By Laura . March 30, 2014 . 9:29am
Atelier Escha & Logy is one of the most stylistically beautiful games I’ve played in a long time. The cel-shading really reminds me of manga art, and the opening movies for each of the protagonists’ segments are almost like colorful silent videos that tell the background to either Escha or Logy’s history. Though I knew nothing about the characters going in, I wanted to learn more about them right off the bat.
At the very start of a new game, you have to choose which of the two protagonists you will play as—the cool-headed, more analytical Logy, who just came from Central City and is looking forward to a new job on the outskirts; or the bouncier, more idealistic Escha who just picked up her first job. As you can already see, the two complement each other well in terms of personality and background, as well as their alchemic skills, but otherwise, there is fairly little difference in either’s routes, from what I can see. True, they both have different endings and character routes, but the majority of the game is almost exactly the same, except for whose thoughts you get to hear during conversations as they talk to each other.
(Also, the true ending is only unlocked if you finish both character’s main endings.)
In addition to Escha and Logy, you also meet a host of characters new and old. Unfortunately, I never played Atelier Ayesha, so I couldn’t experience the added excitement of seeing returning characters. In fact, this flood of characters meant that I cared less about many of them and just saw their events for completion’s sake. And while the cast certainly is colorful, they verge towards the line of not being very well-rounded. At the very least, though, they each have their own mini-character routes that you can view over the course of the game. Every few days, a new event is unlocked, and you travel around the town to see what’s happening. (Luckily, these events don’t eat up any time.)
With so many characters to interact with and so many routes to keep up with, it’s hard to remember you also have your job to keep up with. Like many other Atelier games, Atelier Escha & Logy runs on a clock, with many actions taking up time until your assignment is due. Unlike what I experienced in previous Atelier games, though, Escha & Logy is split into smaller 3-month segments and has a clear goal in every chunk. At the end of those three months, your team’s main assignment is due. This is a story-centric event, so completing this is key to moving forward.
After that, there are many other assignments that are given to you that you can complete, and finishing these nets you bonus rewards. These are usually very simple, since they are mostly there to make sure you fully explore the world and functionality of the game so you don’t coop up in the atelier all day, synthesizing away. For example, finishing a certain number of battles is one task. Using a type of item in battle for the first time is another, and using a new character in battle once is yet another. I liked this sort of hands-on tutorial, which gives you incentive to try new things as they are unlocked through the game.
Of course, as you work towards these 25 tasks every 3 months, there is the time limit hanging over your head. This time will almost always be spent synthesizing, traveling, or exploring. Later, you get the ability to decrease the amount of time it takes to do every action, but by then, your tasks will also become more difficult, so there is always a challenge to juggling time. Simply moving around the map takes up entire days, but the smaller actions you perform as you explore that only take up fractions of a day, such as gathering materials and fighting battles, quickly add up as well. Doing enough of these actions will activate a Field Event, which can allow you to quickly gather all the materials up in one area for higher quality or quantity. You can also find rare items or encounter very strong enemies. However, you can only choose one event to happen every time a Field Event activates.
Battles this time around are also more about management rather than overpowering your enemies. There are only three characters on your screen, but you have six characters in your party at a time. While synthesizing the best weapons and items can deal a lot of damage, you can also activate Support Attacks with any of the other 5 characters after a person’s turn. Alternatively, you can also activate Support Guard, which will have another character take damage for your current member. Not only does this inflict less damage than usual, it can switch out inactive party members on the fly.
Each of these Support actions take up a certain amount of the Support Gauge, but because there is no limit to the amount of attacks you can chain together, you can end up doing twice as much damage as you originally would. In addition, some characters seem to have higher attack when supporting as opposed to straight out attacking, and because your party doesn’t actually have a Guard command, Support Guard is the only way for you to weather through some of the tougher attacks.
Finally, each action a character does fills up a Finishing Gauge, be it on their turn or as a Support action. When this fills up in a battle, you can use the Finishing Attack, which does insane amounts of damage. So far, I’ve only managed to do this once, but it ended up taking out almost 3/4 of a major boss’s HP in an instant (and thank goodness, too, because I was on the losing end of that battle).
The exceptions to this are, strangely, Logy and Escha. I don’t know if mine just haven’t learned theirs yet, but at this moment, they instead have two actions unique to them—items. Only the two protagonists can use items, which range from massive bombs, healing items and food, and support items that can enhance the items you find as you gather on the field. However, you can’t use every item you synthesize in the Atelier. Instead, before you leave your base in Corseit, you have to equip them on Logy and Escha. Both of them have a limited number of slots that increases as you level up, and each item can take up anywhere from 1-5 slots. (Sorry, Escha, but I’m not sure that Pancake Stack is worth those 5 slots…)
These items are of course obtained in taking part in the most iconic part of any Atelier game, Synthesis. Escha and Logy both specialize in different aspects of alchemy—Logy in the more high-tech tweaking he learned in Central City and Escha in the old-fashioned cauldron work from every other Atelier game—but ultimately, you can create an astonishing variety of items. Well, so long as you have the recipe. Recipes are either bought, rewarded to you for completing a number of assignments, or obtained from dismantling relics you find as you explore.
I couldn’t even begin to cover all the aspects of the complicated process that is alchemy, but I can say that the tutorial the game provides you with is very helpful and one of the best I’ve seen in any game. Essentially, you pick the items you need according to the recipe—the higher the quality the better—and add them together, and voila! New item.
My favorite aspect of Synthesizing is balancing the attributes, effects, and properties, though. Effects are item-specific traits that explain what the item you’re making does, and the higher quality your item is, the more it’ll have. However, just having a “high quality” item isn’t good enough—it has to be through obtaining enough of a certain attribute: fire, water, wind, or earth. This means that your ingredients play an enormous role in determining the effect of your item, and items you create later in the game will almost certainly be more powerful than the ones you created in the beginning. I like this feel of progress, like all that exploring actually paid off.
In addition, each item rewards you with a certain number of attribute points (which is different from the attribute value explained above), which you can then spend to manipulate the final attribute value to get those effects you want. These also stack, so the order you add your ingredients and manipulate the points also affect the final product. For example, I can use three Fire attribute points to double the attribute one item gives me. In addition, I can use two Wind attribute points to double the number of times I use the item before actually using it. This will result in me essentially getting 4x the value from one item.
Properties are extra characteristics every item has that affect its usage and what is inheritable if it is used in synthesis. Some properties increase the amount of damage done, while others increase HP or MP (for when you use the item to synthesize armor). Some decrease the number of slots the item will take up in Logy or Escha’s bag, and others will increase effect area for, say, a bomb.
Of course, this means that it is painstakingly difficult to recreate an item you created, especially if you used extremely rare materials to craft it. In this situation, the game also provides you with a system to duplicate your items. All you have to do is give it to a Homunculus and they’ll create copies …for a small fee in candies. Also, they aren’t particularly efficient in their cloning skills, so giving them extra sweets gives them some extra incentive by way of bribery.
These snacks are obtained by completing Requests, which are like sidequests. These seem to always involve slaying a number of some common monster you’ve faced before or handing in some items that someone wants. Because of the routine nature of these tasks, you can even complete them as you go about the main story, so the number of candies you have builds up quickly. Unfortunately, the homunculus are like bottomless pits (well, actually, this is only because I make liberal use of their item-cloning ability) and so this is another balancing act I have to perform on top of everything else.
I find it fascinating that, even though time management is something disliked but unavoidable in the real world, Atelier Escha & Logy manages to make it so manically enjoyable as (in-game) months are eaten up days at a time. I also liked how the whole “management” aspect is also stretched to remembering to check character events, performing alchemy, and even in battles. It was really easy for me to lose hours to the game going, “one more task… just one more task.”
Food for Thought:
1. My favorite aspect of using items in battle is that they’re not really consumed. Every item has a counter and can only be used that many times on your outing, but the moment you return to Corseit, that counter refills and you still have your Ice Bomb even though you used it all up.
2. As I said, I do love the aesthetics of the game, but it does have drawbacks. I thought that the characters’ actions as they talked or moved were stiffer than usual, and in open areas in town, there was noticeable lag as I ran around. In addition, the immobile camera angle sometimes meant I accidentally stepped on an enemy outside my view, and though this isn’t a big problem, I rue when the time comes for me to venture into more dangerous places where regular battles aren’t so easy.
3. As I advance in the game, I love finding ways to exploit the system and find shortcuts. One is the homunculus, which can cut down on many of my gathering needs. Another is taking advantage of Field Events. For example, battles take up relatively little time, and by the time I’ve fought enough to fill up a day, I’ve usually activated a Field Event. Then, I choose to collect all the materials on the field instantly, which saves me on another 2-3 days and can get me even more, rarer materials than I usually would.