Serving as the fourth entry in developer Gust’s Atelier series, Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist Of Dusk offers an alchemy-themed JRPG fantasy adventure for gamers who enjoy the likes of Final Fantasy and Namco’s Tales series. The game’s component quality varies throughout, but the final result is a competent role-playing game that will likely scratch the itch of those who are fans of the genre.
Taking place in a fictional fantasy land, the story focuses on the titular Ayesha, a girl who is making her living concocting and selling medicine on her own after the mysterious disappearance of her sister, Nio. One day, while visiting Nio’s makeshift grave, an apparition-like projection of Ayesha’s presumed lost sibling appears in front of her briefly. A mysterious man visiting the site offers some hints to Ayesha that may enable her to bring Nio back from wherever she’s hidden, and from here the adventure kicks off, as Ayesha travels the land and builds up a party of colorful partners to reunite with her sister.
In traditional JRPG fashion, a simple overworld map connects each location, with the meat of the game’s content contained within each one. Towns offer items to buy, people to talk to, and side quests to engage in, while more open areas offer monsters to fight and ingredients to grab and use for synthesis. In other words, it’s an approach you’ve probably seen before, but it’s pulled off without any noteworthy hitches.
Graphically, The Alchemist of Dusk can alternate between stunning and drab depending on what you’re looking at. The characters have both a lot of detail and a very well-done cel-shaded approach to their appearance, to the point where if you were to pause at points, you could almost swear you were looking at 2D art and not a polygonal model. On the other hand, the environments simply look boring, with more muted colors and less attention paid to visual appeal and clever design. Compared to the recent Ni no Kuni, which boasted some absolutely beautiful backgrounds, this doesn’t stack up.
Much of the game’s dialog is fully voice-acted and, thankfully, the English dub cast did a good job, with the notable exception being the actress who played Ayesha herself. While other characters give off natural-sounding performances, whoever voices the lead does so in an overly airheaded and aloof manner that feels forced. The audio component that the developers truly went above and beyond with, though, is the soundtrack. Not only is much of the music top-notch, but it’s customizable. From a menu, players can choose which individual tracks they’d like to hear within a specific area. This is a novel idea that I’d love to see used in more titles in general, and is an overall nice touch.
Battles play out in a very conventional turn-based manner, with the player and enemy AI taking turns choosing actions for each character to play out. One of the more unique features is the ability for characters to pull off assist moves, such as defending an ally who’s about to be attacked and taking the damage for them. Once again, it’s a feature that isn’t done badly, but feels more like using the existing wheel than reinventing it.
A more original gameplay component comes in the form of Memory Points, a nifty little feature that builds up a number of points based on certain actions you can pull off outside of battle, such as conversing with non-playable characters and finding certain items. These can be spent on memories that recap key events in the game but, more importantly, bestow additional advantages like HP bonuses on the player. This adds a nice incentive that encourages players to explore every nook and cranny by rewarding them for it.
There are numerous side-quests to pull off in each area. The downside is that they’re pretty repetitive, and mainly revolve around delivering items that can be made via the game’s thankfully-accessible item synthesis system that can be used via Ayesha’s handy cauldron. Some additional side-quests, such as hunting monsters, are also available, but the civilian side of things can get dull pretty fast.
Finally, what may be a make-or-break feature of the game comes in the form of a looming deadline. Constantly in the top corner, the month and day will be displayed, and many actions, such as traversing the map and picking up items for synthesis, cause days to pass. Take too long (three in-game years, to be exact), and Ayesha’s quest will end in failure. Beat the game within the time limit, and you’ll be rewarded with one of its better numerous endings.
I must say that I haven’t been a fan of mechanics like this since the days of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. That’s because I like the idea of being able to explore the world of a game at my own leisure, and putting a timer on everything adds an unwelcome sense of urgency. Again, this is a feature that opinion will likely vary wildly on from player to player; I just wasn’t a fan of it.
Overall, Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist Of Dusk is a perfectly serviceable JRPG for fans of the genre, but much like Ni no Kuni, it doesn’t do much to advance the genre forward. Offering a couple of unique features and some good elements in its presentation while stumbling in other parts, it’s a decent product that I feel could have been more, given some extra time in development.
This review is based on a PS3 copy of the game that we were provided with.