[Review] Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky DX – Nintendo Switch

Written by Akio Kahoshi
  • Developer: Gust
  • Publisher: Koei Temco Games
  • Release date: 14/1/2020
  • Price: £32.99 / $39.99
  • Review code provided by Koei Temco Europe

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TO THE SKY

Atelier Escha & Logy is the second game in the Atelier Dusk Trilogy and features the pair of titular protagonists after they become State Branch Alchemists for the town of Colseit. The game can be played from either perspective, and the player will experience different points of view or even different scenes depending on which character is chosen. The story is primarily told through characters talking, with the occasional beautifully drawn CG for more active parts of the story. I would have loved to have seen more of the rare anime cut scenes spread throughout the game, but the CGs were often delightful in their own right

Performance-wise, the game runs very well. As a port of a PS3 game, the graphics are not the highest end compared to other games on the Switch, but everything looks lovely. I am a huge fan of the Steampunk aesthetic, and at no time did I think the game looked subpar. Both Japanese and English voices are available, and while the English voices are not perfect I enjoyed them. I also encountered an odd static for Escha’s Japanese voice that made it unpleasant to listen to. I do not know if this is a bug, or simply something wrong with my copy of the game. The game’s music, though, is fantastic, especially the main themes of the game. The cinematic that plays upon starting up the game was good enough I watched it every time I sat down to play.

Loading times were also exceptionally quick, which is good because the areas themselves are small. Each area in the game is broken up into several small zones, which are individually chosen. The areas themselves are also points on the world map that are traversed via foot or later blimp. Traveling between areas takes up days, so to minimize wasted days it is best to plan trips to prevent missing tasks in an area. Additionally, any ingredient gathering or battles in a zone will take up time, forcing the player to decide how much time of their limited time to spend on these tasks. The time loss felt punishing in the early game, but with upgrades to decrease the time cost, it felt trivial.

Size-wise even the larger zones only had a max of five or six enemy groups. The exceptions to the standard rule of zones being chosen from the map are the end game dungeons, which link these zones together in a linear fashion. As the game only allows saving at the world map or Atelier, I actually found the linear dungeons to be frustrating, and an odd choice after the rest of the game’s set up.

IT TAKES TWO

Despite one of the two primary alchemists being the “main” character for each playthrough, both Escha and Logy remain the core that the rest of the story is built around.  The two must divide the alchemy tasks, as neither has the ability to do everything. It was actually fun to see the interplay between the two, such as Logy asking Escha for an item that I needed to create a weapon, and her turning it over afterward. While these conversations were voice only as I was in the alchemy menu, it still underscored that the two relied on each other to get their work done. Over the course of the games four-year story, the relationships not just between Escha and Logy but with the other characters, are slowly developed in a way that feels a lot more organic than other JRPGs. On the flip side, as story events could happen days apart or years apart depending on how the player accomplishes tasks the events often felt a bit disjointed. 

This was not enough to detract from an otherwise very enjoyable story though. Escha and Logy are not trying to save the world, they are just trying to do their job in the town’s R&D department and help the townspeople. To do this they explore ruins, defeat dangerous monsters, and use alchemy to create various items. I found this difference in scope from the typical JRPG to be refreshing, and there were still plenty of exciting moments and dangerous moments despite the lack of threat of a world-ending monster or a massive war driving everything.

With two characters to play as and multiple endings for each, there is plenty of story to explore. A single playthrough will take between 30-45 hours depending on how many of the game’s extra missions are completed. To unlock every ending and see every event will take a serious time investment, but the game does provide tools to assist. The New Game Plus gives an immediate boost to any additional playthroughs. The game also has a skip dialog option and fast forward option in battles to speed things up. The skip any dialog option was on by default causing me to accidentally skip a whole section of the dialog, but it can be changed to skip read only in the options menu (which I quickly did).

STIRRING THE CAULDRON

The main focus of the game is, unsurprisingly, Alchemy. While shops do exist in the game, they only sell raw ingredients and recipes. For everything else, from quest items to weapons, to healing items, Escha and Logy must make themselves. The alchemy menu seems simple at first, but new features are slowly unlocked as the game progresses allowing for surprising depth. By the end of the game, it was not difficult to combine rare ingredients to max out the stats of an item, but that is not enough to guarantee a good result. What separates items from one another are their properties, and these properties are a result of the raw ingredients used. As each item in the game can only have a max of three properties, finding the best combination is the secret. When ingredients have similar bonuses, they combine into a more powerful version. So +6 and +9 attack bonuses will combine into a +15 attack bonus. The end goal is to stack as many bonuses as possible so that the three properties imbedded into the item as powerful as possible.

It is the depth of this system that made alchemy one of my favorite parts of the game, though it also became one of my least favorite parts of the game. The main story is broken up into missions the R&D department has been tasked with completing. Each four-month period of the game has twenty-five missions separated into one primary mission, eight big assignments, and sixteen secondary assignments. Finishing the main nine assignments is usually fairly easy, and completing them gives various bonuses.

The sooner the main nine are completed, the sooner the player can work on the secondary missions. These missions are primarily for raising department rank, though completing all of them will reward a stat bonus and costume. Completing these missions on time will require planning, especially in the later parts of the game. The more missions completed, the faster Escha and Logy’s department rank will increase. A higher department rank increases their monthly stipend and allows for the purchasing of more powerful upgrades. For the most part, I enjoyed the system. With two exceptions.

One of the primary quests of the game receives assignments at first, but then the assignments stop. Because of this parts of the game, including an entire dungeon, can be missed by players just doing the assignments. The final set of assignments can also be not particularly fun depending on how the rest of the game is played. They include creating (nearly) one of every item in the game and equipping fifty battle items at the same time. I spent a fair amount of time at the end of the game just pumping out items I had no plans on using just to complete these missions, which really took away from the fun I had been having with the alchemy system. Replacing these missions with more story-related ones would have definitely been to the game’s benefit.

NEW HIRES

Outside of the assignments and alchemy, the main aspect of the game is the combat and party systems. The party consists primarily of Branch government officials or consultants lead by Escha and Logy. Each party member feels unique and interesting, with different weapons and skills. They join the party slowly as the story progresses, and the Switch version includes all the DLC characters from previous versions. While the DLC characters do not feel as tightly integrated into the story, as many of them were already present in parts of the story there were only a couple times when their being party members felt out of place.

One neat feature is the ability to change character costumes, though oddly only five of the eleven playable characters have costumes options. The costumes can only be changes at the Atelier, world map, or main menu, but this was a very minor annoyance. I definitely would have liked to see more costumes for the different characters, as I loved quite a few of the secondary costumes. Especially the cat ear accessory. Don’t judge me.

The game’s combat consists of three front-row party members, three back row party members, and uses a turned based system. While only the front row members can perform actions normally, the game as a support system, which is critical to mastering the combat system. Performing actions build up the support gauge, which then can either be spent on support attacks or support guards. Linking support attacks together feels really good, especially when the sixth and final attack is a special high damage attack. While less flashy, support guards are just as important as it can prevent a weaker character from dying, and can be used to switch in back row characters to replace a weakened ally.

Balancing support attacks and guards can make for an interesting challenge, as performing an extra attack may leave the party unable to guard against a particularly strong attack. Support moves, in addition to standard actions, also increase that character’s special gauge. Maxing out the gauge allows the character to unleash a devastating attack, and using support moves often lets the character’s gauge fill that much faster.

Outside of battle, the party system is also how the chosen main character builds up friendship points with party members. Those in the front row receive the most per in-game day, with the back row receiving less and the reserve members receiving almost none. In principle, this forces the player to try different party setups, which is not a bad idea, but in practice, I found that the two initial party members (including Logy) spent most of the later game benched due to having a far higher friend level. As the most powerful attacks in the game use alchemy items, which can only be used by Escha and Logy, this meant I often would switch Logy in force boss battles then immediately bench him again.

FINAL THOUGHTS

While there are some issues with the game, most notably with some of the end game missions and the main quest, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Escha and Logy. This was my first experience with an Atelier game, but I am now eager to try more. The game is definitely a must for JRPG fans, and the more dynamic feel of the support system might prove appealing to players that are not normally interested in turn-based combat. The alchemy system is deep, without becoming overbearing. Both casual players and those that want to spend time to take advantage of the game’s various systems should find what they are looking for in this game.

PROS

  • A fun story with interesting characters
  • Provides a fresh take on JRPG battle systems
  • Easy to use, yet deep alchemy system
  • Significant replayability

CONS

  • The main quest can be missed
  • End game assignments can be less exciting
  • Costumes limited to only a few characters

Verdict
A delightful, narrative heavy JRPG experience that does not take as much commitment as the larger, more time consuming JRPGs. There are some minor issues spread throughout the game, but overall definitely worth playing.
4/5

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