Still no bikini armor, no Barbie doll or Herculean caricatures, and the world is not on the precipice of destruction where only you alone can save all of humanity and the cosmos; welcome back to Tecmo Koei’s Atelier universe in their new instalment, Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky.
Another year, another Atelier game but this time there are two lead protagonists. Out goes the airheaded bumbling of Ayesha and in comes the dynamic duo of Escha, the inexperienced alchemist, and Logy, the veteran forced to move across the world. Together they are working for the government’s R&D department, completing tasks to improve the reputation of their department, in the world’s time sensitive environment.
The first change I noticed between Escha and Ayesha is the game is not as hard, which is the general trend of the series. Is this a bad thing? It depends on how you want your Atelier game to play. As events and the main story are based around a calendar, with a finite ending, time management was always the quirk about the game that set it apart from the pack of other RPGs. Spend too much time making weapons and you’ll not trigger a side-quest because you missed it, but don’t upgrade your weapons and you’ll get smashed to bits. Since every move, action, and battle all tick time off the clock, managing your time is key. Ayesha and previous Atelier games felt more stressful since the clock was not very forgiving. Escha found the right balance, giving just enough time to feel the clock matters and keep the narrative’s illusion, but not so little that you’ll feel rushed.
As Escha and Logy are the only alchemists in the game they are the only ones able to use special items that they craft, like bombs, healing, etc. This makes combat more strategic because if they get KO’ed then the others can’t heal anyone. This is tied into the money system which adds another layer of long-term strategy. Battles give little money and your big paydays come at the start of each month from the government you work for. All the items you used in battle are automatically restocked when arriving in town, thus being deducted from your pay. Since attack items are more powerful and can hit multiple targets, they make combat really quick. But use too many and you won’t have any money coming in to buy special alchemy books or R&D improvements, like those that reduce the amount of time it takes traveling or collecting ingredients.
Graphically the game looks beautiful and gives off a Borderlands-esque, cel-shaded vibe. The environments are not Mass Effect triple-A but the character designs make up for it. If you played Valkyria Chronicles and liked its look then you’ll have no complains with Escha. The characters also have their own feel to them and go against the grain of clothing design. As alluded to earlier, there are no chain bikini uniforms or steroid drinkers. The game wants to set a scene of normality instead of exceptionality. It is the character’s personalities that set them apart, like Solle being a sticker for filing rules, or Linca being too eager to do other people’s work, that will be memorable rather than being super-powered wonderkids.