Milk-Iro no Tōge (Milk-Coloured Mountain Pass) by Chirinuruwowaka
During winter, the mountain pass is dyed in a milky-colour
But spring still comes without worry
It still won’t wither
This thing that grows in your chest
Can no longer be stopped
The unexpected miracle has already started
It will come true for everyone
Covering another Atelier game so soon? Yup. Today’s Under Your Radar is Atelier Escha & Logy ~Alchemists of the Dusk Sky~, the 15th and most recent game of the mainline Atelier series, the 22nd counting all spin-offs (but not ports or remakes), and the 5th one on PS3.
It is the second entry in the Dusk sub-series, taking place a year after the conclusion of Atelier Ayesha ~The Alchemist of Dusk~ (released in Japan as Atelier Ayesha ~The Alchemist of the Land of Dusk~), and is followed by the upcoming Atelier Shallie ~Alchemists of the Dusk Sea~. This was also the first Atelier game to receive an anime adaptation, which is currently running and I will cover at a later date.
The game is named after Eschatology, the study of the end of the world. The reference doesn’t make sense in English unless you realize that the word for “and” in Japan is “to”.
I have previously covered Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland, Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland and Atelier Ayesha ~The Alchemist of Dusk~. I’ve also played the PSP port of Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis on my Vita. I will be referring to these titles over the course of the review, but I’ll explain myself as best I can in those instances, so there is no required reading.
This is the first Atelier game to be developed after Tecmo-Koei purchased developer GUST, and therefore has significant Tecmo-Koei influence (even using a Tecmo-Koei in-house engine – not that it helped, since the game opens on a close-up to some PS1-level apple models if you pick Escha).
Among the influences is the inclusion of the first male protagonist outside the Mana Khemia sub-series, though that sub-series was an odd one out in many ways already. This led to heavy backlash surrounding the marketing of Logy, which implied the game would lose many of its Atelier traits when playing as him to appeal to the mainstream (this turned out to just be grandstanding, though). GUST clearly noticed the similarities, as the Japanese release came bundled with a code for the PSP port of the tenth Atelier game, which was released on PS2 in the West as Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy.
The Mana Khemia sub-series, as well as the other PS2 Atelier games, the Iris sub-series, were the low point in the series’ popularity, so the move surprised me. That said, the changes we see in this game aren’t as dramatic as implied by the marketing. Mana Khemia‘s battle system would later be ripped off wholesale for Atelier Shallie, but that’s beside the point.
Those who were annoyed at losing Japanese voices in Ayesha will be happy to hear that the option has returned in the English version this time around.
Before I continue, I would like to make a side-note that, sometimes, the game will stutter when doing anything every few seconds. This is an infrequent issue that will always be visible from the opening theme if it is going to affect the game on that start-up, and can be fixed by simply restarting the PS3. If it doesn’t affect things from the beginning, it won’t randomly start happening during the game. This is no big deal, but it merited mention.
Atelier Escha & Logy sees the story move far away from the location of the previous game, taking place in the area surrounding the town of Colseit, which specializes in apple exports and is near some floating ruins surrounded by strong winds, simply known as the unexplored ruins. The plot here isn’t as grand as other recent titles in the series – you won’t be trying to find your mother, revitalizing a kingdom, saving the world’s only alchemy workshop from foreclosure or saving your so-called dead sister here. No, you follow Escha Malier (a girl from the family running Colseit’s orchard) and Logix “Logy” Fiscario (a boy who transferred from the capital for reasons of his own), government agents with the Colseit branch’s R&D department. You can choose either one to act as the protagonist, but the decision is fairly pointless – more on that later.
The story here is told via assignments that you receive every 4 in-game months. You must complete that assignment within the time allotted, and may complete several sub-assignments for additional rewards. You may use the rest of the time however you wish. Character events are easier to trigger than ever, simply requiring you to hold the characters you wish to raise your friendship with in your party, with their position in the party affecting the invisible friendship meter.
Returning characters include Ayesha’s previously-“dead” sister Nio, the magician Wilbell, the (now former) Vierzeburg mayor Harry, as well as government agent Marion as your boss and, of course, Linca alongside her. Ayesha herself is said to be running from the law after accidentally destroying some important ruins, and Keithgriff is also alluded to, but neither of the two make an appearance. As I said in my review of Ayesha, this combination implies that the true ending of Ayesha is not canon, but Wilbell’s ending is due to being the only one that is both referenced in the game and doesn’t contradict this game’s events.
Sadly, Nio and Marion do not reprise playable roles, and Wilbell is given DLC status, but we get a very varied cast of playable characters, including a cowboy treasure hunter and a secretly-rich girl who specializes in medicine.
The game’s assignments are generally for the sake of research or improving the lives of the people of Colseit and its surrounding area. One such assignment, for example, leads our protagonists to deliver provisions to a town that’s dying off due to lack of water. When we visit the town later, however, the people within it had, sadly, all left.
Eventually, the story gives you a side-mission involving the creation of the dreadnaught – an extremely-well-armored airship of sorts that also moves very quickly. Its contruction is Logy’s life dream, and spans over several parts of the beginning of the game in order to obtain the ingredients to create its parts. It was to be used to explore the unexplored ruins, but, of course, the government being the government, ties the whole project up in bureaucracy after the airship is completed until the end of the game, at which point they give you the entire fourth and final year of the game to take care of that.
Differences Between Escha and Logy
Before starting the game, you are told to pick between Escha and Logy. This decision is even more pointless than the similar decision at the start of Tales of Xillia, as all this affects is whose point of view you watch certain scenes from, the music in battles and in the atelier, a small handful of exclusive events (which have equivalents on the other character’s end anyway), and only a few non-overlapping endings. Endings will be discussed at the end of this review, but the music thing is basically just picking between two styles. Here are the normal battle themes for Escha and Logy, respectively:
As you can see… err, hear, Escha’s musical style is more reminiscent of other Atelier games while Logy’s is more unique. However, the game has its usual music-altering feature again, allowing you to swap out any piece of music for any other song from past Atelier games. That said, this time, unlike every Atelier game prior to this point, your options don’t go all the way back to the original with some other GUST games mixed in, but are simply restricted to the Arland games and later. Some paid DLC gives you access to remixes of Escha’s and Logy’s normal battle themes and atelier themes, but that’s it. It’s too bad that we lose access to songs like Nefertiti, but no huge deal:
Each one also has their own set of costumes, of course. Can’t have them sharing them, what with the gender difference.
Before I discuss the combat system, alchemy system and endings, I would like to discuss some of the game’s shortcomings that are not related to those. Firstly, the game’s use of assignments rather than letting you do whatever you want on the way to achieving your goal makes the game easily the most linear of the PS3 Atelier games. This is made worse by the extremely simple map, which is essentially a large plus-shape with Colseit in the center as opposed to the large, sprawling web we get in any of the other PS3 entries. This, along with the way they changed how items work (to be explained along with alchemy) makes the game far too easy, giving the player way too much extra time.
Another issue is the relative lack of variety in areas. In this game, we get ruins of various sorts, a forest, a town that becomes abandoned, a volcano and things of that sort. This is a far cry from things such as Ayesha‘s desert of salt, mining town, enormous library, etc., that made the game more visually interesting over time. That’s not to say that there is no variety, but the variety is significantly diminished.
Another issue is in the translation. I’m not usually one to complain about this sort of thing, but the issue here is quite different from the usual localization complaints. Nearly every bit of text outside the main story text has issues. Menus sometimes say the opposite of what they mean. Furthermore, there are descriptions that tell you the opposite of what they do (I’m fairly sure Frame Expand does not compress the frame), there are two completely different items named “Wood Chips”, the game asks you for an item by a direct translation of its Japanese name when the name was changed in localization, improper capitalization all over the place, text that goes off the screen, the list goes on, sadly. I had to use Google to understand things at points, though I eventually got used to it.
Next up I should discuss the combat system. Before I go over how battles are actually fought, I should explain how forming your party has changed. In previous PS3 games in the series, you had to walk up to party members to swap them into the two team slots other than your protagonist. This system was in place because the characters were scattered throughout the world and getting to them was also part of the game’s time management. But time management is significantly reduced here, and all playable characters reside in Colseit anyway, plus the combat system lets you use 6 of the 7 characters (10 if you have DLC for the additional three characters, but the friendship system encourages not using these or whichever protagonist you didn’t choose except at the end of the game, when you have everyone’s character events done).
Here are gameplay videos of an early boss and a mid-game boss for comparison purposes:
The combat system is basically the Arland combat system (example video) on steroids, mixed with Ayesha‘s (example video). Arland had an alchemist and two vanguards, but here we have that along with three characters in a backrow, the first time we’ve seen a backrow mechanic since Mana Khemia. The SP meter has been unified and placed to the side instead of giving one to each character. This meter is used for support actions such as attacking and defending, which can be done whether the the party member is at the front or the back. Each slot in the backrow is tied to a position in battle, as opposed to an equivalent front row slot, so you can potentially have a jumbled up interface with the character on the right in the front row switching with the character in the middle of the back row.
Each character has a variety of special moves and the protagonists of the game receive some for the first time since Mana Khemia. Arland protagonists would receive specials and a decent normal attack when making appearances in other games in that sub-series, but (aside from Totori gaining a duplication move late in her game), they never got them in their own games.
Each support attack increases the damage output of attacks until the end of the attack chain, and getting it to 200% by the end of the fourth character’s attack allows the character after the one following that to do a more powerful move that ends the combo (unless Double Draw is active) and swaps them into the front row if they’re in the back. Additionally, the characters have a meter that can be built to 100% that allows a cinematic ultimate attack. If this ultimate attack will defeat the enemy, it receives special music and is extended as per usual, but DLC characters simply have no music during the extended cinematic for some reason.
In order to justify using both Escha and Logy in battle, the game adds the new Double Draw system, allowing you to declare an item for each of the two to use. The one whose turn it is will use their item first, and the one whose turn it’s not has using the item with more power behind it replace their support attack. Getting the damage bonus up to 200% will replace this with Double Draw II, giving the item an enormous power bonus that can finish fights. In my own playing of the game, I defeated the third-to-last boss in 4 turns by abusing the Slag Essence as seen in the second video above and then hitting the boss with a Dimension Bomb from Double Draw II. Aside from bonus bosses, proper abuse of Double Draw II makes tougher fights very easy.
This is the closest I’ve seen to a game letting the entire party actively take part in a battle (having to leave a character out is the only thing that makes it not be that). Oh, and, of course, as per usual, only alchemists are allowed to use items. There are even some exclusive to each of them.
That said, alchemy is the bread and butter of an Atelier game, so the quality of that system casts a noticeable shadow on the game. I am happy to say that the alchemy in Escha & Logy, despite starting out as uninvolved as early Ayesha, quickly becomes one of the most engaging renditions in the series, essentially perfecting Ayesha‘s system while throwing in a bit of Arland. You must fill bars representing four elements and a few quality levels, which are dependent on the item you want to make and the ingredients you picked. You want to get these as high as possible to get certain effects from your item. Additionally, you can pass on traits from the ingredients like in the Arland trilogy. This makes each item unique.
Additionally, the unexplained whetstones and dyes from Ayesha are abolished in favour of a system more resembling Mana Khemia‘s handling of creating weapons and armor, allowing you to directly craft them. There’s also a dissembly system that allows you to take any items you find on the field that can be created with alchemy and dissassemble them for their recipes and rare items, but not only do most such items only appear after you can already make them, but you can never try to disassemble an item again if you said no when first arriving at the atelier with it.
There are some changes that decrease the amount of alchemy you do, however. As with most titles in the series that give you access to homunculi, you can have them duplicate most items for you in exchange for certain items (in the Arland trilogy it was pies, here it’s candy). This is fine. Where things get arguably mixed up is the other duplication present in the game. Instead of putting your combat items into your basket, you have to fit them into a grid for Escha and for Logy (a 5×6 grid for each at full size) and the items will be completely restored whenever you return to town, free of charge. In previous games, you needed to pay the homunculi to make copies ahead of time or simply make more of any given item, but here you can use your items thoughtlessly. This streamlines the game, but to the point where you use less time due to not having to remake the items, giving you more time at the end.
Furthermore, while other PS3 entries would have you make a larger basket or running shoes and the like to carry more items you find on the field or move faster and the like, these are now relegated to a new system involving paying Marion large amounts of money to research on the subject or train you on how to do certain things. You can afford this larger use of money because you get a really large monetary stipend every in-game month because you’re a government official and there’s budget allocated for you.
As for endings, there’s one for each character (unlocked by simply seeing all of their events), a few of them having variants (there are some where both characters are involved regardless of who you were playing, and others that use the character you were playing and not the other one). Surprisingly, despite the game’s characters pushing a romantic angle between Escha and Logy with the subtlety of a
hammer wooden mallet early on, there is no romantic ending unless you want to read that into the true ending. There is also no ending where Escha takes over the orchard.
As I’ve implied, the endings can have Escha and Logy split up or still working together, and can end on a somber note or a happy one. The only endings truly exclusive to either character are the Men’s Assoiciation and Girls’ Party endings, unlocked by meeting the requirements for all male character endings as Logy and for all the female characters as Escha, respectively. The true ending is obtained by seeing every ending after playing through with each character at least once. Thankfully, the game takes a page out of Ayesha‘s book by letting you pick your ending at the end of the game instead of using the priority system seen in all other titles in the series.
The game’s new game plus lets you carry over any equipped equipment as usual, but also lets you keep your money, any research you paid Marion for, and allows you to unlock the combat items you had equipped at the end of the game via a new game plus-exclusive research topic you can pay Marion for. However, new game plus is really only useful for playing as the other character and unlocking the true ending. So long as you know how the friendship system works, you can 100% each character’s side in one run without a guide, so the appeal of min-maxing a new game plus that is present in the other PS3 Atelier games is not present here.
While lacking some of the appeal of previous Atelier games due to linearity and excessive streamlining, and having translation issues that prevent anyone from being able to wholeheartedly recommend the title, there is really only one important question to ask. Is Atelier Escha & Logy ~Alchemists of the Dusk Sky~ a good game? The answer is a resounding yes.
Some of the most engaging combat in the series and the most involved alchemy I’ve seen in the entire series makes this a title that is simply fun at some points and requires careful thought at others. This is, however, counterbalanced by the aforementioned issues.
Phew. That should be the last of the Atelier games until next year, right?
…Oh goddamn it.