I bought Atelier Escha & Logy - Alchemists of the Dusky Sky when it first came out back in June. I'd hoped to get an impression out quickly, but parental visits, happy nuptials, and relocating apartments finished that plan off fast. So instead we're getting to it about three and a half months after the fact. Better late than never?
The delay did give me a chance to play the game through with both protagonists, so I can say up front that there's not much difference in how the game works either way. In the workshop, Escha's in charge of making most items, while Logy eventually gets a forge for creating weapons and armor, as well as a device that lets him reverse engineer items found in the field. These options are available regardless of who is chosen to be the primary protagonist for that playthrough.
Oddly, alchemy and item synthesis play a smaller role in this game. That's not to say that Escha won't be making a lot of items — far from it — but that the emphasis has changed. The heroes' current employment does not hinge upon random jobs taken in the pub or requested by shoppers, mainly because Escha and Logy are actually civil servants with set salaries. It's the local government, via the smiling bureaucratic martinet Marion, that determines the work to be done each quarter. While this often involves alchemy of some sort, the focus is quite different.
Simply enough, the region around Escha's hometown is dying. Rivers are drying up, fields run fallow, and the northern towns are quickly being subsumed as the desert spreads southward. Much of the work to be done involves investigating the tide of disaster in order to find a way to reverse the process, or at least ameliorate it.
"All in all, Escha & Logy is a different experience from Ayesha in many ways."
Every quarter, Marion presents the protagonists with a five-by-five bingo board representing the jobs for the next three months. The center square on the board is the most important. Failing that one will get the player a pink slip. The eight squares forming the inner part of the board are all important side-missions, often related to the core job, but just as likely to be things like "fight X number of battles" or "make Y number of items." Completing lines on the central nine job squares will get the player useful bonuses, and finishing them all will reveal the remaining sixteen optional quests for that board.
Escha and Logy also have the full backing of the local government office, which helps in several ways. The Bureau of Homunculi maintains a list of easily accomplished odd-jobs and requests made by the fuzzy little mascots, with rewards paid out in "shiny-shinies." These sweets can in turn be used to bribe homunculi into copying items. The biggest benefits tend to come from Marion and her R&D department. While pricey, these projects can increase travel speed or carrying capacity, improve or expand combat efficiency, or even raise the level cap for all characters.
Those R&D bonuses can be crucial, in fact. The last two story bosses are quite brutal if you're not ready for them, and to make things more frustrating they'll boost their stats and pull out the really big attacks if not taken down fast enough. Out of all the games in the series, this one really promotes the use of heavy firepower. It's even nice enough to restock Escha and Logy's equipped items every time they visit the workshop, neatly removing any supply issues normally associated with this series.
Combat has seen a few upgrades, the most important being that the active party is now six characters. Three stay on the front lines, while the others can be called in for linked attacks or defense whenever the SP gauge has enough points. Since benched characters slowly regain health, it's an important strategy to switch people in or out on a regular basis, especially in the big boss battles. The fact that all this switching out often leads to super attacks opening up is just a bonus.
All in all, Escha & Logy is a different experience from Ayesha in many ways. It's far more ordered in how the events of the game play out, but the story is less focused or plot-driven. The protagonists are just a pair of kids doing their jobs and trying to help, without a grand purpose or mission to motivate at the start. In many ways it reminded me more of Rorona than its immediate predecessor.
Speaking of whom, there's a very obvious Ayesha-shaped hole in this game. Plenty of returning characters play a role here — Marion, Harry, Rinka, Wilbell, even Nio — but Ayesha Altugle gets one small mention early on. Something about teaming up with an older gentleman on some sort of special quest, going incognito, and having an outstanding warrant for her arrest. What that's all about, I have no clue. It does encourage me to get the third Dusk title next June, however.
And with that, I shall leave you with something lyrical to enjoy.