A Delightful Alchemical Balance
Japan’s Gust is the little company that could, pumping out games in its Atelier series of alchemy games with impressive regularity. What’s even more impressive is that the company continues to experiment and improve upon its formula with every release. Atelier Escha & Logy , the second game in the company’s current Dusk series, shines with excellently balanced and compelling gameplay. It’s a welcoming title for fans old and new, with loveable characters and well-refined RPG systems.
The Dusk trilogy takes place in a world that is slowly dying. While this was largely background information in the first game, Atelier Ayesha , the world’s decline takes center stage in Escha & Logy . Its protagonists, the hard-working country girl Escha and the scholarly city boy Logy, are government officials tasked with using their alchemy skills to support a struggling frontier town as water is becoming scarce and crops are starting to fail. These two young people have their own big goals as well, however, and must learn to work together in order to help their neighbors while keeping their personal dreams alive.
Players have a choice between Escha and Logy as their primary character, but this doesn’t change the bulk of the game very much. Some scenes and possible endings will be different, but otherwise the two will constantly be working together and supporting each other with their complementary skills and temperaments. They’re joined by a colorful cast of characters, although Gust has turned down the eccentricity level of this game’s supporting cast down a notch this time. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—in fact, the more relatable cast makes the story that much more touching. It’s a gentle office drama transplanted into a fantasy world, which I found to be a refreshing departure from the usual RPG fare.
Atelier games have always featured a mix of exploration, combat, and item crafting with time management elements, but none have delivered as balanced and interesting a mix of these elements as Escha & Logy . Every four months, our heroes’ boss gives them a bingo card with their main assignment in the center and optional tasks all around. These tasks involve gathering ingredients, vanquishing foes, and creating various alchemical items. Since all these things take time, it behooves the player to plan carefully if they’d like to complete all of them to perfection. Completing all these optional tasks awards Escha and Logy with powerful alchemy recipes and the resources they’ll need to make their personal dreams come true.
The main assignment is usually quite easy to complete, and with a bit of intelligent planning, it’s not difficult to finish all the assigned tasks in time. Best of all, the game clearly shows the player where both quest and storyline scenes are located, making it easier than ever to complete party member storylines and set yourself up for your desired ending. Although it operates on a calendar, the game is balanced so that there’s never too much pressure on the player, and plenty of time to enjoy all it has to offer.
The first thing Escha & Logy presents players is an enhanced exploration and combat experience. Where other recent Atelier games have only allowed three party members at a time, this one allows up to six, with a front and back line. Combat is quite dynamic, with characters executing support moves that allow them to shuffle between the two lines, assisting each other and regenerating health and magic energy when in the back. Combat order is based on individual character and monster speed, with the characters having various ways to speed up or delay opponent turns. It’s entertaining and flows smoothly, particularly coming into its own during the game’s challenging boss battles.
On top of the enhanced combat, there’s a new “field system” that makes exploring more varied and fun. After performing a certain number of actions on the field such as fighting, gathering alchemy ingredients, or even talking to the locals, the player has the chance to do something interesting such as search for relics, gather all the nearby ingredients in one fell swoop, or take on dangerous foes that carry valuable treasure. This system means that even once you’ve completed all your tasks for a four-month period, there are still interesting things to do with your time.
Back at their base, Escha and Logy make use of one of the most flexible and fun alchemy systems Gust has ever produced. It’s somewhat involved and confusing at first, but with a bit of experimentation and observation, most players will find themselves preferring it to the simpler systems of old. Mixing up items and concoctions now involves balancing the four elements of earth, air, fire and water in order to draw out various properties in the finished product. Our alchemist friends have a ton of abilities that allow them to manipulate these elements, and the end result is that clever players can create impressively powerful weapons, armor, and consumable items to use in their quest.
There’s not a great need for assembly line mass production, either. Escha and Logy can equip their favorite consumable items onto a grid that grows larger as they complete assignments. Every time they return to town from their travels, these supplies are automatically replenished by the Provisions department. There’s no more need to slave over the cauldron making new healing salves after every adventure, although you won’t want to go hog-wild, since Provisions deducts the item expenses from Escha and Logy’s monthly stipend. This lack of repetition allows alchemy time to be spent on new discoveries rather than on necessities, which only adds to the fun.
All of this takes place in a sunset-tinged world brought to life by Gust’s talented artists. The game’s character designs are beautifully elaborate, and the characters’ faces are now animated during discussions. There’s an appropriate hint of melancholy to the world design, along with some very menacing boss monsters to battle. The only real issue is that many monster models are recycled from Atelier Ayesha , and veterans of that game are sure to sigh when they learn that they will once again be slogging through slags for a good portion of the mid-game.
Gust continues to improve its sound design as well, and I was particularly fond of the soft jazz soundtrack that has replaced the usual overly bubbly in-town tracks. As always, it’s possible to customize the background music, so most players should be able to find a workshop tune that they’ll enjoy listening to while crafting. The voice acting, while not on par with the best casts out there, is largely (with the exception of one poor cowboy caricature) easy to listen to. For otaku purists, the Japanese voice track is also available.
With multiple endings depending on the player’s actions throughout the game, Escha & Logy is meant to be replayable. It’s somewhat unfortunate that the game is so similar whether you choose Escha or Logy as your character, but even a single play through offers a lot of value to gamers. It’s one of those “one more turn” games in which you find yourself compelled to move from activity to activity, always looking towards meeting the next goal as hours of gaming drift pleasantly by. Whether you’re exploring new territory, working to revitalize the land, chasing dangerous foes, becoming closer with the many loveable characters, or grinning because you found a new way to manipulate the alchemy system, you’ll find this is a game that’s easy to love and difficult to put down.
There are so many gamers out there who would love the Atelier games, but simply don’t know about them. People who like the gathering and crafting in Minecraft , the planning involved in games like FarmVille , the turn-manipulation combat in Bravely Default … all of them would do well to check out Atelier Escha & Logy . Give it a try and spread the word if you like it, because this is an excellent title that deserves far more exposure than it has received.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Gorgeously atmospheric with excellent character design—dragged down only be recycled monster models. 4.5 Control
Intelligently designed, compelling RPG systems that shine throughout the game’s various activities. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Great music tracks that enhance the melancholy yet hopeful atmosphere and largely decent voice acting. 5.0 Play Value
Impressively balanced in a way that makes the game difficult to put down. 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|