One of my favourite things about this job is getting to review JRPGs because you never really know what you’re going to get with that particular genre. Obviously some turn based combat is probably going to show up and depending on the studio involved it’s most likely going to have some anime influences but what kind of crazy path the story will take and what convoluted and terribly named systems you’ll get to interact with are a mystery. A game could focus on bad gaming references, stripping, farming, or in the case of the Atelier series, making your own items. It’s those odd focuses that truly make or break these games and thankfully when it comes to the Atelier series’ particular quirk of making all your own stuff, it works and this latest entry, Atelier Escha and Logy: Alchemist of the Dusk Sky, takes that concept further than it’s ever been before.
Those who’ve read my Atelier Meruru review or have played past games in this series might remember that the Atelier games are focused on two things, synthesizing items and traditional turn based combat. Both of those key areas have had a lot added to them and been made much more complex. The synthesis is no longer just adding items together, you have much more control over how those items combine and over time can learn skills that will allow you to essentially break the rules. All the special traits of an item are based upon levels of elemental essence and using those aforementioned skills you can harness that essence to do things like add an already used item a second time or increase your total capacity for added items. You’re also gaining more of these skills as you continue to synth (you even have a separate synthesis level aside from your character level) and by the end of the game you can use the worst ingredients to make the best items if you’re smart enough to really use those skills to their full extent. It gives the item creation an almost puzzle game sort of feel which makes it really engaging.
Combat has also been deepened and you have been given a ton of systems to play around with, which similar to the synthesis, all seem to be about you gaming the rules. First off you get to have a party of six people rather than three but only three of your members are actively fighting at any time while the others hang out in the back row, however that doesn’t mean those in the back row can’t contribute to the offensive. Every attack you make builds up support points which you can spend to allow any member of your party, regardless of row, to perform a follow-up attack; these points also allow you to have your party guard each other when attacked by the enemy. This means that rather than the standard JRPG back and forth a lot of your time is spent creatively trying to build support points and then unleashing your entire party in one blast. Oh and before you worry that this just means falling back on using the basic attack over and over again, almost everything builds support points and can enable an attack chain. This means that you can experiment with all the special attacks and lovingly crafted attack items that you want because it all builds into your ultimate attack strategy. Really my only complaint with the combat is that it is far too easy, I never once died in the 22 hours I spent playing this game and the combat for as much fun as it was does get somewhat tedious when it feels like there’s no danger or risk to it.
The biggest change here though comes with the story and the fact that instead of focusing on a single alchemist, you’re controlling a duo, the studious but quiet Logy and the talented yet inexperienced Escha. The game lets you pick which one you’d like to play as and while the main story plays out the same no matter what, which character you inhabit affects your perspective and gives you a different inner monologue, which obviously gives the game some replayability. The plot is that the both of you are alchemists in the employ of a vague national government posted in the small frontier town of Colseit which is famed for its many nearby ruins. But while you might expect exploring said ruins to be the game’s focus and while you will certainly do some delving throughout the course of the game, your main objective here is pretty much just to do your job and serve the people of Colseit as best you can. The whole civil servant aspect of things gives the game a nice Harvest Moon touch and while there is certainly an end game to work towards, it’s the journey and the interactions that you’ll have along the way that are the focus. On that note a lot of the little side interactions you’ll have with the members of your party as well as the NPCs of Colseit are generally pretty well written and offer an occasional chuckle. Most importantly though this game manages to not fall into the standard JRPG/anime pit traps, characters can be goofy but are rarely cartoonishly overdone and the conversations they have generally had a nicely charismatic yet laid back tone. Probably my favourite exchange happens later in the game if you choose to play as Logy when one of his co-workers from another department within the office tells him that everyone is jealous because Logy’s department, R&D, is staffed by pretty much all women. Instead of the standard anime responses of cold detachment or acting like a creepy lecher, Logy says that dating coworkers is a pretty bad idea on all fronts and that being the lone island of testosterone in a sea of estrogen ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s a nicely realistic response that’s delivered in a pretty funny way and it’s indicative of the general quality of the writing in this game.
It’s also worth noting that the whole agent of bureaucracy thing plays into the gameplay structure as well. For one thing, rather than just picking up quests as you go, you are instead given a set of new tasks to complete every quarter, a surprisingly realistic take on RPG quest design. Every quarter holds a central task that must completed on time in order to continue the game but you’re also given a number of side quests that can be done to increase your rank and receive more rewards; these side tasks disappear at the end of every quarter so time management becomes a big part of the game. Your job is also the primary way you’re earning money as you’ll be paid a stipend at the start of every month, the amount of which depends upon your performance during that period, it’s similar to FF8 in that sense and it’s system I actually quite like.
Moving onto the presentation, things are really well done but do fall noticeably short in a couple of areas. This is especially the case for the graphics; you have these awesome looking character models which have a cool sketched look to them, almost as though their textures were drawn on by hand, but the world they inhabit is rather dull. The world geometry is fairly simple and the textures on everything are stale and boring, on bright side though it definitely makes the interesting looking character models stand out. Switching over to the sound design, the music is just awesome; it’s got a really eclectic mix of genres going on and it never feels overly derivative in the way that a lot of JRPG music can feel. My favourite piece by far is the music for when you’re just walking around Colseit, it’s a softer number that includes a full on Ron Burgundy style jazz flute breakdown in the middle. As for the VO, it can sound a little wooden at times but overall it’s fairly well done,
I really enjoyed my time with Escha & Logy, it’s a fun JRPG with a unique structure to it and a well executed focus. While I would have liked for the combat to be a bit more challenging or for the environments to look somewhat more polished, overall this feels like a quality product that any JRPG fan will enjoy. As someone who has enjoyed past entries in the Atelier series I definitely feel like this stands up to those earlier games and as such I’m giving Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky a 5 out of 5 stars.