I’ve noticed a trend of RPGs that take the classic formula and mix things up by making the focus of the game some job you’d usually foist off on an NPC. The Atelier series continues that trend, placing you in the shoes of an alchemist who must venture out into the world to acquire the materials they need. While combat and leveling are very much a key part of the games, the core of it, at least narratively, is on your job as an alchemist creating things people need.
Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky (I’m going to be shortening this to Atelier E&L) is the 15th in the series, and the second in the Dusk trilogy. It was released way back in 2013 for the PS3, and we actually did a review for the Vita version of Atelier Shallie, this game’s sequel, back in 2017. This time around however, we are covering the Steam release of the Deluxe edition, released on January 14th, 2020.
New Guy in Town
Atelier E&L covers the two main characters, Escha Malier and Logix “Logy” Fiscario, a resident of the town of Colseit and a transfer from Central respectively. Together they’re working for Colseit’s R&D department, performing whatever alchemical tasks the government needs, whether that be as mundane as crafting spare windmill materials, or as important as creating a temporary fix to a village’s drought problem. As the game goes on, the pair gradually shift to aiding the exploration of the nearby ruins and, of course, the fate of the world is at stake.
I found myself quite drawn to the game’s writing. All the characters are loveable quirky goofballs, like the ever excitable Anwin who insists on improving everything he comes across…whether he has permission or not. Or Linca, a woman who is terrific with a sword and terrible at everything else. It’s honestly a little surprising that the town doesn’t fall down without the main characters around.
The game is littered with little slice of life moments with your party and residents around town, such as Escha finding a loophole of adding apple tarts to your list of usable items so the homunculi need to make more for free, or the witch Willbell being hassled by just about everyone to teach them magic, secrets be damned.
The story is less akin to taking a road to a destination and more like taking the scenic route through the countryside and visiting every little shop along the way. The main story only really advances through doing your major task, given once every 4 in-game months, but it fills up the time between with all these little moments to flesh out the world and characters, and I honestly feel it makes for a richer experience in the end.
The Power of Alchemy
Gameplay in Atelier E&L kinda shifts between two modes, adventuring and crafting. In town you have access to your atelier, an alchemist’s workshop, to craft items that either people need, or that you’ll be using on your adventure. When you need to resupply or simply wish to research and explore, the world abroad has you exploring areas, gathering items, and fighting monsters in turn-based combat.
As should be expected from a game that makes it the focus, the crafting is fairly in-depth. Each item has a recipe, though this is often not specific items but rather categories of items like Liquid, Vegetable, or Smelly. It’s up to you to choose what exactly you’ll put in. There’s a balancing act to be struck: Your alchemy level determines how many points you have for adding items, and while you want to try and max out an item’s effectiveness, there’s also tiers of fire, water, wind, and earth elements to meet to unlock additional qualities in an item. There’s also skills you can use, depending on your level and the elements of things you put in, and room for complexity in crafting items to be used as ingredients in further recipes, whether to transfer over properties, to try and get a better starting effectiveness than you can with base items… or preferably both.
Like any good system, I found it a bit daunting at first, but it didn’t take long for everything to sink in. The one gripe I have is that some things that really feel like an important, vital part of the system are abilities you have to learn. While it does help with keeping the system simple so I can practice before they dump in more things for me to learn, it was a bit frustrated at times to make some vital upgrade for myself, unlock some entirely new feature, and think to myself, “Well… I really could have used that a minute ago. And this epic bomb is probably junk now.”
The combat is no slouch either. Touching enemies (or preferably slashing them) in the open world starts a battle, and from there it’s mostly your standard turn-based affair, though with a few unique features. For starters, while you’ll assemble quite the cast of characters, your two alchemists are capable of using consumables. These are EXTREMELY powerful, and your stock of them regenerates for free whenever you return to town, so you’re actively encouraged to use them. However, you can only carry a very limited quantity, so it’s not a simple matter of crafting a mountain of explosives back in town to annihilate everything.
The other relatively unique feature is utilizing your entire party. You can take up to six party members along, three in front and three in back. Only the ones in front are actively participating, while the ones in back restore HP/MP. However, any member can tag out with the person behind them, and there’s also a support gauge that allows you to have party members either jump in to block an attack (and take less damage than normal to boot) or follow up your action with a standard attack…and this includes people in the back row.
Lastly, there’s one system that ties everything together in a neat bow: You ARE working for a government agency after all, and you do have deadlines. Every four months you’re given a new set of tasks to do, some vital, some optional (though really it’s in your best interest to do them all), and just about everything you do takes time. Crafting items, gathering materials, fighting monsters, moving to a new zone…each of these is done with a conscious choice. Do you craft some ingredients to make the best gear you possibly can for your next fights? Try to do well with what base materials you have? Skip upgrades at all? Do you fight everything and gather all you can so the time spent getting to the dungeon wasn’t wasted, or do you make a beeline for whatever is most needed to avoid making this trip take any more time than it needs to?
I feel they did a great job of hitting a nice middle ground with this system. It was lenient enough that I didn’t really have any trouble getting everything done with time to spare, but tight enough to make me seriously consider the actions I took, and upgrading my characters was a serious decision rather than simply “farm up some money and buy all the things” like in every other JRPG I play.
An Art, Not a Science
I honestly fell in love with the game’s presentation. The music was captivating, especially the world map and standard battle tracks (two themes you REALLY need to get right as you’ll hear them a lot in any game). I seriously can’t stop humming along to them.
The graphics are your usual modern JRPG fare, which is to say gorgeous and with a fairly anime style, all bright colors and fashion that has absolutely zero chill. I particularly loved the monster designs; there’s absolutely no shortage of critters that had me pausing to go, “…OK, that’s too cute/awesome for me to murder.” I need those alchemy materials though.
There’s also tons of customization options. For Escha and Logy (as well as the three characters that were DLC back in the original) there’s an array of costumes and accessories you can put them in. It might not seem like a vital feature, but I can honestly say I was much more invested in my team after dressing them up. The music as well has an endless array of options for changing it, primarily from older Atelier games. I personally kept it the same since this was my first game in the series, but there are so many other long-running series where I would absolutely love this feature.
That said…it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. There’s a number of small issues here and there with the translation. Right off the bat I get a message about it “loadning game,” and there were a few game features where the text seems to use multiple different terms to refer to the same thing. The game also only likes a specific aspect ratio and, while you can still tell it to full screen anyway even if your monitor and such don’t match, the animations get noticeably jittery as if it was experiencing framerate problems.
A Perfect Batch
Little nitpicks aside, I love this game. It juggles a bunch of interconnected systems well, combined with a light-hearted sense of humor and plenty of little bits of polish here and there that really show the love the developers put into the game.
It truly is the details that turn an OK game into a great one. I’m honestly excited to pick up the other games in the series if they’re anywhere near as good.
Review copy provided by Koei Tecmo for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.