Review: Atelier Ayesha The Alchemist of Dusk

Despite being a thoroughly niche series, the Atelier series is actually one of the larger JRPG series out there. This is the fourth year in a row that a game has been released in the series, which is something I don’t think any other JRPG series can claim. I had played an Atelier Iris game back on the PS2, but the bulk of my experience comes from the PS3 “Arland” trilogy, which consisted of Atelier Rorona, Atelier Totori, and Aterlier Meruru. All three games had similar themes, core systems, and even shared characters across them. Atelier Ayesha is a completely new game with absolutely no ties to any previous Atelier games, which makes it considerably more risky. After all, games like Meruru were able to rely on the strength of established characters to push it through. Ayesha has no such luxury and has to completely establish the world and characters itself, which is standard fare for most games, but it’s been a while since an Atelier game has had to. Atelier games aren’t meant to be Final Fantasy levels of blockbuster and awe. Instead they are simpler, more charm-reliant games. They are also surprisingly good, despite their simple nature, and are a godsend in this generation’s dearth of JRPGs.

Surprisingly, your reaction to this cover is probably a better test as to whether you’d like the game than any review.
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These games have all been considerably more laid back than general JRPGs, with no major save the world stories. The stories presented are always far more limited in scope, and focused on the life of a the titular alchemist as they go about to achieve a particular feat in several years. Atelier Ayesha is no exception in this regard. The basic premise is that you’re an apothecary living in the middle of nowhere, who, after a chance encounter with a wandering alchemist (Voiced by the fantastic Richard Epcar) has decided to try to study alchemy in hopes of saving her sister, who has been spirited away. The game sticks close to this story, and most of what Ayesha does is to further this goal, which makes the game feel much more like Totori than Meruru for series veterans. The characters on the other hand are hit or miss. The principal cast is fairly good with standouts such as Bell, who says she’s secretly a witch despite dressing like one, and taking every opportunity to tell you what she is; Keith, the aforementioned wandering alchemist, who is one of the most engaging characters of the series; and Linca, who is a master swordswoman, but is incapable of anything else. These characters in particular help to offset the boring and lifeless shopkeepers and other trope characters we’ve seen a billion times before, often better presented.

Totally not a witch, guys.

The world and themes of this game get their own paragraph for being considerably more interesting than I would have expected. Atelier Ayesha exists in a quasi-post apocalyptic world, where the best days of humanity are far behind them. While many games, push the superior lost civilization, this game goes further in going over the folly of mankind. Like many games, there are ruins, but instead of being isolated dungeons, the entire world is more or less a ruin. However, unlike full post-apocalyptic games, there isn’t the same level of hopelessness and decay. The people persist and are still upbeat. It is a very strange mix, one that I haven’t really seen before. The whole game is set in sepia tones, which promotes the history and dusk theme considerably, but it has unfortunate side effects. One of the big selling points of Atelier games is the beautiful bright anime-inspired graphics. Unfortunately, the entire game looks washed out and it feels like a major downgrade from Meruru. This was a conscious choice mind you, but it may not have been the best one.

Thematically excellent. Visually poor.
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Alchemy is the guiding gameplay mechanic of the series, so it’s no surprise that it takes centre stage in this game. Alchemy has been overhauled from the Arland series and the results are mixed. There are some new great things, like making multiple items with each creation, which encourages you to actually use the items you create, instead of hoarding them. There is a new element system, which gives you bonuses on certain items for filling up the right element, which can be achieved by picking the right ingredients. Finally, there is the addition of alchemy skills, which is so logical, I wonder why they weren’t implemented before. The downside is that the alchemy is far less refined than Meruru. All ingredients are static, so there is far less variation available. This makes making actually good items pretty impossible all the way up until the late game, and all of the systems are there for that. It doesn’t really benefit you too much to never learn how to properly synthesize as most items will turn out the same anyway. By the end of the game, it’s a different story, but that’s a tiny portion of the game, and alchemy should have been better represented through the whole thing. It isn’t bad, and this new system has a lot of room for evolution, but it doesn’t reach the heights of Meruru.

Little girls love napalm is something you should never say when going into a middle school
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Combat has not been changed significantly from the Arland series. It feel much more like an evolution than a fresh start like the alchemy system. Combat is basic JRPG line up and take turns beating the enemy. There is nothing special here, and it’s a shame that Gust didn’t take the opportunity to revamp it slightly. Only Ayesha can use the items that she makes such as bombs and healing items. The rest of your two potential teammates are limited to regular attacks and special skills, which have various properties such as being able to slow enemies or hit wider areas on top of being your main source of damage. Each party member has their own set of passive skills, but it really doesn’t matter too much, and your party will probably end up being whoever you like the most, not who is overpowered like Sterk and Gio in the previous series. New additions include new support attacks and the ability for the alchemist to support; however, these are largely superficial and don’t significantly change the combat. As mentioned in the alchemy paragraph, the ability to have more items produced, does mean that bombs and other items are more viable in combat, which is a good thing, but the game isn’t too hard, so it’s barely noticed.

HP? Check. MP? Check. Hulking tribesman? Check. Ok, we’re good to go.
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Like previous Atelier games, Ayesha is set against a 3 year time limit, and, unlike Meruru and Totori, there is no extension to bring that limit up to 5 years. As such, Ayesha is significantly shorter than the two previous games. The time limit in this game isn’t something to worry about there. There are no real deadlines like in previous games, and you get a ton of leeway to screw around and still finish with a good ending, making Ayesha the most free and open Atelier game in recent years. There are requests from townsfolk, which are timed, but it doesn’t really matter if you meet their deadlines, as money is beyond plentiful in this game and there are no repercussions to missing them other than a slightly reduced reward. One of the new additions is the collection of memory, which you can get from various tasks in the game. You use these to unlock bonuses by writing in your journal. It’s not much different from the old tasks in the previous games, but it’s still fun and it doesn’t rely on any time limit. The beautiful cardboard map from Meruru returns; although, much more muted in tone due to the colour washout. There are a good amount of areas to visit, but there is significantly less variety than Meruru, and there are only a handful of enemy designs (Maybe six or seven), and tons of recolouring. They are all new enemy designs, with none taken from the previous series, but it’s still a surprisingly small amount. The game is packed with a large number of endings like previous instalments, but getting the ending you want has never been easier. Now, if you qualify for an ending, you can select it from a series of choices at the end, so no more avoiding certain events to get the ending you want.

Don’t worry, you have plenty of time to play with pedophiles and still complete the game.
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Graphically, the game looks the same as Meruru with no real change of quality, which is to be expected considering it’s a yearly release. The character models are still heavily anime-inspired and they all look quite good. There are some noticeable bugs; however, such as slow down, screen tearing, and it will usually take up to twenty seconds for models to appear on the screen. Considering that this is substantially the same engine used since Totori, it’s a shame that these bugs still haven’t been ironed out.  As I’ve mentioned several times, the muted tones make the game look so much worse than it actually is, and it’s a major shame. Soundwise, the game is good. Battles and locals have great and appropriate music. Voice acting greats such as Travis Willingham, Richard Epcar, Johnny Young Bosch, and the like to a great job in their roles, but some of the voice acting doesn’t go over as well. This game has had a bit of a controversy over the exclusion of the original Japanese voice track. Truthfully, this shouldn’t be a concern since the English voice actors do a great job for the most part, but if it’s something you can’t do without then you’ve been warned.

Keith cares not for your vocal preference
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Overall, fans of the series should be excited about the direction Ayesha is bringing the series. There is a lot new here, and it definitely sets itself apart from the Arland series, and it will be interesting to see how Gust develops the systems in place, assuming they go ahead with a new series based on Ayesha. At the same time, Ayesha simply isn’t as refined as Meruru because of this and it stumbles just as much as Rorona did at the beginning of the Arland series. Ayesha isn’t a perfect game, but it also isn’t encumbered by any of the baggage, which comes from being part of a distinct trilogy. It has the best story since Totori, and it’s a perfect start for people interested in the series.

Pros
– Great story
– Good characters outweigh the bad ones
– Good music
– Potential in further games


Cons

– Doesn’t go far enough as a new beginning

– Colour washout hurts a major selling point
– Short
– Graphical and combat engine starting to feel dated

Score    8

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

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