Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky Review

Author: Leo Chan
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Monday, May 5th, 2014
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Games/s/atelier_escha_logy/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

There's charming wordplay hidden in the wordy title Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky, the fifteenth(!) official instalment of Gust's long running RPG series. Yes, it has to with eschatology; break it down into "escha-to-logy", and you have the Japanese way of saying "Escha and Logy", the names of the two main characters.

Breaking out our Wikipedia cheat sheet, eschatology is an age-old line of theological study concerning the "final events of history, or the ultimate destiny of humanity"; in other words, the end times. That's some heavy stuff, and indeed the player learns right at the beginning that Escha and Logy's world is slowly meeting a fate called the "Dusk End." The people of this world thus turn to the rediscovered art of alchemy in hopes of stemming, even averting, this encroaching end. Atelier Escha & Logy may not go out of its way to present itself as dreary and fatalist at the setup appears, but the sepia color scheme combined with a focus on learning from the distant past make for a certain melancholy which carries throughout the game.

Welcome to the Atelier

The Atelier series has traditionally been about managing any available time you had to "synthesize" items using alchemy to meet goals and deadlines. Console RPG-style exploration and battles have grown to become much more prevalent with recent entries, and the focus on these elements compared to item synthesis has varied depending on the title. With Atelier Escha & Logy, Gust aimed for a balance between console RPG and "classic" Atelier series gameplay.

From the hub city of Colseit where your atelier (alchemy workshop) is based, you'll explore the world and confront any danger for the sake of unravelling the mystery behind the disappearance of natural resources (and the stakes only get higher).  Escha and Logy are new recruits in Colseit's Reseach & Development department, which already has a lot to prove to the governing bodies based on its sorry state at the beginning of the game. Getting it back in shape means delivering results, and eventually both alchemists and the motley crew of adventurers they assemble will be drawn into something bigger surrounding the unexplored ruins floating in the sky on the outskirts of Colseit.

Story progression is handled via term assignments issued each quarter of the in-game year, visualized as a "bingo board" of tasks. Successfully complete tasks to fill up the board and score bonus rewards which will help down the road. Partitioning the game in this way also serves as a convenient equivalent to chapters of a story, with each revealing a little more of Escha and Logy's side of the world that was first introduced in the preceding title, Atelier Ayesha (some characters in this game actually return from Ayesha).

Each term lasts a number of days that varies depending on your performance; it's not Game Over if you fall behind schedule and report late, but you'll have less time available for future terms and you may not be able to take advantage of new features for the atelier as quickly.

The fun comes in trying to complete all the additional tasks in each term before the reporting period. You're free to choose how to tackle assignments during the term, but it's generally a good idea to complete the main ones first so you'll have plenty of free time to handle all the extra objectives. That means rising to the occasion as both adventurer who kicks butt and alchemist who synthesises all manner items and gear.

Boys Make Guns, Girls Make Explosives

Item synthesis feels like a minigame at first, but it's actually one of the most important aspects of the game to attempt to master. It's here in item synthesis where Atelier Escha & Logy's more refined gameplay elements will arise, which is just as well since the world exploration part isn't terribly exciting. Gathering for the ingredients necessary for item synthesis back at the atelier generally amounts to wandering around areas accessible from the world map and interacting with gathering "hotspots" which are hard to miss. One twist is that actions performed on the field contribute to a Field Event meter which players can then use to activate various effects like increased chances of finding rare items (relics), or fighting harder monsters. Ingredients are also earned from defeating enemies, which refreshingly are viewable on the map allowing you to engage or avoid encounters as you see fit.

It's simple enough to synthesize items which range from potions, bombs, weapons and armor (and even apple tarts and distilled water) by plugging in ingredients by categories as dictated by recipes you need to acquire beforehand. As your Alchemy level grows (separate from your character or Adventurer level), you'll be able to tap into special synthesis skills as well as leverage effects and properties inherent in items to create items that are (ideally) greater than the sum of the parts. It won't be long before you get in the habit of looking for the most advantageous combination of items during synthesis.

In making item synthesis a highlight of the game that rewards diligence within a limited timeframe, Atelier Escha & Logy pays fine tribute to the series roots. It's a rewarding system that can easily see you spending plenty of in-game days each term in the atelier alone as you synthesize items to be used in further synthesis. However, the linear progression of the game basically leads to a cycle where you discover better recipes and ingredients to create new items (or improve old ones) that likely render your past creations obsolete. By endgame, some of the coolest properties you'll want to pass down to your creations are typically only obtained from relics you uncover during field exploration by way of Field Events. Thus your ability to enjoy Atelier Escha & Logy rests on how well you stick with the item synthesis system the whole way through.

Recent Atelier games have been just as experimental with the battle system, and with Atelier Escha & Logy it serves as another highlight. Battles remain menu-driven, turn-based affairs where the order of action can be determined by a gauge that lists all participants from both sides. You'll also have the ability to move party members about the battlefield for positional attacks or dodging area attacks from enemies, as well as switching no less than six different party members between front and back lines on the fly as situations warrant.

The key to success in encounters where the difficulty suddenly spikes is to maximize the in-battle Support Bar which builds in levels based on your actions each turn. Support Bar levels can then be used to get party members to mitigate damage by taking hits for others, or more importantly call in support attacks from both the front and back line once you go on the offensive. Successfully pull off a string of support attacks to build up both the Support Bar and damage rate in a single combo, and you'll be able to unleash even more powerful special attacks which are suitably flashy and over the top in the grand tradition of JPRGs. Perhaps you may even be able to get the two alchemists themselves to team up for a special Double Draw attack!

It's here in battles where your item synthesizing efforts will bear fruit as all the equipment, attack and healing items you've (hopefully) kitted your main characters with before setting out on a journey will make a huge difference in turning some of the tougher enemy encounters around. Slap on the juicy properties on your items and gear and you just might be able to break the game before it breaks you.

Alchemy With Character

Battles are also a great opportunity to showcase the much improved 3D models for all playable characters. The visual direction overall moves away from the cel-shaded look of recent Atelier games in switching over to a new game engine for this entry, but characters are detailed like never before; now you really can point out all the belt buckles on these JRPG heroes. These character models remain in use outside of battles as well.

Gust's attention to detail for the in-game models of the main characters is well placed, because the characters and the interactions between them remain as key an ingredient (pun intended) in Atelier Escha & Logy as it has ever been in past games. The more time your characters spend together out in the field and in the atelier, the more events you get to trigger with them.

You'll be frequently reminded of the bigger picture as you progress through the game, but make no mistake: Atelier Escha & Logy is heavily rooted in these slice-of-life interactions .Indeed, perhaps the true challenge in Atelier games is getting to see as many of the character events in a single playthrough as possible to get their endings! There's even a Trophy for each ending. While the characters admittedly won't impress players who aren't already sold on typical anime tropes, their events at least serve to flesh them out in context of the game's setting.

Sadly the focus on the characters also means the rest of the world itself typically doesn't feel so impressive. It's just as well that you can't rotate the camera to get a better view of the surroundings (though there is a mostly pointless option to zoom it in) given how many areas are bland both in appearance and design. Even the main town hub where your atelier is located doesn't look too lively (it doesn't help that NPCs in town load slower than the area itself), but at least there's fast travel between all the areas!

Low draw distances in some areas also stick out like a sore thumb. Worse still is how the frame rate can suffer at times, though it bears mentioning that I am playing on an older launch model of the PS3 (yes, it still works). Fortunately the soundtrack fares much better to produce a pleasant listening experience that captures both a sense of adventure and (as mentioned earlier) a certain sadness.

Genuine sadness meanwhile is reserved for the game's spotty text translation, which contains numerous errors. As you know, things getting lost in the translation only leads to confusion. One of the biggest offenders of this is the game's implementation of "S/M/L" to describe the magnitude of an item's effects or properties. Think they mean Small/Medium/Large in some form? Nope, "L" is in fact the weakest level this time around. Players have taken to calling it "Strong/Medium/Light" just to make sense of it. Misleading localization even extends to the objectives for some assigments.

JRPG and anime fans will appreciate the option of playing the game with the original Japanese voice acting, especially considering how Atelier games are designed to appeal to both audiences. Opinions on the English dub will naturally be subjective, but at least you'll recognize voice actors who are no strangers to anime and game localizations. Reyfer's cowboy accent will represent either the high or low point of where the localization exercises some creative liberty. And yes, Johnny Young Bosch is in this game. No, he is not the cowboy.

Final Thoughts

I confess I haven't been with the franchise long enough to tell you if the Atelier series needed all the "modern" and trendy JRPG trappings like edgey heroes jumping 50 feet into the air to perform super stylish sword skills. At time of writing, there's even DLC available offering additional characters like the fan-favorite Wilbell as well as new dungeons that provide new avenues for acquiring some of the more impressive item properties. While Atelier Escha & Logy very much carries itself as a JRPG complete with the requisite grind, it's done in way that Atelier fans can warm up to. That's because you're not so much grinding for character levels as you are grinding for alchemy levels to be able to produce better items which can then be fully appreciated when you're ready to set out and kick some butt.

Thus Alchemy still plays a fundamental role both gameplay- and story-wise. Indeed, players looking to maximize their enjoyment from this newest take on the Atelier series will ignore gathering and item synthesis at their peril; the harder boss battles are nuts without badass gear you must create and customize yourself! Much like item synthesis itself, Atelier Escha & Logy attempts to combine and draw from various elements to become a finished product that inherits as many of the best properties as possible. What came out of this cauldron is as fine an introduction as any to Gust's Atelier series for longtime JRPG fans, but I think it's safe to say there's plenty here to reward series fans too.

This review is based on a digital version of Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky for PlayStation 3. A review copy of Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky was provided by Koei Tecmo.

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