It’s been 3 years with the Atelier series, every time with the same passion. And every time, it’s one of the best experiences of the year (if not the best). Like Final Fantasy, Gust keeps delivering episodes very regularly, but with consistent changes. Can the party continue with Atelier Escha&Logy (AEL)?
AEL is an indirect sequel to Atelier Ayesha, and reminds me of the Arland series in that. It shows a new face of Ayesha’s world, being the Development Bureau where Marion works. I was truly happy with that because I’d always wondered what was that work she was complaining about all time. Your goal will thus be, like in Atelier Meruru, to pioneer new lands and make them inhabitable.
The game is as fun as ever in its relationships between characters, and the new environment is perfect for that thanks to its kafkaesque organization. The new cast of characters is, in my honest opinion, the best so far. The characters are pretty extreme in their personalities, which makes the whole thing quite fun : Reyfer talks like a cool guy but is in fact a real miser, Threia is bent on her research and doesn’t care about the rest, Escha is a slacker despite looking like a good girl… Linca, Marion and Wilbell are still the same, that is to say fantastic… Let’s stress that this episode is the first one (in recent memory) to give the player the choice between two main characters. Escha is your classic young girl alchemist and Logy gives an additional shonen touch. The progression of the plot is therefore less schizophrenic than in Atelier Ayesha. That said, the main story is rather bland despite the serious tone, and doesn’t leave the feeling of accomplishment like in Atelier Totori.
Let’s talk about the big chunk that is alchemy. Like always, you will have to mix materials to create potions, food, intermediary goods, weapons, armor, bombs, etc. AEL inherits partially Ayesha’s feature of «make 1, get 3». But this is now true only for intermediary goods, and materials are scarce. This episode introduces a system by which your equipment is automatically refilled when getting back to town. So, did Atelier become overliberal? Not at all : deadlines don’t give you free time to spend several days making healing items or bombs, mainly because you will be making weapons and accessories. Believe me, you’ll need very well-crafted weapons towards the end of the game. For reference, here’s a blueprint of a correct weapon. To make an industrial metaphor, I’d say Atelier is making its industrial revolution from mass production to research and development. This allows a much smoother progression in your adventure and you to put more concentration on the various challenges. The alchemy is back to Arland’s roots, which is an excellent thing. You can implement traits from materials again and meticulous search is needed. On the top of that, you will have to manage alchemy skills to make the best use of the materials at hand : by sharing out the natural elements attached to items (Fire, Earth, Water, Wind), you can make more, in better quality, or with certain traits that will be asked by your clients. Clearer, more precise and yet complex, it is the best system ever in the series.
In terms of gameplay, AEL keeps the system of objectives that has marked the progression for several episodes now. Here it takes the form of a bingo of 25 squares shared between main and secondary tasks. Each line you complete gives you bonus (stats, money, objects…). In combat (see the above video), you control a total of 6 characters in two lines of 3. You can change positions whenever you like, and modify your team between fights (non-party characters aren’t stuck in town anymore). The line behind is used all the time to attack and defend, and can be healed. It’s FFX system, but more advanced. It is also still possible to position yourself behind the enemy on on his sides for more strategy, although it makes switching a mess. The other excellent surprise of AEL is the new 3D engine. Graphics make a giant leap, nearing Tales of Xillia. Characters are now ultra-detailed (just look at the clothing) and special effects get far more impressive. The bad thing about battle in this new installment is that difficulty in a whole is ill-managed. While 3/4 of the main story is rather easy, the boss just before the final boss is near invicible,,and the final boss is fine. I now I’m harsh, but difficulty spikes is something I hate, like abusive DLC (Wilbell was a paid character in the Japanese version).
Atelier Escha&Logy is still a remarkable episode, with unfortunately one or two black marks on his record. Nothing that may prevent you to appreciate the refinement added to an excellent and lovable formula.