It’s a new year and with it comes a new entry in the Atelier series. This year’s model is Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky, and as the title might indicate it’s set in the same world as last year’s Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk. Atelier Escha & Logy is a expands on Ayesha’s style, balancing a more streamlined alchemy method than previous entries with a deeper combat system, but also offering the choice of a classic alchemist (Escha) or a more modern one (Logy) with new techniques. You choose one of the two alchemists to play as at the game’s start, and while they join forces almost immediately to embark on the adventure together, aspects of the story, combat and alchemy are influenced by who you choose.
Atelier Escha is a young woman just starting her alchemy career, and her story and gameplay will be familiar to series fans. She does the standard Atelier-style alchemy, and her story is the more upbeat of the two. Logy, on the other hand, is a bit more serious, and while the story is basically the same his take on it is more classic-RPG thanks to a focus on the world history and lore, rather than Escha’s focus on day-to-day life. The basic breakdown is that Escha is for series fans while Logy is for more traditional RPG gamers, but no matter which of the two you’d want to play as the world of the Ateliers is still a giant lovely place filled with more crafting than you can stir a cauldron at.
Loading up the preview build, the first thing that struck me (beyond the killer drum beat that starts off the anime intro, before it turns into standard j-pop) is the fantastic character design and detailing. While the environments are fairly unimpressive, with a slow pan over an apple tree making me wonder how PS3-caliber characters wandered into a PS2 world, it soon becomes apparent that all the graphic effort is being put towards Atelier’s people and monsters. Everyone you meet is decked out in hi-res textures showing off detailed character designs that, while ornate, don’t go overboard in the ridiculous way so many RPGs can’t seem to resist doing. It’s the kind of good first impression that makes you want to settle in for an epic bout of RPG-ing, sinking into the world because it looks like such an inviting place.
The story starts with the two ateliers settling into their new jobs trying to revive the alchemical Development Department in the small town of Colseit. It’s Escha’s home so she knows her way around, but Logy being a newcomer gives her a good excuse to introduce him around and get the player situated in the world. After a whole lot of chatting and a few errands, it’s off to the fields for the first quest, some monster fighting, and an introduction to the ever-ticking clock. Every task the Development Department gets needs to be completed within a set time, and while there seems to be plenty available the days can slip by at a worrying pace once you get into the field. Once the main job is complete, though, the leftover time can be used to chase after bonus objectives, dabble in alchemy, level up your party, or be blown off to get to the next chapter more quickly. It’s player’s choice, but the Atelier games are all about the item creation so there’s tons to do when free time opens up.
So it’s into the field to smack monsters and chase extra goals. Some of the bonus jobs are marked on the task grid while others are a mystery, but a bit of experimentation does nice things for discovery. The combat system is nicely zippy, and when you get farther than I had time to play you can open up a front row of three primary members and a back row of three more, making for epic battles as your party chains attack combos together or leap to each other’s defense. All monsters are visible on the (very small) maps, and once cleared you can use the time to clean up the alchemy components lying around the area. Then it’s back to the lab to break out your inner mad scientist, mixing and alchemizing the best goodies you can until you run out of time and need to start the next chapter.
Atelier Escha & Logy is looking like a lovely and charming RPG, designed with multiple play styles in mind and with plenty of options in both Escha and Logy mode. Logy’s RPG-classic style is an interesting experiment in appealing to a more mainstream fan, but it doesn’t come at the expense of losing features. The alchemy at the heart of the series has always offered plenty of depth for Atelier’s fans, and while the Dusk sub-series has streamlined the process it’s still a maze of possibilities to explore. Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky evolves the gameplay in several new ways, and with just a bit of luck could finally be the breakout the series has been waiting for.