Enough of E3! Let’s talk about other games #2016

Atelier Firis (PSVita/PS4)

Ilmeria a

After a rather average Atelier Sophie, Gust had to react and strengthen the series. Looks like they’re doing so, by the looks of the enhanced graphics, evolving and more convincing character design and the innovating game system. The adventure is no longer centered around one town and Firis’s base camp will be mobile. Moreover, choices you make on the world map will cause slight changes on the flow of events. NOCO and Yûgen seem to have sharpened their skills on those first characters, NOCO in particular taking a more mature/sexy orientation. Yûgen has this curious character called Ilmeria, who makes me think she can be a Meruru successor in some way. I must admit that the improvements are stunning so far.

Kangokutô Mary Skelter (PSVita)

Mary c

A Compile’s Dungeon-RPG that I am eager to play, partly because the devilish art direction is conducted by Kai Nanameda, already behind Trillion, God of Destruction. This DRPG takes a survival approach by its ghostly Nightmares who will hunt you down so fiercly you’ll have to run away. Several jobs have been unveiled, as well as a Genocide mode in which the girls gain immense power when in contact with ennemies’ blood. On the contrary, licking the blood will heal them, but remove the Genocide state. A gameplay balance in which risk-assessment will be key.

Sengoku Otome (PSVita)

SO

Weird background for this game since taking its origin from a anime itself coming from a pachinko! Sengoku Otome is kind of the Oda Nabuna game we never got : this fighting game which seems to play like Senran Kagura features girls representing general from feudal Japan. The ambitious Tokugawa Ieyasu becomes a shy pink-haired girl while Toyotomi Hideyoshi turns into a blonde loli. As much as I feel sorry for those great men, the paradox looks rather fun.

Root Letter (PS4/PSVita)

RL ca1

A visual novel of fascinating concept. The player has had a pen friend called Aya, with whom he has exchanged 10 letters. In the very last one that he finds and reads years later, she admits committing murder. From there the game start as an investigation thriller, in which you have to find Aya’s former classmates to uncover the truth.

Black Rose Valkyrie (PS4)

Ai a

Compile Heart is going into something a bit different for this game, because one of the girls of Black Rose Valkyrie is a traitor. So while fighting against a fierce virus and monsters called Chimeras, the main character will also have to regularly question his allies, very much like in Lost Dimension. Reminding Galapagos’s works in a lot of ways, it also features costume break as it was in Omega Quintet.

Idolmaster Platinum Stars (PS4)

Imas PS b

Stunning by its sharp anime style, Idolmaster Platinum Stars will be my first step in that famous IP. Sure had to go into it one day. The player once more takes the role of a star manager and will have to lead his girls to the top of the entertainment business. You really start from scratch this time, because you pick the girls at the very beginning of their career.

Tokiden 2 (PS4/PS3/PSVita)

T2 ca1

Not much to say more about Tokiden 2 since I wrote a lot about the demo last time. It’s just matter to check how large the world really is and the improvements made to combat.

Caligula (PSVita)

Caligula

An RPG to have on your radar for its original base story : the students in Caligula are trapped in a fictitious ideal world created by a vocaloid called μ. Although the digital singer actually protects them from the wicked real world, those young men and women decide to stop living a lie ad will seek to destroy μ. Centered on the subject of digital worlds, Caligula benefits from genuine vocaloid songs.

Review – Atelier Sophie, the Alchemist of the Mysterious Book

Sophie f

After the numerous complaints voiced against Atelier Shallie and the monstruous flop of the 3DS port of Atelier Rorona (11’000 units sold, 7 times less than Atelier Shallie which was already widely seen as a failure), Gust’s series had people worried. It turned out to be fine, since the developer was calmly preparing Atelier Sophie.

ソフィーのアトリエ ~不思議な本の錬金術士~_20151128235918

PS4

I’m done saving the world”, such is Atelier Sophie’s motto. The game wants to put some distance with the Dusk trilogy and go back to a more innocent narrative like in the Arland trilogy. Indeed, you don’t feel any great ambitions when starting Atelier Sophie, which has next to no story focus for most part. Sophie is a young alchemist, and a bit awkward one, who’s gonna progress with the help of a mysterious book gifted with a consciousness. Sophie’s goal, so the player’s too, will be to recover the book’s memories by writing alchemy recipes in it. You progress from a recipe to another, while completing requests from other characters to whom you’ll get increasingly closer.

Atelier Sophie Leon v

PSVita

The side characters will all have their own storyline, in average more developed than in Atelier Shallie (which was very poor in that department) but of disparate importance : Monica has a feeble background, like Oskar and Leon (who is a girl, despite her name). On the contrary, Harol, Cornelia, Fritz and Julio benefit from a consistent narrative, including some really fun or even moving sequences. Harol’s was particularly remarkable : young watchmaker too fond of revolvers to get to his work seriously, he progressively becomes obsessed with his past and the necessity to surpass his father. So better than the previous one in that field, even though the game sometimes gives to impression no to show or tell enough : Cornelia’s story for example, should have continued and lead to discover new lands.

ソフィーのアトリエ ~不思議な本の錬金術士~_20151216003019

PS4

Last but not least of your characters, your book Plachta (pronounce “Plafta”) will take human form via the Doll Make system. Plachta’s soul is transferred in a life-size doll, that can be modified anytime. It simply consists of adding alchemy components to the doll’s limbs, the rarest ones giving higher boost in stats. When those stats reach a certain threshold, Platcha’s costume will change and she’ll be able to access a new class (wizard, valkyrie, etc.). But this option bears relatively low importance as the gain in stats represent only a small margin compared to the one provided by your equipement. It remains that Platcha’s arrival in your party radically changes the story’s direction because, ironically, you will go and save the world eventually.

Atelier Sophie idea

PSVita

The alchemy workshop is more than ever the place to be, because not only will the game ask you to synthesize alchemy objects, but also to come up with the recipes! Indeed and contrary to previous episodes, there are no alchemy books in stores. Time to time, Shopie will have a genius stroke and note down a recipe. The player will have to trigger that by achieving some varied objectives, like inspecting the furniture, talking to a particular NPC, slay a particular beast or, far more complicated, creating an object with a given trait.

ソフィーのアトリエ ~不思議な本の錬金術士~_20160413002204

PS4

Let’s put the head in the cauldron. There are several ones available, each represented by a checkerboard with some colored stars in it. Ingredients, which are represented by Tetris-like forms, are to be inserted in a way that the color stars can multiply and grow. The more and the bigger the stars are, better the bonus multiplier will become for the dominant color. With a multiplier important enough, the quality of the object rises and it can gain better traits. It is quite complicated in theory, but easier to learn empirically. Note that there are various sizes of cauldrons, and that some double your multiplier, sometimes asking you to synthesize in limited time! In short, a clever system but a bit less precise than Atelier Shallie’s.

ソフィーのアトリエ ~不思議な本の錬金術士~_20151219184109

PS4

Alchemical creation is a bit more accessible than in the past, because powerful properties allowing considerable rise of stats are rife in Sophie’s world. Finding ingredients to have them attached isn’t hard at all. Up to you to combine them via intermediary objects like the gold string (formidable catalyst since it’s used to create itself, I call that the Gold String Loop) to give birth to even better traits like 全能の力 which raise all stats by 25 points! Once your weapons, armor and accessories possess such traits, your team is well-prepared for battle. As for interface, the touch pad of the PS4 allows you to quickly switch between menus and the encyclopedia (which has a very clear recap of all items, properties and their composition), so it’s extremely user-friendly.

Atelier Sophie field

PSVita

But all those ingredients, you’ll have to go outside and pick them. The wild nature of Atelier Sophie consist of numerous areas to explore, full of plants, ore and the likes. Atelier Sophie is the first episode to have a day/night cycle : monsters, items, present characters, weather are going to change periodically. Times goes by, but isn’t limited. This newest Atelier takes the same principle as its predecessor : the player can take its time to clear the game and the various challenges. But the various places are quite tiny and level design extremely poor. Thus no occasion to be impressed : you battle, you pick the goods, you come back to town. Nothing more.

Now we’re talking about it, battles. These have been rather simplified, and even made more or less automatic. Each start of turn has choose a stance for each character : attack or defense. Regardless of that choice, all characters can use regular action such as attack, skills, object, run away or defend. The stance only governs bonus actions : a character I defense can cover an ally, while characters in attack stance can perform powerful link attacks. The more characters you have in the same stance, better the effect will be. This also depending on your chain gauge : higher the figure, more daring the actions become. When the gauge hits 300% and all the four characters are in attack stance, it triggers the ultimate attack of one of them. It’s roughly Final Fantasy XIII’s role system, ultra-simplified version and in which the player actually doesn’t decide much. I really miss Atelier Escha&Logy’s battle system…

ソフィーのアトリエ ~不思議な本の錬金術士~_20151216222457

PS4

Pretty much nerfed in the main story, the difficulty will rise at breakneck pace at the very end and after. You can still tweak the difficulty level anytime, from easy to despair (added by a later update), to have it match your playstyle. Veterans won’t break a sweat in hard or even despair during most of the story though, but optional bosses are another story : they are excessively powerful and can play 4 times in a row! While a can crush most of the bosses in despair with just the attack command (see above, it’s taken in despair but being only the 2nd dragon, it’s not much a of challenge), the two last enemies wipe my party out in 1.5 turn even in easy mode… in short, it’s fucking broken. That said, another growth menu that appear after the characters have reached maximum level allows you to add even more statistic points, vastly advantageous capabilities, upgrade your attack skills. But the progression curb being rather slow, you must play a lot after the main story to keep up. A disappointing postgame so, far form the replay value of the previous episodes.

ソフィーのアトリエ ~不思議な本の錬金術士~_20151216231021

PS4

As for aesthetics, we can’t help but notice the economic troubles of the series : the technical downgrade is brutal. Graphics are less detailed than Atelier Shallie’s, which runs on the PREVIOUS generation! The town and the dungeons are a pity… Even design issues are to be reported : monsters look blatantly the same and there are few (almost none in fact) unique and charismatic opponents, those who make great JRPG fights. Here again, even the disappointing Atelier Shallie had them. In battle, the game remains a lot prettier than the rest, so it’s not like it’s a complete disaster either. The music also seems a bit on the wane : outside Fritz’s theme, a ballad that fits perfectly with the medieval setting, and senka no ichigeki, which continues the great lineage of boss battle themes. Whatever, you ears will be able to feast with a music DLC, packed with dozens of Gust’s past tracks, which was free in Japan. You can thus instantly create yourself dream-like playlists.

Atelier Sophie Cornelia

PSVita

Yes, you could object that the project is for the first time multi-platform from the start : the PSVita version is available alongside the home console version, no need to purchase the “Plus” version anymore. Unfortunately, the technical efforts are insufficient for both. With a modeling close the the one of the PS4 version, the portable Atelier Sophie is impressive at first sight, the rendering of the characters is excellent. On the other hand, framerate suffers horribly… The Vita has a hard time displaying the battle animations, which is true have their lot of special effects, especially in joint assaults. True, it’s less serious than the abysmally terrible portable version of Nights of Azure, but it’s not the technical prowess of the “Plus” version either. Unless you absolutely need it to play on the go, it’s preferable to play it at home with a seamless experience.

Changing the approach alone is not enough, and Atelier Sophie is proof of that. The game system is still solid and allows you to achieve great things, but in a terrible technical environment. Ideas and humor certainly are there, but not in full force. We can sense the pleasure of battle, but only from time to time. A serviceable episode, but Gust needs to re-enhance the experience by investing time and money. For Atelier Sophie, the developer probably had neither of them.

Review – Atelier Shallie

Harry

Even the greatest series eventually fall. Atelier, which has brought some of the best RPGs of the PS3 generation, ends it without glory. Shallie’s lost focus and missed opportunities draw a hollow twilight for the Atelier series.

Atelier Shallie is the 3rd (and last?) episode of the Dusk trilogy started with Atlier Ayesha and Atelier Escha&Logy. That’s the first problem of this game, because it ends it in a rather awkward manner. None of the questions raised in the past two games finds a definitive answer : Linca’s story is barely hinted at, the truth behind the drought that plagues the world is hardly explainded, we are still waiting for an clear illustration of Alchemy’s past mistakes, and Ayesha and Logy are MIA.

Keith a

Story-telling is faulty too. This sequel looks more like a spin-off that borrows some characters from before. It’s composed of two separate stories : Shalistella’s and Shalotte’s (both called Shallie). Shalistella is your average Atelier heroine whereas Shalotte, more dynamic and lively, introduces a more moe approach. Unfortunately, neither side has been well executed, and the slim differences between the two adventures doesn’t make replay value very valuable. Shalotte got on my nerves after merely two chapters : she’s not half as good as Meruru for example. The Shalistella part ended up boring fairly quickly (she wants to save her village, nothing more). Generally speaking, the story never takes off and stays as a series of events half-serious, half-humoristic. The tone seems mainly light in the end, because any attempt of the game to get more serious sounds really off.

Milka i

Because of low stakes and an astonishing lack of intensity, but also surprisingly shallow characters. Of all the newcomers, Miruca is the only one that shows a bit of work : only her has a solid backstory and thus the only one you sympathize with. The others feel almost invisible given the low interest of the events they’re in. Wilbell, Escha and Keithgriff are back but their role is quite secondary and they add nothing but their combat capabilities in the end. Reyfer appears like once or twice, it was really unecessary to bring him back for 5 minutes.

In its gameplay, Atelier Shallie changes radically. First thing, it drops the limited time frame to go for a classic progression system in chapters in which you have all the time you want. There are two schools of thoughts on this «issue» : some (like me) reckon that time limit is Atelier’s trademark and that it’s part of the overall pleasure, but you could also think that those new to the series can enjoy it more. Choose your side! To make it further accessible, Gust opted for the Xillia method and now difficulty settings can be changed any time. Wise decision, because even though most of the game felt easy, difficulty surges at the very end. This episode adds a morale gauge, but after 70h and 2 playthrough, I’m still wondering what it is for and how it works…

A bit like Lighting Returns, you no longer get experience points in battles (or very few). XP should be gained by doing Lifetasks, objectives comparable to Atelier Ayesha’s. Some of those challenges are immediate (make a specific object, do a specific action, get some alchemy trait, beat X monsters, explore maps, etc.), but others are to be achieved on the long term. Even without the time parameter, management is still there because you’ll often have 10, 20, 30… tasks available at the same time, an varied enough. The ones you complete constantly trigger others, so it’s a never-ending managerial frenzy, let alone the fact that you still have to manufacture your gear from scratch. That said, there’s no denying that gameplay has grown poorer. Just one example that thunderstruck me : the characters decide to hold a cake contest at some point. So I do expect to spend some hours in my atelier making the ultimate sweet. Far from that, the event launches right away and a get the free trophy without doing any action… there I realise that clearly the Atelier I knew was no more. The exploration of the world map is also made boring by the infinite time, the rigidity of the progression system and the bland level-design. Exploring doesn’t have the thrill it used to.

Combat has also been revamped although there was no need to (see the above video). Atelier Shallie introduces a system called Burst : every time you hit an enemy, a burst jauge is getting filled. When this one reaches 100%, you can deal a lot more damage. You got it : it’s a Break system like there are everywhere since FFXIII. It brings nothing but wasted time between Burst sequences. Worse still, the enemy can slower your Bust jauge if you are hit too often, which in some cases (fortunately rare) is horribly irritating. Despite that little blunder, let’s stress that if you meet certain conditions, you can trigger the Field Burst, kind of magical circle that boost your stats for the time of the Burst : a nice idea to further vitalize combat. The rest of the fighting is directly inherited from Dusk, that is to say equally tactic and nervous to keep interest until the end. Be warned though, the game is fairly easy until the very end, even in hard. This being due to the multiplication of super-powerful healing spell that makes the manufacturing of healing items almost useless. It could however be corrected if KT makes the No Hope difficulty available at release, Despair being only for NG+.

Julie

The good news is that the game has been further polished visually, as it has been the case for 4 years. Although backgrounds are still mostly bland, the battles show artistic and technical mastery : modeling is refined to the extreme, the level of detail is more than satisfying and the animation wonderful! The various moves of the 8 characters are varied, and spectacular. On design, Hidari’s illustrations are as good as ever and the OST quality stays high, especially on battle themes.

Let’s finish on the only subject that was left untouched from Escha&Logy (wise choice) : Alchemy. It still has the skills divided into the 4 elements, save that they are even clearer and intuitive, which makes the system extremely precise and enjoyable without any loss in complexity.

Atelier Shallie bears all the signs of a game that was developed and released too fast : lack of overall content, lack of ambition but also launch hiccups that still make it crash 9 months after. Not a bad game, but it has lost the essence of what Atelier means and there can be no greater disappointment. We do have to wonder how an old and illustrious series like that could have been ruined and rent like a parking lot to a loan shark for subsidies.

Review – Atelier Rorona Plus

atelier-rorona-plus-05-08-14-2

I discovered the Atelier series with Atelier Rorona. The game didn’t look very great in 2010, but I knew I had just unearthed something amazing, that would become my favorite series this generation. Four years later, Gust uses a youth potion on its very first HD title.

Atelier Rorona is a lot more light-hearted than the following Atelier games : no world to be saved, no hideous monster to repel, no member of the family is missing, just a tiny shop to keep afloat by making and delivering alchemy objects for the kingdom and the people. The interest therefore lies down to the vicissitudes of Rororina Fryxell, young apprentice left to do all the job by her lazy master. Although the unscrupulous minister Meriodus will constantly try to get in your way, but it’s always in a humorous point of view. More than ever, it is your own affinity with the series that should dictate your choice.

Rorona book

One of the points of this remake is the change in graphics to make the game more modern. Not quite like the spectacular jump made in Atelier Escha&Logy, Rorona + borrows the 3D engine from Meruru + with more or less success. Dungeons are still unimpressive, but water is well rendered. Most characters are really well made ( Rorona, Cuderia, Lionela, Esty, Totori et Meruru), but Sterk and Astrid are pretty much failed imo. Animations have improved tenfold and do have very nice effects. In short, the title is quite correct for Vita, but maybe a bit weak on PS3.

As for the game system, and it’s actually surprising, Atelier Rorona + is not totally up to date. Understand by this that you still have to use MP for alchemy, which is a hassle, costs a great deal of time and makes your sortie with Rorona having low MP! In parallel, you also will be paying your companions. Okay, it matches with some joke thrown in Atelier Totori, but frankly I would have tolerated incoherence because paying friends is plain stupid. While annoying, those details don’t weight that much given the qualities of the remake. 

Cuderia a

More importantly, alchemy and battle make a time travel to Atelier Meruru +. Changes made for Dusk series (Ayesha, Escha&Logy) are not taken into account : alchemy is back in hardcore mode in which ou have to synthesize each object one by one, although with the possibility to register some in shops in order to resupply faster. Alchemy consumes a lot of time and deadlines are the same as before (up to 1 month in the game). It is hard to achieve balance between alchemy, delivery, battle and gear-making. Furthermore, popularity and cash appear incompatible, which is a real problem by the end of the game. Despite that, the main story is not difficult to clear since there’s a great deal of tolerance on objectives. Fights lose the possibility to flank enemies, but are still dynamic enough thanks to the return of assists in full. It is strategically still way above average compared to other RPG s since you have to make your own stuff from scratch. That said, events looked difficult to trigger : in Dusk, it’s pretty natural to reach each characters’ ending, but here event flag conditions seem atrociously complex and far-fetched. It’s almost like you have to progress with an eye constantly on walkthroughs.

Meruru mask

Last but not least, Rorona + adds a long chapter after the main story : in the wake of another of Astrid’s failed experiments, Meruru and Totori and sent in the past. It’s quite a nice idea and a real pleasure to have the three heroines in the same team, but the highly punitive difficulty level is likely to make a lot of people kill time in the atelier. After 7 hours drawing blueprints of weapons, armor, accessories, potions, clocks, and at least as many utter defeats, I had to throw the towel. There’s still a lot to be done of the main story, and the race to ultimate strengh and flawless strategy is still hypnotic. To conclude on something more positive, let’s stress that Rorona + has in-game quite some well-crafted outfits, and a additional character for the main story (Esty like she appears in Atelier Meruru).

Atelier Rorona + is a very good remake : a lot richer than the original, it is also quite satisfying visually speaking. In fact, maybe it’s the game itself that looks a bit old-fashioned after Dusk or the Arland sequels. Consequently, it is destined for Atelier veterans.

Enough of E3! Let’s talk about other games! #2014

Atelier Shallie (PS3)

Milka b

Atelier Shallie makes the revolution : first Atelier to miss June release, it will also abolish the principle of limited time frame. The removal of one of the main features of the series sent a shockwave but this identity crisis shouldn’t spoil the pleasure of having two charming heroines, new classy and hilarious characters as well as returning stars as Escha and Wilbell.

Shining Resonance (PS3)

Forget fearless and willing young men, Shining Resonance’s main character is a old and shy Dragon!One of the last survivors of his kin, he fears his own power and gnawed by destiny. He will have to team with humans equipped with musical weapons, starting with priestess Kilika and her harp-bow. Shifted from PSP to PS3 without going on Vita, this new Shining vows graphical prowess to faithfully render Tony Taka’s design in 3D models.

Action Neptune U (PSVita)

Neptunia-U-scan

Action Neptune U is what I had expected Hyperdimension Noire to be. Whatever, my wish was just postponed for two months. Adding to more direct action, Neptune U mimics Senran Kagura in merciless outfit destruction. Cherry on the cake, the personification of the Japanese game magazine Dengeki Playstation, famous for having been «covering» the Neptune series for quite a while, will make her first apparition as a playable character.

Hyperdimension Neptune VII (?)

We still don’t know the first thing about the new game in Hyperdimension Neptune main series, neither its platform nor if it is only one story. There seem to be a second Neptune, although she could also be the same. The article shows a girl called Uzume, who comes back from Dimension zero, an allegory of gaming’s end. Very mysterious concept arts are also being shown, rising curiosity even more.

Hotaru Nikki (PSVita)

Hotaru-no-Nikki-19

If Child of Light is enlightenment, Hotaru Nikki is darkness. Of a similar approach because relying on a firefly in its progression, NIS’s new IP has the player guide a strange girl called Mion out of reah of evil forces. You’ll have to wisely shift from shadow to light to advance, or else Mion will die in horrible fashion.

IA/VT Colorful (PSVita)

IAVT

IA is a vocaloid colleague of Hatsune Miku. Despite being far less famous because of Miku’s wide popularity, she will soon get her own rythm game too. The brilliant but treacherous producer of Senran Kagura has taken the initiative to propose a new way of enjoying rhythm games. Notice that IA/VT Colorful has already will have 60 songs, that is to say more than any Project Diva.

*ω* Quintet (PS4)

Otoha

After making an impossible trade-off between Uematsu, Amano and Tsunako in Fairy Fencer F, Compile Heart does it again with a new title made under the Galapagos label, which mixes without Idols and RPG. It logically will be about saving the world from dark creatures called «beep» with a girls band dressed in flashy costumes, yeah. The daring publisher will also make it the first JRPG exclusive to PS4.

Legend of Heroes – Sen No Kiseki 2 (PSVita/PS3)

Towa b

News of Sen no Kiseki keep coming and keep being awesome : Claire playable! Towa playable! Tons of mechs, new super magic and a new cat-loli called Altina :3 

Makai Trillion (PSVita)

Utterly defeated by evil Trillion (who has a trillion HP!), demon lord Zeabolos loses his throne and seek revenge. Too badly hurt to fight directly, he calls his sisters, step sisters and daughter-in-law to battle for him in this not-so-legal looking adventure! Visually stunning for a handheld game and featuring a character design in-between Disgaea and Mugen Souls, Makai Trillion is worth trillions! 

Review – Atelier Escha&Logy

Escha f

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.