Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk – PS3
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Release Date: March 5, 2013
Reviewed by Jason Flick
Review Score: 4 of 5
The RPG genre is as about as vast as the oceans are wide when it comes to variety. I’ve been playing RPGs for years now and have tackled everything from light hearted fare to some of the most mind-blowing and complex mechanics that I’ve ever seen in gaming. One series that bridges both those gaps is the Atelier franchise. Besides being a series with over 20 titles to its name, the Atelier franchise has had a very in-depth item creation system under the guise of Alchemy for years now. This item-combination system has been the bread and butter of developer Gust’s long running series and that includes the recent release of Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk for the PlayStation 3.
I’ve actually had some experience with the Atelier series back during my RPG days on the PS2 with the Mana arc so I’m no stranger to the mechanic complexities and light hearted story pieces. The series has been previously released by NIS America up until Ayesha where Tecmo Koei has taken the reigns which would probably explain some of the changes in the overall mechanics from previous releases.
The story follows Ayesha Altugle, a young girl who has been living in a workshop making ends meet by making and selling medicines in a secluded location. To make matters worse, her little sister Nio has been missing for a few years after having mysteriously vanished while collecting ingredients one day. It’s not until Ayesha’s own fateful day when she finds out that Nio is alive somewhere in the world. An alchemist from a distant land shows up and steers the rather clumsy herbalist into getting into alchemy to save her sister. The story is light and meaningful with Ayesha being probably the most trusting girl ever in an RPG. She’s a cool character though unlike the rest of her cookie cutter RPG compatriots. You’ll find all the basic RPG character tropes though I never really felt attached to the characters in this game like in the previous installments.
Now the real fun in this title comes in the title itself. Atelier means “workshop” and this game features a deep though slightly simplified (from previous titles) alchemy system. For newcomers, the Atelier franchise requires the player to combine various ingredients to make everything from basic potions to more involved things like enhancing armor and weapons. The formula has remained the same over the years for the most part becoming more advanced as time goes by. Ayesha however changes things a bit for better or worse by simplifying the synthesis process. This allows for the player to get by with basic crafted items on quests or go for more involved creations. The quality of the item is based upon the actual synthesis process and not the individual properties of the ingredients.
There are two main parts of gameplay in Atelier Ayesha, the meat and potatoes synthesis part that the series is known for and the exploration/combat parts. Each part compliments one another in a perfect circle. You must explore and defeat foe to find rare and unique ingredients and earn memory points from an ever expanding list of locations on the map. Those items and points in turn can be used to raise Ayesha’s ability to craft better items. The memory points are used to create entries into Ayesha’s journal which can give her some added bonuses. I have to say that outside of the Atelier franchise I’ve never been a big fan of synthesis and crafting. This series however takes crafting into a more serious light and I love it.
Everything you do in Atelier Ayesha from walking to a certain destination to synthesizing an item takes time to complete. The only thing that doesn’t really have a time limit is all the little side quests you can do to aid the people that need help in the world. The downside is that you can do these completely whenever you want. Why would that complete freedom be that bad? Well it mainly boils down to the fact that you have exactly 3 years to save your sister or fail miserably. There are actually different endings depending on how well you do. The problem is that there’s no real way to see how far on or off track you are in the grand scope of things.
As this is a RPG, there has to be some combat involved. Atelier Ayesha features your classic turn-based combat system like those in the series before it, but with a notable addition. While in combat, you can now move your characters around the battlefield to gain a temporary advantage and deliver more damaging attacks. Each character in the game that joins Ayesha has their strengths like the magic wielding Wilbell, the heavy-hitting swordswoman Linca and of course Ayesha who acts as the party’s healer and item user. While the world and its monsters have vibrant designs, you’ll be surprised on how difficult fighting just a few enemies can really be. Dying in battle also adds time to the calendar which ticks away at your 3 year deadline.
While dying is bad, the one thing that isn’t bad is the character designs created by illustrator and designer Hidari. Her work on the characters for Atelier Ayesha is absolutely stunning and brimming with detail. Ayesha features a mix of still images and CG cut scenes accompanied by spoken English to tell the story as well as add some depth to the characters. Hidari’s work on the character designs are only hindered by the locations that they visit. The world isn’t exactly bad it just doesn’t compare to the beauty of the characters. There is also the absolutely beautiful opening video featuring a classic anime and CG infused theme that captures the essence of the game.
That same video contains one of the games more memorable audio tracks “Flower Sign”. The audio department on Atelier Ayesha is pretty good featuring some melancholy tunes which fit the world of Dusk. There are some light hearted pieces as well as some decent battle themes that change depending on where you are in the game. The voice acting is decent though Ayesha’s voice makes her come off as sort of a ditz. That aside I will also mention that Atelier Ayesha only comes with one language option, English. So outside of the theme song there is no option for a Japanese track, which I find kind of weird for a series that has had a large number of its titles released only in Japan.
Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk has plenty to keep players busy with its in-depth crafting system and exploring to be done. You could easily dump 60+ hours into this one though only the most avid of fans would probably go to that length. You can easily complete the game in about 20 hours of so if you don’t mind getting a less than stellar ending. I’m not one of those people so I’ve buried countless hours into the synthesizing system and exploring as much as I could, while trying to keep things on track with the Zelda-like time constraint. If you’re a diehard fan of the Atelier franchise, then you may or may not like the changes to the formula. For me Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk is still very much an Atelier title filled with enough alchemy goodness to keep me busy for a while or at least until the next title. If you love the series then I would recommend checking this one today.