While there are a lot of different kinds of JRPGs in the world, most of them have one thing in common: they center around a single person or a small group who must overcome their fears and insurmountable obstacles in order to save their world from an evil empire or some sort of catastrophic apocalypse.
Then there’s Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky. This game takes a lot of JRPG conventions and interprets them in its own unique way. The emphasis of this game isn’t on combat but on alchemy. You aren’t out to save the entire world but you are working to find out its mysteries and using your skills to make your small home town better. It’s a very laid back kind of game and one which I found refreshing.
This is how I felt about the game after playing it for many hours. Initially, I was put off by it. The main characters were all kind of “vanilla” and there was no bigger plot to keep things moving forward. While playing through the first few assignments, I kept wondering what was the point of anything I was doing. Without a focused narrative thrust I felt that the game was directionless.
The fact that synthesizing items was the main focus definitely turned me off at first since I don’t usually like this sort of stuff in other games. I like to buy my items and end it there. Making them myself? That’s something that never appealed to me and at first I wasn’t digging how I had to make every single item that I needed. It seemed like a bunch of busy work.
As the game progressed, my alchemic abilities expanded and I slowly found myself getting more and more into crafting items. The game has a ton of things that can be both found in the field and/or created but the actual mechanics of synthesis were very straight forward and easy to understand. By the end, I looked forward to finding recipes to make new items, accessories, armor and weapons.
The slow approach to the story eventually won me over too. What did it was the characters. Even though none of the cast leaves an indelible mark, they all have a unique charm to them which I really liked. The phrase “I’ll do my best” is repeated constantly by everyone but I found it endearing. Main character Escha was probably my favorite because I can identify with her eagerness to be the best at what she does and to be a good person to everyone. Her obsession with food also made me laugh and smile a lot.
Even though the focus is more on alchemy than combat, I found battles to be really engaging. Though the game is turned based, there were several actions that could be triggered in real time. You could use one character to defend another or have them get a hit in outside of their turn. As the characters get stronger, they gain new and flashier abilities.
The enemy roster itself consisted of the same basic monsters in different color variants. Fighting identical squirrel or armadillo-like creatures even late into the game got a bit monotonous. The bosses however were a big highlight and each provided a different challenge. Most of the battles can be won fairly easily but the boss battles tested all of your skills. This is where I found the battle system reached its true potential.
One thing that I really liked about the boss battles was the music. Overall, this game has a great soundtrack that really sticks out. I don’t typically write about music in my reviews (because most modern game music is dull) so you know the music in this game is special if I feel the need to talk about it.
The music ranges from typical JRPG-ish “happy tunes” to some really rocking J-Pop. The J-Pop songs were my personal favorites and whenever one come up it got me excited. You could also change the background music to hear songs from the previous Atelier games too and I enjoyed those pieces as well.
The other aspect of the presentation that I liked was the character models. Each one looked like they came straight out the cover of a manga. There is definitely a watercolor-esque thing going on with the character’s colors which was cool and I liked how different colors in the environments looked on them.
Unfortunately, those same environments were extremely uninteresting to look at. While the world of the game has many diverse areas, they weren’t done in the same art style as the characters. Not to be too mean but the backgrounds looked like they came from a PlayStation 2 game. Even the enemies you fight had the same boring look as the environments. I would have liked it if the backgrounds and character designs were consistent with one another.
The main thing that bothered me about the game was the time management system. You get a certain amount of time to complete your assignments, usually about 120 in-game days. Traveling to different places and synthesizing each item took several days so you have to prioritize which missions you’ll do and what you’ll synthesize.
You do get a generous amount of time to complete your main tasks and I never found myself in a position of failing them. However, trying to do all of the side missions before time ran out was a bit tricky. The fact that I couldn’t really take my time to explore and synthesize was a bummer. I know the timer is a series staple but I personally could have done without it. Considering how laid back the rest of the game is, the time management aspect added an unnecessary amount of anxiety to the experience.
Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky may not be THE talked about JRPG of this year but it is enjoyable. It eschews genre tropes with its story delivery and puts synthesizing, a mechanic which is usually an afterthought in most games, in the forefront of gameplay. Although like this game for what it had to offer, I realize that it is a very niche title. There’s nothing wrong with that but I can see why this series has remained at cult level. The J in this JRPG is very strong and that may turn some people off. Still, if you’re looking for a more easy going and light-hearted RPG experience or if you are a fan of the series then you can’t go wrong here.