Last year I was introduced to the long-standing Atelier series with Atelier Ayesha: Alchemist of Dusk and, despite the aesthetic beauty and deliberately sedate pace, I found it hard to connect with the world and characters – perhaps because of my more Western tastes, or perhaps because I was so late to the party. Hugely successful in Japan and popular with a select audience elsewhere, the series focuses primarily on material gathering and the art of alchemy rather than combat and exploration.
The latest edition, Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky, borrows a lot of elements from the previous game – and indeed elsewhere in the franchise – but deviates by presenting a dual storyline with a clear split between gameplay styles.
Still set in the land of Dusk, Escha & Logy offers two versions of the same campaign, allowing you to select either Escha Malier or Logix Ficsario as your avatar from the beginning. Whichever one you don’t choose becomes your constant companion. The gameplay differences are clear even if the narrative remains largely unchanged: Logy’s journey is closer to a traditional JRPG experience, being more combat-heavy, and he is able to create weapons and armour for your eventual party to use. Escha, on the other hand, is more light-hearted, with the onus on the alchemy. Her cutscenes and side concerns are described by the developers as being like “a day in the life of”, and it’s accurate. Escha follows the JRPG template of a naive young girl who sees the good in everything.
Both are new recruits to an organisation called the Centre, which is focused on improving and progressing the little town of Colseit, itself built in the shadow of an ancient floating island full of mysterious ruins. The ultimate aim is to mount an expedition to the ruins, which requires training, personal improvement, the gathering of a team, and the appropriation of an airship. The campaign is presented as a series of ten missions – or Assignments – and around 15 smaller tasks that must be completed over the course of four in-game months. These assignments and tasks might include exploring the world, gathering rare materials or fighting particular enemies. Each one is given a time limit, and failing to meet it sees the allotted time for your next assignment reduced. It’s a decent system as most times are fair, but not being allowed to simply mess about for hours on end adds a sense of urgency that ties in nicely with the narrative.
Where Logy can create armaments, Escha can craft items and more powerful potions. The alchemy seems complex at first and will be especially daunting to newcomers, but it doesn’t take long to understand the fairly comprehensive system. The items and potions play a major role in battle, though, so it’s essential to get to grips with it sooner than later.
You can take a total of six characters into battle, with three up front and three in reserve. Similarly to Atelier Ayesha, there’s a Support system that uses a finite pool of points to allow extra defence or more attacks per turn depending on who is supporting your character and how. Escha and Logy have a special synergy in battle as they can use items, either alone or together through a move called the “Double Down”. It increases the properties of an item to give you an advantage, and is particularly useful when fighting a boss, whose fights elevate the game from a schmaltzy jaunt to a serious challenge. Combat feels slick and as well-developed as the alchemy, even though it’s not entirely unique and borrows ideas from other games both in and outside the Atelier franchise.
Ultimately, you’re aiming for one of eleven possible endings – all of which can apparently be experienced on a single playthrough with each character. It’s worth playing as both for the complete experience, and there are enough unique events and dialogue deviations to not feel the sense of deja vu too heavily.
The voice acting is nothing special, and often you’ll find large chunks of dialogue missing a voiceover altogether as you did in Ayesha, but the script isn’t bad. Iffy localisation work makes the pronunciation of names an irritant, though: Logy is pronounced Lodgy, Escha is pronounced Eska, and a character whose name is written as Clone is referred to as Clo-nee. It’s not a real complaint, but it grated on my nerves every time. Likewise the female voice actors are universally irritating, with Escha’s squeaky whine standing out in particular.
The aesthetics borrow the oil-painting visual style from Ayesha, presenting sharp, bright, almost cel-shaded character models on beautiful, soft backgrounds, giving Escha & Logy a charming, fairytale quality. Loading times are short, which is handy as you’ll be moving between screens a lot, and the menu is basic and intuitive, leaving saving, loading, and alchemy to a specific place in-game (that is, the protagonists’ shared office).
Despite the appealing graphical style and decent combat and crafting, Atelier Escha & Logy won’t please everyone. For a start, it’s often quite sedate even with the four-month time limit, and the characters are bland and, sadly, fairly rote even though they each have a back-story slowly divulged as you play. Newcomers are unlikely to be hooked, and if you’re not into JRPGs as a whole, you’ll find little to keep you interested here.
One of the dangers of such a long-running series is that the developers can forget about innovation, so focused are they on preserving established, fan-pleasing features. As a result, later games in the franchise can feel a little stale, and Escha & Logy suffers from exactly that. There’s something that feels almost too laid back here, as though the developers took the path of least resistance in terms of story and characterisation.
VERDICT: Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky is an enjoyable romp through a pretty enough world, but one that may struggle to resonate with Western audiences. Fans of the series and established canon will find much to love, though, from the whimsical characters to the competent battle and crafting systems. If on the other hand you’re just looking for something a little different, you shouldn’t be put off by either Atelier’s more relaxed approach, or a handful of audio bugs and mispronounced names.
GOOD. A game that scores 7/10 is worthy of note, but unworthy of fanfare. It does many things well, but only a few of them incredibly well and, despite a handful of good qualities, fresh ideas and solid mechanics, it fails to overwhelm.
Review code provided by publisher.