Atelier Escha and Logy Plus: Alchemists of the Dark Sky Review
Reviewed on Sony PS Vita
Atelier Escha and Logy Plus: Alchemists of the Dark Sky is a rather sedate if no less meaty role-playing game that was originally released in Europe on PlayStation 3 back in 2014. It may be the second part of a trilogy but in true JRPG fashion, the game chooses to simply carry on the themes and style of the first game rather than opting for an all out sequel. Offering a calmer, more elegant tone than the apocalyptic Final Fantasy saga, it breaks the mould by offering up some intriguing gameplay additions to an otherwise formulaic genre. Ported to PS Vita, this version offers some additional characters, enemies and missions to provide an overall definitive version of the game.
The game takes place in the far off town of Corseit, a place where the lost art of alchemy is not only alive and well, but is essential to lives of those who reside there. Escha and Logy are two young alchemists, recently assigned to the Research and Development division of the Corseit town admin office. Tasked with crafting new items that will help this small town flourish, the pair are soon given the challenge of building a suitable airship that will take them to a previously unexplored ruin, located on an island that floats in the sky.
At the beginning of the game, you’ll be asked to choose whether you want to play as the bubbly and innocent Escha or the straight-talking no-nonsense Logy throughout your quest. Regardless of your decision, much of the game plays out the same, with notable exceptions being alternative dialogue between the other characters, certain character specific events and alternative endings, and of course who you actually control when walking around the maps. Alternative endings aside, the story plays out roughly the same no matter who you select at the beginning.
Even if you have a burning desire to see how each character influences the story, the game has enough dialogue to rival War and Peace, particularly in the tutorial-heavy, opening moments of the game. It’s a slog to get through and will test the patience of even the most hardened role-playing game fan. A light and fluffy story in comparison to others in the genre, it becomes bland and uninspired rather quickly, wheeling out the usual cavalcade of JRPG tropes and the constant necessity to plow through reams of chit chat before being allowed to move on to the next part of your journey. But stick with it and Atelier Escha and Logy Plus offers up some surprisingly rewarding gameplay that bends the rules set out by your typical role-playing game.
Time-management plays a big part in this and we’re not just talking about devoting over forty-hours of your life to the impressively engrossing, in-depth gameplay. When the game begins you’ll be given the terms and conditions of your new working contract - complete your assignments within the time-limit and you’ll be rewarded. Fail to meet these objectives in time and you’ll be penalised. You’ll have three months of in-game time to complete each mission which may sound like a lot but time ticks away with every action you take. Similar to the system seen in Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns, between running around the world map and crafting new items, time certainly does fly.
This structure helps break the game down into an easy-to-manage, highly addictive role-playing game. As you discover new locations on the world map, new quests will arise and new items will appear. There are plenty of side-quests and challenges scattered throughout that will further extend gameplay, provided you have the time to do them. They may only take you a few minutes out of your way, but this can translate to days in in-game time so prioritization is key if you’re to balance the momentum of the story with traditional role-playing experience grinding and item hunting.
Much of the mission base will involve crafting a number of quest-specific items from the cauldron in your workshop. A recipe and a list of ingredients is all you need to get on your way and once you’ve located all of these items from your field expositions, you’ll be able to mix them up and create whatever you need. This isn’t just limited to quest items either, as you’ll eventually be able to use the powers of alchemy to create potions, explosives and even powerful new weapons to assist you on your quest.
While there’s any number of combinations you can cook up these items, each ingredient will come with its own set of perks and attributes that can improve your creations, making them more potent or deadly as needed. Of course, alchemy is a skill that requires experience and practice, so initially you’ll only have enough cost points available to conjure up the basics. But as Escha and Logy grow as alchemists, so too does your inventory. New recipes can be obtained from NPCs or for completing quests, but the real fun comes from experimentation and learning which items can be transformed into the best items.
The wilds of Corseit is where most of the action takes place as all manners of strange wildlife and beasties stand between you and obtaining mission critical items. Combat is triggered when you cross paths with an enemy, initiating the turn-based battle mode that is typically found in a JRPG. Each character takes it in turns to make their play, whether that be executing an attack, using an item, moving around the arena or running away altogether. Parties can consist of up to six characters, so you’ll need to rotate your roster between moves in order to give each one a bit of a rest so that they may regain their HP and MP and return to the fight at a later stage.
It’s a pretty simple system to learn and anyone who's ever given Final Fantasy so much as a passing glance will already feel at home with the turn-based action and strategic use of items and special attacks. Setting this apart from others in the genre is the support power gauge, which has become a standard addition to the combat in most modern Atelier games. Powering up the gauge will allow you to chain together attacks from all of your in-play characters, as well as defending targeted allies against enemies. As the game progresses and you create new items and spells, these combos will prove to be vital if you’re to survive some of the deadlier demonic beings later in the game.
Ironically, the enemies are perhaps the most colourful parts of the game. The extensive bestiary offers up the most surprises, particularly in a game that otherwise looks drab and boring. The playable characters and NPCs conform to JRPG stereotypes while background and environments are so heavy on browns and yellows that one area blurs into the next. Still, given that this is a game ported from the PlayStation 3, nothing has been lost in translation when reduced onto the PS Vita screen. Even the music and recorded dialogue sounds as crisp as ever on the tiny speakers of the handheld console.
Overall, there’s plenty of value to be had in Atelier Escha and Logy Plus: Alchemists of the Dark Sky. It just takes quite a bit of time to maintain your patience with the heavy dialogue, bland visuals and a generally boring story. Fast-paced combat, an addictive time management system, customisation that’s almost unlimited and a plethora of side missions transform what could have been a bog standard JRPG into a breath of fresh air for the genre.