In the contest for the silliest, most ungainly JRPG title, Atelier Escha & Logy Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky has got to be one of the frontrunners. Of course, ungainly titles are part and parcel of the Atelier series, which has seen at least one release annually since 2000. Those two qualities — annual releases and goofy monikers — may have put some people off from experiencing what the series has to offer. That’s honestly quite a shame: while Escha & Logy Plus, a Vita re-release of the fifteenth game overall and second in the “Dusk” trilogy, doesn’t quite reach the heights of other games in the genre, it still has more than enough to hold us over until heavy-hitters like Final Fantasy XV and Persona 5 arrive later this year.
You Better Work, B****
Escha & Logy follows the eponymous alchemists as they settle down in the town of Colseit to work for the government’s research and development department. As they grow the fledgling department by helping the area’s citizens and making new discoveries in nearby ruins, they begin to learn the secrets of a region left reeling from a tragic series of events. When it comes to the writing on display here, Escha & Logy probably isn’t going to wow anyone with its story or characters; a lot of these personalities, while written with plenty of humor and charm, rarely develop past the archetypes that inspired them. On top of that, it’s worth mentioning that the dialogue — as lively and enjoyable as it is — does tend to drag on longer than it really needs to, particularly in sections where characters are explaining things to you.
Your goal in Escha & Logy is to …well, it’s to work. No, really — more so than any other title with similar thematic elements, this game makes it clear that you are doing tasks under the watchful eye of your employers. And while that may not sound like a lot of fun, it really just amounts to a game obsessed with the sort of quests you find everywhere in RPGs: go here, collect this, kill this, craft this, and so on and so forth. That might totally suck if it weren’t for the solid mechanics behind each of these activities, but Atelier’s solid “Synthesis” system — which allows you to alchemize and customize a truly ridiculous amount of items — and fast-paced, satisfying combat ensure that working for the government is a lot more fun in this game than it ever could be in reality. In particular, the battle system should get major kudos for its evolution as you play the game; what starts as a relatively simple “attack and heal” routine quickly grows to reveal concepts like the unique Support meter, which allows party members to intervene during someone else’s turn with helpful offensive and defensive maneuvers.
Busy as a (Bored) Bee
Even with the mechanics being as good as they are, though, there are still a few annoyances that make the work feel like actual work here. Chief among my complaints is the fact that while the game’s progression system is excellent, showering rewards on kooky completionists like me who choose to finish every last thing, the actual tasks on the way to getting said rewards can really start to get old. Sadly, while the game does see fit to hand you plenty of new tasks each time you make major progress, it also loves to pile on the busywork — specifically, giving you the same objectives you had before as filler. That can get pretty tedious when combined with less-polished aspects of the game like combing its field areas to gather materials: these small, uninteresting sections of land are dotted with sparkles to mark off collectible items, making this task almost condescendingly simple and missing out on the potential fun of exploring an open map.
At least you’ll have plenty of pretty things to look at while you’re doing some of Escha & Logy’s more menial tasks. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say this is one of the best-looking games on Vita, with detailed, colorful character models and imaginative environments that really pop on the portable’s bright screen. Things get even more gorgeous in battle, where skills trigger all sorts of transformations and particle effects, bringing a rainbow of pain to your opponents. Happily, I can report that the soundtrack is similarly colorful, with real instruments lending credibility to the game’s bouncy set of eclectic tunes. Oh, and those who struggle to deal with English voice work will be happy to know that the Japanese voice tracks are also available for your listening pleasure.
If you’ve been following the Atelier series for a while now, you know the pattern of the original PS3 games getting ported to Vita with new features and DLC included. This game is no exception, making former supporting character Nio Altugle (also the little sister of the main character in Atelier Ayesha, for those curious) fully playable, adding new event scenes and all the content that was previously DLC — costumes, special missions and super-challenging extra bosses, in this case. Unless you’re a truly diehard fan and/or someone who just has to have the game in portable form, it’s probably not worth it to purchase this version on top of the console original. With that said, if you’re jumping in for the first time, you’ll find yourself nicely spoiled by the handful of extras.
Who Knew Working for the Government Could Be Fun?
Atelier Escha & Logy Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky is another good option for fans of the JRPG genre on Vita. While this one can unfortunately get bogged down in repetitive busywork, and lacks the fun sense of exploration that comes with better map design, there’s still plenty to enjoy: the stylized characters and environments look excellent on Vita, the score is impressively eclectic and the gameplay offers a highly satisfying challenge for completionists. And okay, sure, playing this means willingly throwing yourself into an ill-disguised Skinner box, but this won’t be the last time role-playing fans do so and have a good time anyway. Besides, this game actually makes working for the government fun, which has to be worth some sort of recognition all on its own.
Review code for Atelier Escha & Logy Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation Vita. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.
Atelier Escha & Logy Plus