Review: Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk (Sony PlayStation 3)

Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk
Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games
Developer: Gust
Genre: RPG
Release Date: 03/05/2013

I’ll be honest, I haven’t been following the Atelier franchise all that closely, which is a bit surprising considering that the series is already on its fourteenth (!) main entry. I did have a chance to check out Atelier Iris, which plays out like a traditional JRPG and I do own the Arland trilogy, though I hadn’t had a chance to play through them yet. So for me, having a chance to play Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk is an opportunity to get caught up on the advancements that the series has gone through over the past eight years or so.

Seemingly set far apart from the other games, Atelier Ayesha 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 is very beautiful, 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.

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 a convincing animal call.

I know there was some resistance to the idea of not having a dual language track for the game among the fanbase, leading some to proclaim a boycott in the face of such a thing. It’s not for me to say whether this is a valuable enough feature to miss out on an entire game over, as people will spend their money on what they will. That said, the only thing not buying the game will do for a niche title is ensure that there won’t be another, so do with that what you will.

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.

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 thing I found bothersome 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. 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 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.

Despite my enjoyment of the title, it’s really hard to pinpoint who the recommend this to. It is very different from your typical JRPG, so someone looking for a fresh experience has come to the right place, though at the same time, it is so far removed from the standard formula that they may be turned off by that very same thing. There is also a ton of dialogue and fetch quests too, which isn’t necessarily a good selling point. Still, what combat that is present is enjoyable and the item creation system is a lot of fun. Atelier Ayesha is at least worth looking into, especially if you’ve never played a game in the series before. Who knows, it just might make you a fan. I know I consider myself motivated to check out the rest of them.

Short Attention Span Summary
Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk veers off the standard JRPG path of offering a typical save-the-world-from-mass-genocide plot line, and instead focuses on a smaller scale adventure surrounding a gentle apothecary and her desire to rescue her sister. The game is quite a visual treat for such a niche title, and the soundtrack is top notch. The lack of dual language option might be a sore spot for some, but sound volumes can be adjusted down and is certainly not worth missing out on the game over. The majority of the game is spent either engaging in item synthesis or cutscenes, with a relatively small window reserved for combat and exploration. It’s certainly not for everyone, but those that partake will find an easygoing adventure with plenty of content to keep them busy for sometime. So if you’re looking for something a little different than the run-of-the-mill JRPG tropes, give Atelier Ayesha a look.



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2 responses to “Review: Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk (Sony PlayStation 3)”

  1. […] an inevitability. Fortunately, there are a number of great jumping in points, and last year’s Atelier Ayesha was one of them. It was the first part of what is known as the Dusk trilogy, and the latest […]

  2. […] missed out on the Arland trilogy of Atelier games during their first go round, making Atelier Ayesha my first plunge back into the franchise since the PS2 era. And it’s not for lack of interest, […]

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