Reviewing a trilogy - Writers Notes
A couple of weeks ago I finally unlocked the final trophy for Atelier Ryza, meaning that after 90-something hours of gameplay, there are no more hidden bosses for me to beat with my stupidly overpowered game-breaking items.
Having not played an Atelier game before Atelier Ryza last year, I was caught off-guard by just how utterly addictive it's gathering, crafting and combat loop was and how much time I would end up investing into it.
Now whilst I'd be reluctant to ever describe playing a videogame as a marathon, I was feeling pretty burnt out by the end of Ryza, and so when our review copy of the Atelier Dusk Trilogy landed just a couple of days later, it had me questioning if I had the motivation to give them a fair shake, and some quick mental math made it clear that there was no way I could thoroughly review all three games before Spring.
So to save both time and sanity, I've decided to play as much as I could before release, and then review the Trilogy as a single offering, but note that you can also buy each of the games separately in their respective digital store/e-shops.
At the time of writing this review, I'm about 50 hours deep into the Trilogy. I've finished Ayesha and approaching the end of Escha & Logy, I've also dabbled a little bit in the third game (Shallie) just to grasp some of its updated gameplay systems.
The "Dusk" trilogy was originally released for the PS3 in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
These were then ported as "Plus" editions to the Playstation Vita in 2014, 2015 and 2016, these not only included all the DLC from the PS3 releases, but also a considerable amount of new content such as additional playable characters, story-lines and side quests.
The new PS4 titles have been suffixed the "DX" (deluxe) editions, and are a bit of a hybrid. First and most importantly they have all the content from the "Plus" editions, so folks who have played them on the PS3 may well consider picking these up for that.
But as the Vita versions were graphically downgraded, they've used most of the models and textures straight from the PS3 edition, to create a "best of both worlds" combination of PS3 visuals and Vita edition content.
Having come from the PS4 version of Atelier Ryza, there is a considerable graphics downgrade here, so make no mistake, these games are very much ports and not remakes.
What we're looking at (on PS4 Pro at least) is a native 1080p 30fps picture, with no post-processing or anti-aliasing. Which is the same as Atelier Ryza, albeit with PS3-grade geometry and texture work.
The same criticisms would also apply, I cannot fathom why they would not enable anti-aliasing, especially given the abundance of long straight edges on the low-poly scenery.
The games still have loading screens, but if you blink you'll miss them. they've also sped up the game itself by allowing you to both "run" in exploration mode, and toggle battle speed up to 2x. These might be minor additions, but I suspect they've shaved hours off my play-time due to how long some of the battle animations are at their original speed. I feel a bit bad for folks who played without these options in; that pumpkin attack animation is super cute, but I must have seen it at least 1000 times by now.
Most of the UI elements have been re-done for the native 1080p picture too, but a couple of things appear to have been skipped and stick out like a sore, pixelated thumb. Finally, the character models themselves hold up surprisingly well, probably thanks to the art-style more than anything.
Audio-wise all three games come with the choice of English or Japanese voices, which I honestly wasn't expecting given Ryza only had the Japanese voices. Music is okay, there are some stand-out themes for each game, but especially with Ayesha, it felt like some of the tracks are just too short resulting in them looping far too often when exploring an area.
Given the first game in the series is 8 years old, I was a bit worried that it would be too much of a step backwards from Ryza; but whilst the visuals are certainly not as impressive, I felt the story, characters and gameplay were surprisingly on-par with the new title.
My other concern was around the time-limit. The final game in the trilogy (Shallie) has no time-limit, which is the same as Ryza and allowed me just to grind items for my comically overpowered weapons, which is what made Ryza a great chill-out title for me.
But the other two (earlier) games, do have time limit mechanics in play, which will force you to play them somewhat differently.
I think the best way of looking at it is to consider time as just another resource, alongside materials, money and EXP. Every action in the game, such as picking up materials or travelling between areas, will result in time passing, and you're told pretty early on that you have 3 years to finish the game else face the "bad" ending, or in the case of Escha & Logy, the game is split into periods each with their own goal.
I tend to hate time limits, even when I'm given three in-game years I hear that sonic drowning music in my head slowly getting faster and faster as the end approaches. But the way it's implemented in Ayesha wasn't too bad. It did affect how I played the game, but it would often force me to come up with another strategy rather than just power-levelling my way past any hurdles. Escha & Logy in comparison had such a relaxed time-limit that I'd often find myself running out of things to do.
The other take-away is that these games are not that long, so I would recommend just playing them without too much concern for the time-limit, and then focus on min-maxing and getting the alternative endings the second time around via the 'New Game +' mode which lets you keep your items from the previous playthrough, making things a doddle.
Crafting is also quite straight forward, which is odd as I was under the impression these older games were insanely complicated compared to Ryza, but I honestly think Ryza's crafting system might have more hidden depth to it. There is less of an emphasis on creating weapons in these titles, and more of an emphasis on turning okay weapons into great weapons by copying attributes between items.
Atelier Ayesha has a fantastic story, and it's large cast of (playable) characters strongly encourages multiple playthroughs so you can see all the neat little interactions and cut-scenes, which often require having a certain combination of characters present in your team. I did find it annoying I had to travel around to swap team members over, especially given how travelling costs valuable time, so I often ended up just sticking with my less-favourable characters for the first playthrough.
Generally, I would suggest you play the games in release order (Ayesha > Escha & Logy > Shallie). Shallie especially relies on knowing the story and characters from the previous titles.
For newcomers to the series, I would strongly suggest getting Atelier Ryza first, as that just feels like a more modern and beautiful evolution of what's on offer here.
But for existing fans, you'll find months worth of content here. And so long as you keep your expectations in check and consider these as ports with quality of life improvements, and not HD remasters, you'll have a great time.