The second game in the Dusk trilogy, Atelier Escha and Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky DX continues to take part in the same universe as Atelier Ayesha, with some returning characters popping up here and there – but, for the most part, this is very much its own tale and one that, unfortunately, gets off to quite a stilted start. The early hours with this entry in the long-running series see you bogged down in unnecessarily prolonged political chit-chat and rule-following as the game lays out the foundations of a story which, thankfully, does take flight quite nicely once you make your way through these dull, exposition-heavy early hours which are exacerbated by a decision to front-load most of the tutorial aspects of the game.
It's a problematically slow opening for sure, but one that does at least have the benefit of giving the story an unusually strong set-up for a series that isn't particularly well known for its involving narratives. Escha and Logy are hired as part of the R&D department for the town of Colseit, a little community hub that sits below some great big floating ruins which nobody has ever managed to explore. They're alchemists in a run-down and underfunded government job and must prove themselves in their roles if they hope to secure their positions and, more importantly, help raise the entire department up in an effort to fight against the real threat of the story which rears its head eventually, some four or five hours down the line.
Reporting to a certain returning character, the pair of wannabe wizards must take control of a surprising number of aspects of the day-to-day running of the R&D department, even if this amounts to very little in the way of actual gameplay, instead taking the form of far too much exposition early doors. Alongside the reams of text you'll sit through, the game makes the decision to cram in tutorials for its signature alchemy gameplay and, although it pays off in the long-run as you'll pretty much know all you need to from an early point, it can't fail to hurt initial impressions a little.
Thankfully, once it does open up and get moving with its plot proper, Atelier Escha and Logy settles into a nice rhythm and takes some pointers from its predecessor, Atelier Ayesha, to make itself welcoming to newcomers – as well as giving you the opportunity to play as either of its titular characters. First off, the time limit – which has always been a central facet of these games and which was loosened up considerably for Atelier Ayesha – is even more relaxed here. Tasks and assignments must now be completed in four-month blocks and, as long as you manage to take care of the story-pertinent task fairly rapidly, you'll always have a ton of free time left over to mill around collecting materials and hoovering up whatever side-quests you need to before handing in your final report card for the month, levelling up and receiving that sweet, sweet end-of-job stipend.
The alchemy, always the absolute core of these games, is as deep and satisfying as ever whilst remaining easy to get to grips with; layers of complexity are added as your character levels up their skills, giving you more and more freedom to re-order how you mix-and-match ingredients in order to create the various bombs, salves and potions you'll need out on the battlefield. It also benefits from the fact that, depending on which character you choose to play as, things get mixed up a little. Escha will focus on the regular alchemy that fans will be used to, while Logy uses his different style of crafting to come up with combat equipment and armour.
Elsewhere, choosing to play as either Escha or Logy doesn't have a particularly massive bearing on proceedings beyond some different endings and a few alternative cutscenes and dialogue. Indeed, you'll spend the vast majority of the game – regardless of who you choose to play as – delivering completed task report cards to the R&D department as well as picking up side requests from the administration office. That said, getting to choose your protagonist does shake up the usual Atelier formula and adds a nice layer of replayability to proceedings.
Away from the slightly reworked alchemy, combat here is definitely an improvement here over Atelier Ayesha, with a slightly faster pace and support moves that are much easier to pull off. You'll still feel right at home building up your support gauge and using items crafted before battle as it's all controlled in exactly the same way, but now, with a team of six members on the battlefield, you can stack up support moves in a really satisfying manner and unlock devastating super moves that'll rattle the bones of even the biggest onscreen enemies.
Moving in and around monsters to utilise different types of strikes and critical hits works the same here as it did in Ayesha and – for a system that's really quite basic – it works well and flows nicely, backed up by some terrific battle banter and some properly fancy-looking moves, especially when you pull a big fat special out of the bag. And you'll need to be pulling some big fat ones out of some bags by the end of your adventure here, as things step up in difficulty quite surprisingly towards the end of the adventure.
Improvements also come in the form of the bingo-style cards on which your various quarterly tasks are filled in. There's a Monster-Hunter style stamp that "okays" a job once it's done and you'll receive bonuses for completing your quests in lines either horizontally, vertically or diagonally. It's a meaningless distraction, much like revealing pictures as you complete quests in Atelier Ayesha, but it adds to the fun and is an addictive little detail.
Beyond the even more relaxed time constraints, small additions to alchemy and that revamped combat, much of what remains here is identical to what's gone before. Traversing the game world is done on the very same style of map – albeit with a new lick of paint – and the areas which you'll visit to collect resources and battle monsters are still small, self-contained little boxes with a handful of gathering points and some enemies to test your mettle against. This is still an exercise in ticking off lists for the most part and those who hanker after a deep JRPG experience or huge sprawling adventure will, again, end up a bit disappointed here.
However, for those who fancy a more light-hearted JRPG affair and can't get enough of the series' patented brand of addictive alchemy, this is another solid entry. With a total of eleven different endings and two main protagonists to play as, there's plenty of replayability here and, as with Atelier Ayesha, that checklist-style of gameplay suits the nature of portable Switch play absolutely perfectly.
In terms of performance, this is another good port and we didn't encounter any bugs, framerate dips or problems in our time with the game. It looks great, with some excellent character designs, a solid musical score and all those little improvements, tweaks and quality of life options that come as part of these DX versions of the trilogy. And yes, the dressing room is still available for those who prefer their protagonists to be just that little bit colder as they go about their daily activities.
Atelier Escha and Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky DX gets off to a pretty turgid start with exposition-heavy scenes punctuated with lots of tutorials; however, once it gets its bearings, it's another satisfying tale with two strong lead characters to choose from, a great cast of supporting characters and that deep and satisfying alchemy sat right at the centre of it all, pulling the weaker strands of its gameplay together into a satisfyingly unified whole.