Inside Pulse 12

Review: Atelier Ayesha Plus: The Alchemist of Dusk (Sony PlayStation Vita)

Atelier Ayesha Plus: The Alchemist of Dusk
Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games
Developer: Gust
Genre: RPG
Release Date: 01/13/2015

Here we are again. After playing catch up with the modern Atelier games, I’m back to playing the first PS3 title in the series I ever dabbled with. Atelier Ayesha Plus: The Alchemist of Dusk is an “enhanced” port of the 2013 game, with some additional content thrown in for good measure. Unlike some of the other Vita entries though, the changes aren’t nearly as drastic, with some areas even being a step down from the original. But before I get into that, allow me to cover what hasn’t changed from my PS3 review before getting into what did (skip down to the last couple paragraphs for what’s new in this version).

If you missed out the first time around, Atelier Ayesha Plus takes place during a time when the term alchemy is all but forgotten by the majority of the populace. The main character, Ayesha, fancies herself as more of an apothecary, using her atelier as more of a pharmaceutical workshop than anything else. Daily life is pretty ho-hum for the most part, until one of her regular customers, Ernie, picks up a mysterious man and drops him off at some nearby ruins. Later that day, Ayesha travels to the very same ruins to visit the grave of her younger sister, Nio, who had disappeared from there just two years prior. Before she can leave, an apparition appears in the form of Nio that speaks to her. This leads the mysterious man, Keithgriff, to convince Ayesha that Nio is still alive, setting into motion a journey that will take her all over the world.

On the one hand, it’s very refreshing to play a Japanese RPG that wasn’t about saving the world or a villain that was intent on wiping out humanity and starting over, something that nearly every plot eventually degenerates into. Instead, what you get is a very lighthearted tale about a girl on an adventure to discover the mystery surrounding her sister’s disappearance while learning about alchemy and her own potential as a person. The cast is very likable all around, if a tad archetypal, which is good since you will spend a good majority of the game interacting with them and helping them through their own personal issues. Regina in particular is fascinating, as a woman who makes her living as “one of the boys”, though struggles with her desire to continue life as a prospector. Linca’s story is an amusing one to watch play out also, since it usually involves humorous scenes of her trying to become more personable or learn how to cook. There aren’t too many weak links, though Ranun was kind of an annoying character, mostly because his events always triggered when I was trying to go somewhere important.

The one potential issue about the laid back atmosphere of the adventure is that despite the time constraints, there’s no sense of urgency in the main story events. I mean, yes, there are numerous occasions where it is pointed out that allowing three years to elapse before solving the mystery would be disastrous, but there never seems to be moments of “let’s rush here right now, or else.” I suppose it’s a fitting structure for the story on account of how much time you spend crafting items or pursuing side endeavors, but realize it may not be for everyone.

The artwork for Atelier Ayesha Plus is very beautiful on the small screen, even if the engine can’t quite keep up at times. The colorful palette makes everything seem storybook in nature, and both the characters and landscapes are varied in their design. It was especially reassuring to see that the each of the many places to visit on your map are unique, even if they are a bit small in size, though at least you won’t have to worry about getting lost. Performance takes a slight hit in the Vita version though, as the frame rate drops seem even more frequent and the loading times between areas are longer.

The soundtrack is also very well done, offering tracks with lyrics at opportune moments throughout the main story of the game, as well as at the beginning and end. There’s also a vast selection of music to be found in the various towns, and the battles have multiple songs that play during the game, which helps alleviate the fatigue that often comes with hearing the same theme time and again. The dub is rather decent quality too for the most part, even if Ayesha herself sounded a bit too obnoxious with her airheadedness. The cows (I think?) also sounded a bit weird to me, as their “oink moo” sounds didn’t strike me as convincing animal call.

A major change as it relates to the dialogue, is the additional of dual language tracks. In the PS3 version, you were restricted to the English dub only. Now, you can flip flop as you see fit, though I noticed several areas in the English version that there were simply no voices at all, which I probably wouldn’t have caught without testing the Japanese. Not that this is all that problematic, as I can read faster than the characters can speak the lines anyway, but it might be jarring for some.

Atelier Ayesha‘s structure is such that you keep a notebook of tasks to be done, which can be called up at any time and performed in a non-linear manner. New locations will unlock only after certain events occur, but otherwise you are free to explore at your leisure. You have three in game years in which to complete all of the main story events, and while the idea of an in-game timer might scare you a bit, it’s actually quite generous. Time only flows when you’re harvesting materials, crafting items, or moving around on the map. Once you’ve achieved all of the “required” story quests, you can then ride out the remainder of the three years by performing any side tasks you missed out on along the way, some of which will dictate the ending you will conclude with. I was able to do everything I wanted with plenty of time to spare, and focusing on just the story missions might take you about twenty hours to complete the game. Rolling the credits unlocks a New Game + mode that will make it easier to plow through the second time and wrap up the things you’ve missed.

Combat takes a back seat to near everything else that you’ll be doing, but what’s here is nevertheless solid in comparison to other titles on the market. You’ll bring a party of three into battle and are given the option to attack, use skills, move, or flee. Ayesha is the only character with access to items, making her arguably the most useful of the bunch. The battles are entirely turn-based, with a bar on the side that describes the turn order, and placement of your characters plays a role as well. Some attacks can damage multiple characters if they happen to be next to each other, and damage bonuses are awarded for striking someone who is looking away from you. Performing actions will build up a meter that will allow characters to assist that aren’t currently performing a turn, such as performing a follow-up strike or back attack. They can also take action if one of your characters is about to take damage, allowing them to jump in front and take the hit rather than the character it was aimed at, which is especially helpful if someone is low on life. Striking monsters outside of battle will grant you a preemptive strike, plus if the enemy is weak, you will instantly destroy them without getting into battle and gain any items you would have otherwise earned by fighting.

When a party member hits about level 30, they will gain access to special moves that are accessible once another meter is filled to 100%. This move can’t be carried over from battle to battle, so it’s in your best interest to use it the moment it is available, though they do tend to be fairly long. They’re also visually striking and incredibly devastating to the enemy, so you’ll make use of them whenever you can. The number of things you can do in battle or the number of skills on hand isn’t incredibly robust, but it’s still an enjoyable system. It might be hard to get accustomed if you’d recently played Atelier Escha & Logy, as the six person party spoils you a bit.

As you move from town to town, you’ll notice that most people will ask for items that you may have in your inventory, which award both money and memory points. Memory points are spent on diary entries that enhance your stats, and money is for, well, everything else. It’s going to be the largest source of your income, so you’ll find that most of your time spent will be crafting items. This doesn’t seem all that exciting at first glance (considering these are glorified fetch quests), but item synthesis is both incredibly in-depth and easy to lose yourself in. Books with recipes in them can be found or purchased in shops, leading to a vast array of items that you can construct either for yourself or the townspeople that request them. You can make healing items, accessories for your characters, or items used in the creation of other items. Depending on what you decide on for ingredients as well as what order you put them in will determine the statistics and quality of the item, though even without understanding the deeper mechanics of it you can still put together some really nice items.

One problem I had with the original is that there didn’t appear to be any easy way to keep track of things requested by townspeople. As a result, you waste a lot of time running back through town asking what people want, rather than referring to a list when you’re actually crafting things. So unless I missed it somewhere, this is still an issue. Ayesha also can’t craft weapons and armor, and although these can be purchased at shops on occasion, the majority are found as random drops from monsters you fight. But they only seem to drop items belonging to characters currently in your party, so if you want to deck out someone not currently with you, expect to drag them along anyway. At least unused characters gain levels at a pace even with characters in your main party.

Certain items can be registered at stores in order to be purchased at a later date if it’s a common item that you don’t feel like wasting days making all the time. Bazaars will open up from time to time that your own party members partake in that you can buy things from (though why they don’t just let you have them on account of being a party member is beyond me). There are also contests that will let you enter your creations to be judged alongside others for the chance at nice prizes. In short, there’s a lot of stuff to do if you choose to partake in it.

I hope you like dialogue and cutscenes though, because there are quite a lot of them. Some are more important than others. Atelier Ayesha Plus is almost a visual novel in the frequency that these events play out, as even moving from one part of town to another can trigger a scene and it’s rare to move somewhere on the map without unlocking at least two of them. It’s almost like the skits from the Tales series in that way, except most aren’t focused on being humorous (though some are) and are mostly there to build personality for the characters. Not all of them are voice acted, though they do utilize the in-game engine to animate. Some will even display an illustrated image as a backdrop while you read the text and/or listen to the dialogue.

The additional items in the Plus version are fairly unsubstantial, but they’re there. New costumes that are exclusive to the Vita version are included, with a dressing room that’s immediately accessible so you can try them on (they’re visible during cutscenes as well as in combat). There’s also a couple of new areas to explore, including the Atelier equivalent to a cow level, which is amusing if nothing else. Marion and Odelia are now playable, and new bosses were added, including DLC from the original and a few enemies from Atelier Escha & Logy. Some are absolutely brutal in their difficulty, so if you thought the original was too easy, there are some new challenges to face. Plus, a hard difficulty can be chosen right from the start.

My original recommendation hasn’t changed all that much. The Atelier games are still offbeat when compared to other JRPG’s, though it’s incredibly refreshing if you haven’t played one before. The frequent dialogue and fetch quests can still be a nuisance to certain players, though the item crafting is still leagues beyond what most games have done. If you’ve already played the PS3 version, there’s not enough new here to justify sinking another $40 and potentially dozens of hours to try to experience, unless you’re looking for a more challenging playthrough. Especially since the performance took a slight hit in its move to portable, though I am impressed that they managed to compress the entire game to under 3GB. Still, if you’ve been experiencing the franchise on the go up until now, or haven’t played the original, Atelier Ayesha Plus: The Alchemist of Dusk is a worthwhile purchase. I hope you saved some memory card space.

Short Attention Span Summary
Atelier Ayesha Plus: The Alchemist of Dusk is a port of a 2013 PlayStation 3 game compressed into portable form. It doesn’t seem to run as well on the Vita and the loading times seem a bit longer, though it still looks fantastic compared to other games on the system. The Japanese language track, which was absent from the original, has been added in. Content that existed as DLC before has also been included with this release. New costumes, characters, areas and bosses have been tossed in the mix as well and a hard difficulty setting was put in place for the hardcore. It’s not the drastic step forward that Atelier Rorona Plus was, but it’s something. If you do most of your JRPG gaming on the go, it’s definitely a worthwhile addition to the Vita library.

Tags: , , ,