Nowadays, JRPGs seem to be flooding the Vita’s library ever since Sony announced that they would be discontinuing first-party support for their underrated handheld, but it seems like third-party developers aren’t willing to let go of the Vita just yet. (In)Famous for their file size and overall lighthearted nature, the Atelier series is a beloved franchise within the Vita’s niche. Amongst the myriad of titles releasing in Early 2016, I was excited to see that Atelier Escha & Logy Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky had made it overseas. I’m certainly not the most experienced with these series of games, but as a fan of JRPGs, I couldn’t keep away from reviewing the newest installment (or rather, re-release) in the franchise.
Split into two perspectives, E&L+ follows the lives of two alchemists as they complete tasks for the government and the people of Colseit while unraveling its mysteries, exploring ruins, and becoming great friends with one another and their many neighbors. Escha, a charismatic and clumsy girl who wishes to one day explore the fantastically named Unexplored Ruins, and Logy, an alchemist transferred from Central City to the small town with a seemingly dark past. Along your journeys and in-game years spent, you will come across a plethora of characters who will usually accompany you on your expeditions. Each character seems to follow overdone anime cliches, but their character really shines when they’re interacting with one another. The story is practically nonexistent outside of the merry and charming interactions, so if you’re expecting an epic or an inspiring tale of heroes, all you’ll find here are a few country bumpkins and a city boy trying to get by. That being said, and despite the characters being walking caricatures, it never really gets old seeing them bicker and interact. Maybe I’m too accustomed to the archetypes that anime has spawned, but the characters’ personalities vary enough to keep it from getting all too stale. The story is no merit of the Atelier franchise, but it has a solid foundation and amazing follow-up for its gameplay.
Synthesization has always been a feature in RPGs that I’ve never been keen on, almost always involving hours of grinding for the proper materials. I remember growing tired of having to reload the current world in Kingdom Hearts in my attempt to finally gain the ultimate weapon for whichever character I deemed worthy of my time. It’s personally a dreadful experience and is akin to the most gratuitous of sidequests. And yet, the Atelier games present such a complex, yet simple alchemization system that offers so much variability in what you can craft and the item’s properties that I find it to be one of the more engrossing parts of the games. Each material found exploring the areas within the overworld have their own distinctive properties that can be infused into whatever you’re crafting, so long as the item you’re crafting asks for that specific sundry. Coupled with later systems that allow you to extend the effectiveness of each item used and the product, if it weren’t the time limit applied to each trimonthly assignment, I’d be content just crafting items until my inventory is full.
When out on a search for materials or to complete an assignment, you’ll normally find enemies walking about the environment. Come into contact with one, and you’ll engage in a typical turn-based fight, wherein you will take advantage of any synthesized bombs or a character’s individual skills. How E&L+ decides to distinguish itself from the typical JRPG-fare is by incorporating a Support system. Governed by a meter in the bottom right corner of the screen, you can use up whatever meter you have to have an ally step in during an enemy’s assault to take the brunt of the damage for the given character, or have your party members get in a few hits before their turn proper, without delaying their placement in the turn order. The Support system has battles keep a steady pace and prevents them from reaching the level of tedium the average JRPG may provide. Understanding and managing your meter so as to always keep the advantage can lead to some interesting fights, especially when Support Skills are later introduced and you try your best to gauge which party member would be most efficient in keeping the Support meter from reaching zero. This system is no stranger to the Atelier series, but for it to survive so many iterations and constantly be improved upon, E&L+ offers one of the most engaging battle systems in JRPG history
While E&L+ sports generic environments with little to no character, the character designs and the fidelity of their 3D models are outstanding for a game on the Vita. Granted, this game is a port of the PS3 version, but its quality remains unrivaled. The amount of attention to detail put into the characters’ designs to accentuate their personalities and skills, while simplistic, is awesome, and keeps that level of detail even in the transition to 3D. There’s love put into the game and with each recurring iteration the presentation keeps improving.
Music in the game utilizes a variety of soft-tone instruments that wish to convey a homey tone, perfect for the environments of the game, but a tad awkward during character interactions. Some of the tracks feel abstract, almost like a collection of instruments in disharmony. While the soundtrack certainly isn’t bad, it’s not something I find worth downloading. There is the occasional case of an amazing song, but it just gets lost and muddled.
2016 seems to be the year of JRPGs, with various upcoming titles I and many others have been anticipating for quite some time. Atelier Escha & Logy Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky may fall under the radar for many due to its release on the Vita, limited physical run, or due to a lack of proper marketing and publicity. Despite all that, it’s a wonderful, addicting experience that is no doubt amongst the top 10 of my favorite JRPGs. There’s a myriad of content to be explored, and with New Game+ being incentivized, will no doubt get anyone who likes the game to do multiple playthroughs. For anyone who wants bang for their buck and a JRPG with unique systems, the Atelier series, with E&L+ being the best, is well worth the price tag.
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