure for the Atelier series that both refines the delightful crafting and combat as well while breathing new life into as well with the far more open ended gameplay structure. It is just a shame that it is rather disjointed in the moments it does reach it biggest strides overall Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  2. Developer: Gust Corporation Publisher: Koei-Tecmo Platform: Vita/PS4 Release Date: June 7, 2016 ESRB: T for Teen There is something to be said about the Atelier series when it has crafted more main titles than even Final Fantasy. And yet, despite having so many entries stored throughout its' history, Atelier still somehow manages to retain its fanbase with individuals such as myself. There is clearly a winning recipe to their addictive and light-hearted RPG formula focused on alchemy that Gust Corporation still shows no sign of stopping any time soon. After enjoying the previous release, Atelier Shallie, quite a bit, I was excited to see what the newest entry, Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book, had in store. It was the perfect opportunity to make a fresh break from the former "Dusk" trilogy and is also the first title to make its way to the Playstation 4 hardware. The end result, however, is that it may very well be the most disappointing title that I have yet played from the series. Disappointing does not mean bad, of course. The primary reason why I still play every Atelier entry year by year is that they have pretty much always been mechanically solid despite hit & miss aspects on a per game basis. But, that's Atelier Sophie's biggest problem, it does not really feel like it improves any particular aspect. Atelier Sophie certainly changes things but I would be hard-pressed to say they are direct enhancements over previous releases, and in several regards Atelier Sophie feels like an overall step back as a game. Before getting into all of that, Atelier Sophie goes more back to basics when it comes to tone. The previous Atelier trilogy tried to be more self-serious with its storytelling -- in particular Atelier Ayesha, which yielded mixed results because of its ultimately unrealized narrative and character potential. Atelier Sophie is far more straightforward in comparison. The fledgling alchemist Sophie finds a mysterious talking book in her departed grandmother's atelier. The book, whom refers to herself as Plachta, tells Sophie that while she is able to help Sophie get better at alchemy most of her memories -- as well as former written contents -- are gone. As Sophie starts to write down new alchemy recipes on Plachta“s pages, the two learn that that may very well be the key to slowly recover Plachta's lost memories, and so, the two decide to help out one another out and become fast friends. The setup largely transitions into the game's overall flow as well. Whether this comes from exploring areas or trying out new things via alchemy, Sophie will gradually come up with new synthesis recipes to recover more of Plachta's memories. This premise helps makes the title feel more carefree as well. Though I do think it is a solid concept in nature, as there is no looming yearly deadlines or a possible narrative guilt for failing to make progress in time, Atelier Sophie does not necessarily benefit from it. There are two main reasons for this, one being the newly added Day/Night cycle and the other being how retrieving Plachta“s memories very much creates stopgaps to the gameplay progression. I'll try to avoid being too technical about Atelier gameplay conventions, but the Day/Night cycle is not handled very well in Atelier Sophie. Basically, both characters events in the central town of 'Kirchen Bell', as well as explorable areas outside of it change depending on what time of day it is. The thing is that both character events and item gathering (needed for alchemy, in particular) are linear in nature. So, for example, you may need an alchemy item that you can only get at nighttime, or there may be a character event that only happens in the morning. Both of these can lead to a lot of tedium with the inherent flow. To add a wrinkle to the disjointed day/night addition, getting Placta's memories, aka the main source of gameplay progression, absolutely requires you do such things to trigger alchemy unlocks that comes from specific character events or exploring environments at certain times. Even formulas that were totally solid in prior games, such as combat, don't feel as good in Atelier Sophie. They essentially fragment aspects that made the turn-based combat feel surprisingly active in recent games, like follow-up attack and defending allies one another from incoming enemy attacks, into the newly added "offensive" and "defensive" stances. You can still technically use follow-up skills, but only if multiple allies are the same stance offensive or defensive stance, and you have no control over which ally (or what order) they do it in. Ultimately it feels like an unnecessary and more limiting change under the guise of trying to be more strategic. It also does not help that combat feels noticeably slower because of it. Like much of Atelier Sophie, it is not bad by any means and is occasionally fun later on, but it is a baffling change when previous games simply handled it better. If there is one aspect that I think Atelier Sophie actually improves, and is not a weird half-step back in, it's the series's signature alchemy system. Like previous releases, it continues to shatter that expectation that crafting is often boring in games and creates an addictive formula when it comes to making one item to the next. The title borrow many alchemy elements from the prior "Dusk" trilogy while adding more of puzzle element to each creation. Basically, each item you add have their own color and shaping, and by adding them smartly to the cauldron it will lead to very useful traits or outright better items. Though it was weird for me to adjust to, unlike the rest of the game the alchemy system grew on me over time. The shift to new hardware did not help the title either. Now, I pretty much always complain about how explorable environments often look very drab in Atelier games, but it is even less acceptable on the PS4. Sure, the character models are pleasant to look at, and the whimsical soundtrack is great to listen to, but even as someone who is not really a technical snob still thinks the environments look quite awful in this title. Though I know it won't happen with Atelier Firis on the horizon in Japan, Atelier Sophie is probably the first title to truly make me think that Gust Corporation should give their games another year to polish everything up. This does not just apply to the presentation, Atelier Sophie simply does not feel fleshed out as an Atelier release from presentation, gameplay, as well as the generally boring cast of characters. Atelier Sophie is probably the first title of recent Atelier releases that I would have honestly been totally fine with skipping outright. Oddly enough, I don't even think it has to do with series fatigue at all as someone who has been following the series pretty much yearly. I simply think Atelier Sophie takes too many steps back from its gameplay systems to its overall structure and is that much less enjoyable because of it. To further reemphasize my main point, Atelier Sophie is by no means a bad game, just an unremarkable step back for the series that makes a very disappointing debut on PS4. Pros + Carefree design allows the player to take their time + Deep alchemy system with a puzzle-like charm to it + Whimsical soundtrack and vibrant character models Cons -Overall structure feels quite aimless and is very disjointed because of the newly added day/night cycle - Getting certain alchemy recipes and ingredients can be needlessly tedious - Environments look awful and are really not acceptable on PS4 - Odd steps back with combat and gameplay interface - Wholly forgettable characters and storytelling Overall Score: 5.5 (out of 10) Average Though Atelier games have a tendency for distinguish themselves amongst many tried and true Japanese RPGs. Atelier Sophie, however, may very well be the least noteworthy and forgettable title in recent memory to bear the Atelier name. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  3. Developer: Gust Corporation Publisher: Koei Tecmo Platform: PlayStation 3 Release Date: March 10, 2015 ESRB: T for Teen With a near-annual schedule since a 1997 debut, the Atelier series has now reached its sixteenth main entry. Though I have become something of a consistent fan of their whimsical alchemy-centric RPG nature over time, I could feel myself slowly drifting away from the series after the previous two "Dusk" entries. I could tell Atelier Ayesha and Atelier Escha & Logy were good games, and they tried some different things that I liked, but something about them just did not click with me like the prior “Arland” trilogy. Perhaps the formula was getting old for me, and maybe the new direction and characters just weren't resonating with me as much as I would like. What I actually realized is that Atelier Ayesha and Escha & Logy were simply not as enjoyable. The third and final entry to the Dusk trilogy, Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea, not only reminds me why I even got into the series but it also outclasses both of its prequels in many ways. The last entry in the trilogy continues to leave the world in a bad way. The "Dusk" is causing fresh water to drastically deplete, wildlife to starve, and desert masses to stretch far beyond the eye can see. So, the attention shifts to commerce town of Stellard, known in particular for its fresh water supply. Within Stellard are the two main "Shallie" protagonists: a brunette chieftain's daughter, Shallistera, who intends to find work to compensate for accidental collateral damage caused by her airship and also by helping her decaying village; and an eccentric green-haired girl, Shallotte, who is flat-out broke and simply looking to make a better life for her and her mother. Like the previous Atelier Escha & Logy, you have a choice between playing the two different "Shallie" protagonists. While their overall tone and cutscenes differ early in, with Shallotte generally being more happy-go-lucky, and Shalistera's side is slightly more self-serious, they both more or less converge around the halfway mark so that you don't really miss too much from either side by the end beyond unique endings, specific character events, and music. Traditional Atelier titles used to be light-hearted RPGs that blended time-management, simple yet enjoyable combat/exploration systems, many tongue-in-cheek character interactions, and a surprisingly deep crafting system that wove it all together. Pretty much all of that is still here except for the time-management part. This was a heated topic for earlier games where people either found it too limiting or—if you are like me—made it so the games were at a constant moving pace. Either way, that is completely gone now, and in its place are far more flexible "life tasks". Life tasks are a surprisingly solid alternative that should please fans of either side because of how much it allows you go at your own pace while also telling the player what they can do to progress the main story. There is a lot to do in Atelier Shallie to the point of almost feeling like an insider-only club at the offset. A lot of this is because it is front loaded with mechanics and doesn't really hold your hand regarding how to play through most of it beyond some fairly brief tutorials. It seems easy enough at first as you fulfill basic requests at the Cooperative Union Headquarters by exploring new areas, making or bringing assigned items, killing specific monsters, or as Sharlotte would say: "Picking up traaash ♪. For almost no caaash ♪," but it quickly escalates from there. The concept that I like the most about this title is that you are not really funneled into any one play style. You are sort of encouraged to mess around with every facet as they each feed into one another. Unsurprisingly, since alchemy is the series staple, it remains as a centerpiece of it all. Opposed to being a chore in most games, crafting becomes a deceptively deep and addictive puzzle-like mini-game in Atelier Shallie. Not only is it satisfying to learn its nuances to make combat/exploration easier, but you can also easily get caught up in the "One more item..." mentality, just for the sake of it. Maybe you want to make the best barrel possible? (I know I would). Or perhaps you want to have its traits carry over to something entirely different that makes the next item even better? Before you know it, it has you in its evil but cutely presented trap, and this is before you even get to the other aspects. Still, the other aspects are certainly worth talking about. When you go out adventuring, battles are quite flashy and enjoyable despite being turn-based. It isn't until you get at least a six-person party that it really shines with elaborate follow-up attacks, super moves, dual-draw alchemy skills, and the newly added burst mechanic, which honestly does not take very long considering the fast overall gameplay flow and the game itself being a bit too generous with leveling up rather quickly. Also new to the series is a revolving-camera for most dungeons/areas (as opposed to a fixed-camera angle). This is by no means anything new for RPGs in general, but for the Atelier series it does make exploring and gathering in new environments more varied, since the general scope has been increased and the conveniences designed around it. The environment themselves could benefit from more visual detail, however, because of their general stark appearance. Where Atelier Shallie actually stumbles the most is with its characterization and storytelling. Atelier has never been known for high-quality storytelling, but Dusk trilogy in particular felt like the foundation for something more substantial, with its desolate world and implications of events' past, during Atelier Ayesha in particular. Unfortunately, it ends on a rather lukewarm narrative note and abandons most prior buildup with its setting and characters. The characters that do have a presence obviously fair better, avoiding Escha & Logy's issue of a paper-thin supporting cast and having noticeable individuality. And while the humor and delivery doesn't always hit its mark, the platonic relationship between the cast generally tends to be endearing more often than not despite their lack of a purposeful narrative footing around them. Though it doesn't succeed at presenting a fleshed out narrative, it does rather well with its visual and audio design. It has been noticeable that Gust has been trying to move away from visual novel-esque character portraits... with varying degrees of success (I'm looking at you, Ar Nosurge). They have progressively gotten better at forging more anime-like 3D character models and it especially shows in Atelier Shallie from the stylish skills in battle to cutesy character tics during cutscenes to even alchemy, despite the far less impressive backgrounds behind them. What is actually more pleasant than the game's vibrant visual style is its impressive soundtrack. Atelier Ayesha was no slouch with its excellent musical score, but Atelier Shallie manages to surpass even it with the sheer breadth and variety of its score. There is just a jubilant whimsy to the soundtrack with its distinct, catchy pan-flute or accordion percussion for character themes, to battle tracks that range from rocking to raving, that even if you have no interest in the actual game, it is worth giving a listen to. With its sights focused on quality gameplay over the unrealized ambition of its setting, Atelier Shallie easily bests both of its predecessors in nearly every way. It is rich with both audio and visual personality, rewarding and addictive gameplay, and a far more lenient structure for the outside looking in. It may have lost track of its potentially interesting background and characters, but I am convinced that Gust has brought their A-game to the final entry of the Dusk trilogy where it counts—as a fun, light-hearted take on RPGs that is belittled only by the unrealized potential of its setting. Pros: + Rewarding, addictive crafting mechanics + Flashy and fun turn-based combat + Excellent soundtrack + Distinct anime-like character models with lots of personality + Time limit system has been removed and replaced by a very varied and flexible gameplay structure Cons: - Storytelling and (most) characters do not really develop in any meaningful way - Front loaded with mechanics that can be overwhelming for series newcomers - Exploration environments don't look particularly good Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10) Great Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea proves that when the series is focused that it can more than showcase why its cunning RPG formula has not washed away over time. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS3 code provided by the publisher.
  4. Developer: Gust Corporation Publisher: Tecmo Koei Platform: PS3 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 “Arland” 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. Pros: + 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 Cons: - 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) Good 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
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    From the album: Atelier Escha & Logy

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    From the album: Atelier Escha & Logy

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    From the album: Atelier Escha & Logy

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    From the album: Atelier Escha & Logy

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    From the album: Atelier Escha & Logy

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    From the album: Atelier Escha & Logy

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  11. Developer: Gust Corporation Publisher: Tecmo Koei Platform: PlayStation 3 Release Date: March 5, 2013 ESRB: T for Teen For the past few years, the long-running Atelier franchise has been one of the very few series that I don't mind playing in annual doses. These strange RPG titles blend a focus on unconventional item-crafting with light-hearted character interactions, while also making very significant improvements with each PS3 release. As much as I enjoyed the previous PS3 games (well, minus Rorona), it was about time for Gust to break away from the Arland trilogy of games with a new setting and characters. Fortunately for me, Atelier Ayesha does just that by being a completely independent title and having a more approachable overall structure. The question is: Does it do enough to appeal to a wider audience as well as satiate fans of the most recent releases? Meet the young apothecary, Ayesha Altugle, who lives by herself crafting medicine after her grandfather and, more recently, sister passed away. Upon visiting her sister's grave, who was believed to be spirited away three years ago, Ayesha notices a silent phantom figure that resembled her sister, Nio, before it shortly disappears. An elderly alchemist who happened to nearby, Keithgriff, notices the strange occurrence and tells her that it was quite possibly no coincidence at all and her sister may very well still be alive. Ayesha fails to press too much information out of Keith, however, who only tells her vaguely that if she wants to possibly save her sister she must pursue alchemy and uncover the mystery behind special glowing flowers within three years time otherwise she will forever lose any chance of seeing Nio again. In contrast to the most recent PS3 Atelier games, which were usually overwhelming bubbly and energetic from the get-go, Atelier Ayesha starts with a surprisingly bleaker overall tone. In terms of setting, there are hints of constant decay across the region and the disappearance of Nio serve as lingering undertones throughout. Of course, the game doesn't get oppressively morbid by any means, and it is certainly more whimsical than most games with its character interactions alone, but it is an interesting, albeit subtle, tonal shift from the earlier games. Unfortunately, the storytelling itself isn't as intriguing as it is built up to be in the long run, and interesting aspects about the setting are not fully touched upon, possibly reserved for the upcoming Atelier Esha & Logy, but it does earn itself some endearing moments through its characters and interactions. As for the gameplay, the various events and character interactions Ayesha encounters meshes together to help structure the game. By gaining 'memories' they will open various benefits throughout the game, like stat increases, alchemy recipes exploration bonuses, and much more, and it serves as an interesting replacement for Atelier Meruru's kingdom development system. Ayesha can also chronicle these events in her diary through the use of 'memory points' to reap even more benefits. Memory points are generally gained through exploration, completing quests, synthesizing, and defeating monsters. In conjunction with storytelling and gameplay, this facet melds together rather cohesively, especially when working towards the many endings and narrative events. During Ayesha's journey she will also traverse across the region. Navigation is simple with a straightforward overworld map through the various locales, with time passing as Ayesha explores and travels to new areas. Contrary to the narrative, the game is also less pressing time-wise than previous Atelier games, due to its more ambiguous objectives and structure, which is probably rather welcoming for newcomers. In addition to expanding the narrative, traveling allows Ayesha to gather new items for synthesizing and to fight various monsters in a simple turn-based combat system. The combat system of Ayesha seems to utilize some familiar framework of the Arland trilogy, with support meters that build up through a battle: so party members can defend, follow-up attacks, status enhancing skills, and use devastating finishing moves during combat. New to Atelier Ayesha, however, is an extra layer of depth, with a positioning based system where allies can attack from behind, side, and, of course, the front of enemies. While it does sound like an improvement overall, I think it takes a couple steps back from the pace of Atelier Meruru. Battles and attack animations are quite noticeable slower (and less flashy) than Meruru's, and Ayesha herself feeling less useful in combat. Considering Atelier Ayesha's lack of difficulty and the relatively simple combat, the slower combat system feesl like one step forward, and two steps back, like much of the game in general. Through the use of Alchemy, or rather, the act of synthesizing, makes for an important aspect of the Atelier series and Atelier Ayesha isn't too different, in theory. Having said that, synthesizing is a bit more contrived and not as integral in this Atelier compared to the Arland trilogy. The quantity and quality of item forging isn't as important, that isn't necessarily a bad thing for newcomers who just want to meet the bare minimum for quests, but it is actually less intuitive than previous games for veteran synthesizers. Deeper nuances of crafting feel restricted until Ayesha raises her skills a fair bit and gains much better quality ingredients. A bigger problem is that, alchemy really feels like it is much less purposeful in general, since it mainly used for basic quest design for revenue, and its overall benefits feeling much more passive compared to what I found to be the much more actively rewarding Atelier Meruru. One of my bigger nitpicks is with the clumsy design for town based quests or 'delivery requests'. While the goal/task/log interface is intuitive for more story/character pertinent missions, or objectives in various other locations, the local quests or 'delivery requests' in towns are never marked. So the game pretty much expects you to remember what NPCs wanted what. I know I said alchemy doesn't feel as important, since it isn't exactly for anything beyond town requests, but it is the main means of obtaining specific items for the NPCs. Players will definitely want the funds from delivery requests since they are the game's most consistent source of revenue. Considering how there is quite a few delivery requests with deadlines and several towns, it seems like a needless annoyance to not have it noted when the general interface is done rather well. It's apparent that Atelier Ayesha isn't a very high budget title if you go by looks alone, with that in mind, I do appreciate the new shift in art direction. The prude in me appreciates the more conservatively dressed character designs who actually have pretty faithful character models to complement it. Though, almost to contrast, the environments are still very stark and bland throughout, with the few exceptions of the visual vibrancy with certain flowers motifs for presentation. On the audio front, Atelier Ayesha has an excellent musical score, and is almost in a different league comparison to the Arland trilogy, and it plays with a bunch of musical styles. The soundtrack is a real treat overall from whimsical waltz-like themes, toe-tapping worthy jazzy tracks, to the more stirring and foreboding choruses. Voice acting is also not bad, but has some drawbacks, primarily due to budget constraints. Compared to the Japanese release there is significantly less recorded voice acting overall, and the dub in general relegated to English-only with no Japanese alternative, which that alone incited some unfortunate internet controversy. Taken all into account, however, Atelier Ayesha does some seriously impressive stuff with the soundtrack, and even the English dub is decent too for the most part despite its constraints. Atelier Ayesha is both a pleasant diversion and also a disappointing departure from what the previous Arland trilogy established. While the change in tone, setting, characters, and presentation are most certainly welcome, I feel like it takes a noticeable step back as a game with a far less engaging and rewarding structure, especially in comparison to Atelier Meruru. It makes for a more approachable Atelier game, but not necessary the most entertaining. It's definitely a good game in its own right, but I can only hope that the upcoming Atelier Escha & Logy takes some cues from the Arland trilogy, while capitalizing and fully-expanding upon the things Atelier Ayesha tried to do different. Pros: + Likable characters and some endearing scenes + Pleasant new art direction + Plenty of things to do and is the most approachable PS3 game in the series + Excellent soundtrack and decent English voice acting Cons: - Battles are too slow considering their simplicity and game“s lack of difficulty - Narrative and setting are underutilized - Alchemy/Synthesizing is not very rewarding... for series built on it - Clumsy quest interface Overall Score: 7.0 (out of 10) Good Atelier Ayesha is both charming for what it tries to do different as well as disappointing for what it doesn't do quite as well. While it isn't necessarily the most engaging game in the series, it is the most approachable PS3 title and it will hopefully serve as a solid foundation for the upcoming Atelier Escha & Logy. A download code was provided by the publisher for this review
  12. Tecmo Koei has announced a release date for the latest release in the Atelier series, Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky. The game is expected to ship on March 11, 2014 and will be available on PS3. Atelier Escha & Logy focuses on the exploits of dual protagonists this time around - a young man named Logy and a girl named Escha - as they learn to make use of alchemy and lost alchemic technologies in order to survive the impending "Dusk End." New to this entry is the Imbuing system, which allows Logy to customize his weapons and armor, while Escha revised synthesis ability grows along with her. Also new is the ability to add up to 6 characters in battle which makes things a bit more strategic and fast-paced in fights. You can check out the intro for Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky below.
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    From the album: Atelier Meruru Plus

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    From the album: Atelier Ayesha

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    Atelier Ayesha 2

    From the album: Atelier Ayesha

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    Atelier Ayesha CG

    From the album: Atelier Ayesha

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    Atelier Ayesha 6

    From the album: Atelier Ayesha

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    From the album: Atelier Ayesha

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  19. Maybe the Atelier series isn't the most popular. Or the most innovative. Maybe it isn't the most heavily-marketed or the most localized series. Whatever, it doesn't have anything to prove to you. What it does have, however, is a die-hard fan base and, as of right now, a boat load of screen shots for the upcoming Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky. The upcoming installment into the series features a Star Ocean 2-esque option of choosing one of two characters: Escha Malier, a 15 year-old girl who is studying alchemy, or Logix Fiscario, an 18 year-old swordsman who is an alchemy school dropout who wields his not-as-good alchemy skills in tandem with his sword. The story is essentially the same regardless of character, but there are supposedly multiple endings, some of which are contingent on chosen protagonist. Below, we have a gallery, for your perusal, of many screen shots released by Gust, courtesy of Dengeki Playstation. Feel free to look around them. There are no hidden pictures of Ben Savage for April Fool's Day or anything. Atelier Escha & Logy is aiming for a June 27th release on the PlayStation 3 in Japan, so keep your eyes open here and we'll let you know when you can pick it up here in the US of A and maybe, just maybe Europe.