After a successful release on the PlayStation 3 back in 2013, Atelier Escha & Logy Plus is the latest in the hit Atelier series to be ported to the Vita, and features all of the downloadable content from the original version. Speaking of which, be sure to read our PS3 review if you're looking for more a detailed take on the title's mechanics.
Opting to choose between the female or male protagonist, the game kicks off on the first day of a new job as an alchemist, where you're immediately thrown into learning the ropes of how things work in the town of Corseit. Escha and Logy's personalities differ quite a lot, so the lure of a replay is there from the off as you ponder how different scenarios would play out if you'd chosen the other character.
The opening chapters of the game are more akin to an induction at a new workplace than an invitation to explore an exciting new world. Introductions to cast members are completed with an unnecessary corporate undertone. Couple this with the constant reminders of your assignment deadlines and talk of department budgets and stipends, and it can often feel like you're doing overtime at the real office. With extremely slow pacing, it takes a while to reach anything resembling a plot. Even now, we're somewhat unsure what the point of everything was outside of completing the characters' assigned duties.
With too much focus on things like expense reports, which the game pretty much does on your behalf, little time is spent on teaching the core parts of the game: alchemy and imbuing. It often feels like this is down to you as a player to grasp through tedious trial and error.
Similarly, little to no time is given to the tutorials for combat. The game features some pretty interesting support functions, which again are largely down to you to discover. During combat, a gauge in the bottom right of the screen will clock up how many support moves have been earned, and the meter increases based on the strength of the previous attack. Supporting characters can then perform support attacks or support guard moves. As the combat is turn based, the support attacks become an integral function, as they all count within the same turn in battle, giving you the edge when used correctly. All in all, it's a capable and enjoyable battle system that really ends up being the highlight of the release.
Luckily, the title does feature an in-game dictionary, which provides adequate explanations to some of the basic functions which seem to have otherwise been overlooked. Perhaps this is fine for more experienced players of the series, but newcomers to the franchise may find themselves spending a lot of time reading through the dictionary when a simple, additional tutorial would have been sufficient.
Though there is an in-game currency which allows you to buy items and equipment from shops, the real currency is arguably time. Each assignment that you're given by the department head must be completed in a term, and each action that you take in the game uses days out of said term. At times, gameplay feels a lot like a race against the clock as precious in-game days are squandered doing the most basic of tasks – travelling to different areas, collecting ingredients, and synthesising in the atelier. You could even argue that the game sometimes seems like it's punishing you for wanting to thoroughly explore the map by placing such restrictions on your time.
Atelier Escha & Logy seems to have a lot more potential than it utilises. The map offers a look at what could have been a sprawling and vast world, which is not explored – and even if it was, the game would probably punish you time-wise for doing so. Periodically, an exclamation point will show in the town of Corseit, signalling that other characters are available to spend time with. For the most part, the supporting cast are bland and uninteresting and the game offers no benefits to levelling up friendships with them other than adding to the limited storyline – so even that can often feel like more of a chore than it needs to.
Atelier Escha & Logy Plus treads old ground, not offering anything new to the series. There's no challenge to the mundane requests that you'll find yourself completing, and at times, it feels like an RPG for beginners, going through the motions and ticking off a checklist of what's expected of the genre. Thankfully, the saving grace here is the enjoyable combat, which can help blow off a bit of steam after what is all too often a hard day's work.