"I can't help but find comfort in the earnest familiarity of Atelier Escha & Logy."
Dusk — a liminal period between day and night, between light and dark. Just as our world shifts from one state to the next with every exchange of the sun and moon, so too is the world of Atelier Escha & Logy transitioning between prosperity and decay. It is in this fittingly-titled land of "Dusk" where two young alchemists, Escha Malier and Logix Fiscario, work together to explore their dying world, unraveling its mysteries in the process.
They also stop to eat cake and goof around a lot.
In typical Atelier fashion, the fifteenth game in the series is a light-hearted RPG centered around creating items through alchemy. While its plot contains serious elements, they are juxtaposed with Atelier-trademark scenes of day-to-day inanity. For the first time in the series since Mana-Khemia 2, a dual-perspective system allows the player to experience more of one storytelling style than the other, depending on who takes the lead role between diligent Logy and carefree Escha. Both characters share the same overall plot and gameplay mechanics, however — mechanics like an improved six-person combat system, streamlined item synthesis, and a request system that facilitates plot and character development alike. A weaker supporting cast than in past titles and sluggish pacing weigh Atelier Escha & Logy down somewhat, but not enough to keep the game from being yet another successful entry in the now-annual franchise.
The game's Japanese title, "Esuka to Rojii no Atorie
," is actually a play on words; the two protagonists' names, when combined, create the word "eschatology," a theological concept concerned with the final days of humanity. While the majority of Atelier Escha & Logy's narrative events are on the jovial side, the central conflict revolves around the idea of the world's impending end. Logy, an alchemist from the metropolitan Central City, goes to Escha's frontier town of Colseit to work for the government's local Research and Development division branch. Escha herself is also a newly-appointed alchemist, and the two characters form a team to explore and restore their world. The overall narrative is not quite as developed as Atelier Ayesha's, unfortunately, with much of the plot development relegated to the game's final chapters. However, there is a larger volume of sub-events, many of which are unique to either Escha or Logy, necessitating a second playthrough if the player wishes to experience everything. The downside to this more character-focused approach is that much of the supporting cast is pretty flat; their colorful designs hide less-than-colorful personalities based on one or two exaggerated quirks. Threia is a ruins expert obsessed with research, Reyfer is a cheapskate treasure hunter, Lucille is a timid nurse trainee... and I could continue with equally succinct descriptions for the remainder of the cast. I expect a certain level of quirkiness from Atelier characters, but they aren't usually this one-note.
In the past, Gust was known as a company with great visual design concepts that didn't always translate well into in-game assets. Their recent titles have bucked this trend as their artistic prowess has increased, and I'm constantly surprised by their ability to trump previous efforts with every new release. Atelier Escha & Logy is their best-looking game yet. Characters sport a soft, cel-shaded look with extensively detailed costumes and expressive faces. Little touches like the multicolored crystals dangling from Escha's belt or the embroidery on Marion's blouse showcase Gust's exquisite attention to visual minutia, and it's a delight to behold. Everything looks great in motion, too — especially battle animations, which are frequently over-the-top and hearken back to those 32-bit glory days when every RPG character had their own variant of Nibelung Valesti to unleash upon unsuspecting foes.
Speaking of the combat system, it's more refined than ever, allowing for six people to participate in every skirmish. Although battles are turn-based per series convention, a robust support system lends tactical nuance to all but the simplest encounters. Each of the six characters is mapped to a specific button, and they can defend one another or provide follow-up attacks so long as the rapidly-filling "support gauge" permits. This means that up to six attacks can be performed within a single character's turn, and depending on how effectively the enemy's weakness is exploited, the last character in sequence can utilize a special attack with additional effects. It's by far the most technical and downright enjoyable battle system the Atelier series has ever had. Similarly, the other key gameplay system, item synthesis, has been tweaked and streamlined in all the right ways. Escha can create items from other items by throwing them in a cauldron and stirring things around, while Logy produces weapons and armor using an alchemical forge. Making items with specific properties no longer requires any guesswork, as their elemental affinities and other traits are clearly outlined. Because the majority of the game's mandatory assignments involve precise item synthesis, this increased level of transparency puts control firmly in the player's hands. In the face of so much convenience, I have to wonder how I put up with some of the esoteric systems in past Atelier titles.
Much like the characters' hit-or-miss personalities, the voice acting is also uneven. I adore the natural-sounding stutters and inflection in Escha's voice, for example, but Threia's attempts at sounding authoritative and aloof sound awkward. Reyfer has an odd — but somewhat endearing — Southern accent, while many others like Logy, Marion, and Linca speak stiffly. At the very least, nobody is as bothersome as Peter and Gino from Atelier Totori (yes, I'm still miffed about them). The soundtrack fares much better, complete with a charming workshop theme, consistently solid battle melodies, and a large variety of vocal tracks. Kanako Itou's "Sky of Twilight" is a highlight, as is the catchy opening theme, "Milk Iro no Touge."
Despite the relative complexity of its battle and alchemy systems, I'm always at ease when playing an Atelier game. Escha & Logy is yet another welcome respite from the oppressive atmosphere found in many contemporary, "serious" RPGs. Its insipid characters and late-blooming plot are incongruous with the score of improvements over last year's Ayesha, and yet I can't help but find comfort in the earnest familiarity of Atelier Escha & Logy. With the recent announcement of Atelier Shallie, permit me to parrot one of Escha's favorite lines to describe the series's future:
"Looks good, looks good!"