The Atelier games have become a staple in good JRPG design over the past decade. After completing the Arland trilogy, Gust started off a new subset of Atelier games with Ayesha. Atelier Escha & Logy continues off shortly after the conclusion of Ayesha, and featuring strong ties into that story with several returning characters – most of whom are story characters, not playable – and a very similar theme.
Ayesha was heralded by many as the best the Atelier series had ever been, receiving high praise here as well. Will Escha & Logy continue that upward trend, or had they reached their pinnacle?
Start With Something Cold and Sweet…
The Atelier games have previously focused on a single lead character, always female, with a supporting cast. Additionally, the characters had, in the early games, been seen as weak and poorly written for the most part. Ayesha was a step in the right direction. While most of the main characters were a little flat still, Ayesha herself and the growth she showed over the story was charming and touching.
Why mention this? Quite simply, it sets the stage for what I’m about to say. Escha, Logy, and the cast of this Atelier game are the best that the series has ever had. Even those characters who were returning characters from Ayesha received better character development here than there. Escha herself is so endearing and adorable that it’s impossible not to love her, while Logy comes across as cold and indifferent early. It’s an interesting pairing, and watching their personalities build as they get to know each other and as they mature is really nice to see.
But the part that is such a huge improvement is that the characters outside your main two have also have interesting personalities, backstories, and show fascinating growth over the course of the game. It was genuinely fun to watch these characters who I had developed a strong attachment towards change in both subtle and overt ways.
Sadly, these characters are present within a somewhat dry and uninspired story. It’s not a bad story, but it’s certainly the game’s weakest point and it barely manages to serve as a framework for the game’s events. Our main characters, Escha and Logy, have the eventual goal of investigating some seemingly inaccessible ruins appropriately titled ‘The Unexplored Ruins’. However, at the start of the game this is more of a pipe dream and you’re provided with a variety of other objectives that help to develop the story of the world itself. It works relatively well, but by far the most interesting moments are when you get to hear hints of what happened following the last game.
There are, as always with Atelier games, a variety of endings you can get. Most of the endings I found didn’t really feel like the end of a story… they felt a little too mundane, a little too real life. I can’t say that doesn’t have a unique sort of appeal, especially when dealing with a fairly down-to-earth story like this game offers, but it does lead to a feeling that something’s missing when you finish the game.
Add a Dash of Heat
It’s strange… Atelier games feature amazing combat but are always afraid to show it off. It was a criticism I had with Ayesha and it continues here, to an extent. Atelier Escha & Logy also features an incredibly deep and strategic combat system that you only get to see during boss fights.
You see, Atelier games feature turn based combat like most traditional JRPGs, but the Atelier games load those turns with secondary actions and repeat effects. Every character has a regular attack and a variety of special abilities they can use which make up the core of your actions. Escha and Logy, being Alchemists, also have a variety of items that you can make and use. These items, along with the special abilities, have such a wide variety of secondary effects, often delayed, that when you get into a long fight – like a boss – you can end up with a complex and intriguing array of effects triggering over time, often completely independent of your characters’ turns.
But it gets deeper… performing actions in combat builds up a support gauge that allows characters to back up other characters by guarding or performing secondary attacks. If you’re able to chain enough of these together, you can unleash powerful finale attacks. Characters other than Escha and Logy also have individual gauges that build during combat and are reminiscent of Final Fantasy’s Trance or Limit meters, allowing you to perform incredibly powerful special attacks when they reach 100%.
The problem is that most normal enemies die far too quickly for you to make use of anything but the most rudimentary of these secondary actions. So you’re left going through reams of relatively bland ordinary fights until you reach a boss fight when you get to really see it all unfold. It’s kind of a pity, but I can also see why they make the decision they do – you’d never finish the game if every fight lasted minutes!
One other minor problem is that eventually you’ll get an item for each character that just completely crowds out any other choices by virtue of just being that much better than the rest. It isn’t until very late in the game that you get this, so you do get plenty of time to take advantage of the rest of the items, but once you get it you’ll basically stop using almost everything else.
Stir to the Beat
Ever since Uematsu-san stopped working on Final Fantasy games around a decade ago, the JRPG world has been waiting for someone to rise to that same level, reliably creating soundtracks that not only work perfectly within the games they’re created for, but that also stand on their own merits alone. Gust’s sound team is showing that they’re up to this challenge. There were signs of it in Totori’s soundtrack, they began to approach greatness with Ayesha… and they’ve achieved it with Escha & Logy.
There are more than 90 different tracks within the game, and the range they cover is almost unbelievable. My personal favourites are the track to the opening cinematic – shown below – and the track, entitled Sora ga Akairo dakara, which plays whenever you’re within your hometown, Colseit.
I have been consistently impressed with the sound design of the Atelier games, but they have really surpassed any hopes or expectations I had with Escha & Logy. The soundtrack is a masterpiece, and they should be very proud of their work on this title.
Shape Until Just Right
The core of the Atelier series is crafting, as is to be expected from a series named after a workshop. Gust has been shaping their crafting system in each game, taking steps towards perfection each time.
Being completely blunt here, I don’t see how they are going to improve the crafting for their next game. The crafting gets incredibly deep, but they do a fantastic job in this game of introducing you to the mechanics slowly. Throughout the game just as you are getting used to the options they give you, you get access to new ones. Just as you’re comfortable with the complexity of it, they add more layers. You’re never left to get bored of the choices you have, but also never put in a position where you’re overwhelmed.
And, to alleviate the frustration that comes with making that perfect bomb and being terrified to use it because once it’s used up it’s gone… the game allows you to create a set of equipment for each Escha and Logy that refills every time you return to town. This may sound like it would make life too easy, but they took the fact that you didn’t need to keep remaking your bombs into account when designing the assignments and the other types of requests you can take on.
This is the type of perfection that can only be achieved through iteration, through trial and error… and you can clearly see that they’ve learned from each previous incarnation they’ve created.
Then Just Wait…
Atelier games are always on a timer. Not a literal timer, but you only ever have so many days to complete everything. Previous Atelier games have made the timer feel a little broad… a little too long to really make things feel urgent. 3 years is a perfectly reasonable time limit, but it doesn’t really make you feel like you have to hurry. However, Gust has learned from that issue as well, in Escha and Logy you have much more pressing time restrictions for most of the game. In total it adds up to a very long time, but it’s broken into 4 month segments for most of the game, leaving you with a variety of objectives to accomplish along with gradually pursuing your ultimate goal as well.
It works to create urgency, you always have goals to pursue and tasks to accomplish, and on the rare occasion you get finished your season’s tasks ahead of time, you’re able to get a bit of a headstart on the next set by reporting early and starting on the next term’s assignments immediately. Extra time is a fitting reward for being ahead, since time is so integral to the game.
Sadly, there are a few of the assignments you’re given that aren’t terribly well designed. There are two, in particular, that are dictated by a strange combination of RNG and lucky guessing that just left a bad taste for me. And one, near the end, can be missed entirely simply by not being aware of how to look for it. And if you miss it and move on, you can’t get it again without starting over entirely. Additionally, a few of the assignments suffer from a bit of ambiguity. One assignment, for example, requires you to use x number of items, but there’s no way to know which items you’ve used previously unless you can somehow remember – a difficult task, given the sheer quantity of items present within the game.
And Finally…… Enjoy!
Atelier Escha & Logy represents the best the series has ever offered, showing the power of an iterative series where they learn from each entry rather than just returning to the drawing board each time. The game’s strong cast of characters, engaging boss fights, and absurdly addictive crafting system will not disappoint any fan of the Atelier series, or of JRPGs in general.