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Game Guys review - Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk

7:09 PM, Mar 15, 2013   |    comments
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  • 'Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dust', published by Tecmo KOEI.
  • 'Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dust', published by Tecmo KOEI.
    

Developer Gust's Atelier franchise has found itself upon stable footing in the West as the cute-but-serious anime RPG has garnished quite a cult following.  To date, every one of the last Atelier games has been published in the States by NIS America.  The latest title, Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk, marks new beginnings as it not only kicks off a new story arc in the Atelier franchise, but it marks the first game not published by NISA.  Released by Tecmo KOEI, Atelier Ayesha tries a few new things to (presumably) attract a larger following.  Are those alterations worth it?  We're not so sure.

Atelier Ayesha Altugle, a young lady trying to make ends meet living and working out of her late grandfather's workshop after her younger sister came up missing, takes the lead role in this game.  An apothecary by trade, she's content making and selling medicines to earn her keep.  That is, until she discovers that her younger sister might still be out there somewhere and sets off on an adventure to locate her.

The plot really is quite thin to begin with and will seem vaguely familiar at its roots to those who played Atelier Totori, where Totori quests to find her missing mother.  Still, Gust's talents of making a game enjoyable through bright colors, whimsical characters, and a light-hearted soundtrack make the less-than-stellar story quietly take a back seat to presentation and it's accessible-yet-underwhelming gameplay.

Like the games before it, Atelier Ayesha relies upon a mixture of combat, exploration, and item synthesis (referred to in game as alchemy). 

Series veterans will notice right away that combat in Ayesha is different than in games past.  In the new game, rather than party members lining up nice and neat on either side of the battlefield, characters instead have the right of free movement.  This allows for a more hands-on and tactical combat experience than in games past.  Furthermore, character skills now have proximity effects and choosing to use these skills will cause the character to automatically move within range to perform such actions together as a party.  These freedoms and capabilities do come at a cost, however, as inattentive players will find even the simplest of battles to be more challenging than in the previous titles.

In terms of exploration, Atelier Ayesha is about as forgiving as the previous arc of Atelier titles.  In other words, open exploration of the game world is still hampered by a rigid deadline.  Players have three in-game years to locate Nio, Altugle's sister, and everything from item synthesis to traversing the map cause time to tick away.  Because of this, the game almost turns into a mini time management sim.  While this storyline-critical countdown clock might add a bit of tension to an otherwise lackadaisical RPG, it seems like an unnecessary hindrance to a game world exploration and interaction -- two things that are core to most every RPG on the market.

The final major aspect of any good Atelier game is in its item synthesis mechanic.  Sadly, this is where Ayesha falls flat.  Gust made some major changes in this department that really spoil things.  Usually complex and user-influenced, alchemy has been streamlined and dumbed down to the point of disinterest.  The biggest issue with how this game handles synthesis is that item traits -- something that players of previous games would painstakingly ensure they got right -- are now chosen by the game's A.I. seemingly at random.  While this does cut down on the amount of scavenging about for high-end components with desirable traits of their own, it also kills the excitement that comes along with such a hunt and neuters one of the best mechanics the Atelier series had going for it.

While Atelier Ayesha has seen changes for the better (ie: combat) and for worse (ie: alchemy), what hasn't seen much change is the way in which it is all presented.  The charming Shojo art style returns, as does the pleasant and often light-hearted soundtrack and the overall attitude that goes along with it.

Not all with Ayesha's visuals are all peaches-and-cream, however.  Discerning eyes will notice that many of the environmental textures are lacking in some quality with much of the shading found in the game's various environments looking flat.  Furthermore, there are some simple frame rate issues where the PS3 seems like it's struggling.  On top of that, the game's load screens (and there are more than one would probably like) seem to stay up for longer than is preferable.  Maybe this is a problem with Atelier Ayesha being a downloaded title, thus putting too much stress on the console itself.  Then again, games that look like they should require far more horsepower from the console don't seem to have such intermittent trouble as Ayesha seems to at time have.

While previous Atelier games have generally been pleasant plays, Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk just seems to have missed the mark by enough to notice.  While the game's revamped combat system is a major plus, the lack of out-of-battle innovation and backwards-trending item synthesis mechanics are unfortunate.  Hopefully these issues are addressed in time for the next entry into this Atelier story arc, otherwise the franchise's cult following might go the way of the dodo.

GAMEPLAY: PRESENTATION: STORY: QUALITY: FINAL SCORE:
12/25 18/25 15/25 16/25 61/100

Version tested: PlayStation 3

(Tecmo KOEI supplied a copy of this game for review.)

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