Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk Review for PlayStation 3
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3.
As the fourteenth title coming from the Atelier Japanese role-playing series developed by Gust Co. Ltd, Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk takes us on a mystical but sorrowful journey through a world where civilization has forgotten the ideals of alchemy and old magic, and instead embraces industry and the chance to rebuild itself.
The game stars Ayesha, an apothecary, who lives alone and manages a medicine shop. Ayesha is a content, bubbly character; however, she is in many ways naïve to the world outside her workshop. After her grandfather died, Ayesha was left to take over the shop along with her little sister, Nio. One day while gathering herbs at a nearby ruin, Nio disappears. Three years later, the events surrounding her disappearance ultimately remains a mystery, and she is presumed dead. Here is where Ayesha’s journey begins. Upon visiting her sister’s grave, Ayesha sees a projection of Nio, who tries to communicate with her, but is unable to and vanishes almost instantly. As Ayesha ponders whether or not this means Nio is alive, she is found by Keithgrif Hazeldine, who claims to be an alchemist. He proceeds to tell Ayesha that he has been conducting investigations on different ruins akin to the one Nio disappeared in. He also tells her that he has knowledge of what happened to her sister. Ignoring Ayesha’s questions, he simply gives her two goals to complete in order to solve the mystery and save her sister: study alchemy, and learn to understand the glowing flower that marks her grave at the site of the ruin. After revealing these two quests to her, he leaves, and Ayesha vows to complete these tasks.
While The Alchemist of Dusk presents the player with an emotionally-driven story, it begins to fall flat as you are introduced to a generally one-dimensional cast of supporting characters who slow down the progression of the story, since none of them come with a background, other than a few vague notes of their past. The only aid they offer is during battle since each character has his/her own special attack and weapons, which can result in some very powerful and exciting combo attacks. The character Regina, for instance, is equipped with a very destructive battle-axe and strike combos, which makes her a lucrative partner to have in battle.
Ayesha, on the other hand, is a protagonist who steadily matures and develops her character as the story progresses. Even so, there are moments where Ayesha’s inherent bubbliness makes her reactions inappropriate, which makes it difficult for players to sympathize with her. In example, at the beginning of the game, Ayesha is confronted with a shocking truth about her sister. As well, she is given not one, but two daunting quests to complete in order to save her sister. At this point, it would be reasonable to assume that Ayesha would be experiencing great turmoil, and that we would be shown a more vulnerable and emotional side to her. Yet, Ayesha’s reaction is nothing more than a ditzy and childish monologue describing how surprised she is at this turn of events and how she should go home and write in her diary like a teenager documenting a bad day. Unfortunately, she continues to carry on this demeanour throughout the game. This aspect makes it difficult to maintain the level of emotional significance this story is trying to convey and really inhibits the player’s connection to Ayesha.
Much of Ayesha’s growth in maturity is developed through writing in her diary, which you unlock near the beginning of the game. As you progress through the story by talking with other characters, finding clues about Nio, or practicing your alchemy, you receive Memory Points that can be used to write submissions in the diary and help Ayesha keep track of what she has learned and how she is affected by those interactions. If you fail to update the diary on a consistent basis, Ayesha will remain in her current state of mind. This concept makes for a unique aspect of gameplay, since what seems like such a simple action can later on have a major impact on the game, as it changes the type of decisions she will make.
Judging this title strictly by its story merits is unfair, because as we all know, the story is only one factor that makes a game great. A huge plus and pleasant surprise for The Alchemist of Dusk is that it heavily emphasizes gameplay, and the developers really made an effort to create a good balance between battles and exploration. Like other titles in the series, The Alchemist of Dusk employs a mixture of combat, exploration and Item Synthesis to make up the bulk of its content. Combat in this game is extremely tactical; players can freely move around and provoke attacks of opportunity by taking advantage of various strike points. In this game, players are able to engage in attacks from the front, side, and back, all the while doing extra damage by discovering enemy weak points from different proximities, and joining other characters in combo-attacks. These new additions add a layer of battling depth that simply did not exist in the previous Atelier games, and more importantly, makes battle in The Alchemist of Dusk exciting and extremely satisfying.
Since battling is not easy, players should be aware that even the most basic encounters can be difficult, and as you explore the more obscure areas, enemies can become much, much stronger. Control schemes in battle are helpful as well, as you are given prompts (i.e. what buttons to press) that will let you know when a point of advantage is coming up. The downside to this is that they are timed. If you don’t act fast, you’ll miss the opportunity to utilize the prompt, and lose the chance to defend yourself against an enemy attack.
The concept of Item Synthesis is unfortunately the core disappointment in the game. For veteran players of the Atelier series, it is understood that the Item Synthesis process is supposed to be complex, allowing the player to become an expert at micromanaging their supplies. In this instalment, however, the process is simplified and streamlined. With any amount of materials you can make decent items with respectable attributes that genuinely aid you throughout the game. This concept is both a plus and negative. It does cut down on the meticulous nature of grinding through the entire world for specific or rare ingredients to create expert level items, but it also divorces the player from experiencing the original and intriguing process of Item Synthesis, which, in past Atelier titles, was a vital component of the gameplay.
Concerning exploration, The Alchemist of Dusk once again provides the player with whimsical and beautiful areas to explore. Colours are sharp and environments have a depth that at many points leaves you pausing the game to admire the scenery. Paths are uncluttered with vegetation, but are littered with items needed for synthesizing. Rarely, do you become lost or barricaded in an area with nothing of resource. As you explore, the game is subtle with its score. The soundtrack is incredible and is perfectly in rhythm with what is happening on screen. It is soft and light-hearted at casual points, but becomes pulse-pounding during a battle for your life. It is never intrusive, and stays as a background element where it belongs.
Another element of exploration is the time-constraints placed on the story, and on discovering dungeons or towns. The Alchemist of Dusk makes it so that each day must be taken advantage of in order to accomplish your objectives. You are given three years at the beginning of the game by which you must complete the story. Thus, poor time management and shortcuts can result in earning an incomplete ending and will call for unnecessary grinding.
While the art style in The Alchemist of Dusk is truly beautiful, and character movements are fluid and easy to control, a flaw that does stick out is found in the voice-acting. The biggest culprit is with the actor who plays Ayesha. She is designed and presented to us as a character in her late teens, early twenties; however, her voice is that of a ten-year-old. As well, voices are completely out of rhythm with the lip-syncing. We are left with jarring up and down mouth flapping, which continues even when the dialogue has ceased. Since this game has a boatload of talking segments, it is inescapable. In the end, you may take advantage of the option to mute Ayesha’s voice.
As JPRGS go, Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk is one of the more fine-tuned titles in the series. The overall feel of the game stays true to the nostalgic elements essential to a great JRPG and fantasy based game. For those unfamiliar with the Atelier series, this title is a great starter point that will allow for a comfortable transition into an otherwise very detailed and strategic game series. Of course, there are flaws in it, but nothing that will stop you from immersing yourself completely, and dedicating hours and hours of gameplay to this title, and maybe even titles past.
Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk receives a 4.0/ 5.0
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