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7/01/2013

REVIEW - Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk (PS3)


During this lengthy gaming generation, Japanese RPGs have been extremely criticized by both the public and the media for “not” offering much in terms of innovation, always taking a safe route in exploration, narrative and combat and usual similarities between the artistic styles of one another. But if you look real closely, you’ll actually find a lot of titles that have completely destroyed the rules the genre was built upon in the past; excellent games that have managed to innovate in a positive way and start a possible rebirth of the genre to its former glory. Several of these are Xenoblade Chronicles, Ni no Kuni and Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk.

When I first found out about Atelier Ayesha’s development, I got really excited because I was used to the style of the Arland Trilogy (Atelier Rorona, Totori and Meruru) and already knew what those games did right. As a fan of the genre that I am, I followed it until the American release and now that I’ve finally finished it I can say for sure that I’m very pleased with the final result. Atelier Ayesha is an extremely beautiful and charming JRPG that manages to do a lot of things differently in a very positive way.


The game is actually the start of a new universe in the franchise and not a fourth part of the Arland Trilogy. This time, we get to play as Ayesha Altugle, a very beautiful blonde girl who lives alone in a remote workshop where she works as an apothecary. Her younger sister Nio disappeared suddenly one day while she was gathering medicinal herbs and everyone, including Ayesha, assumes her dead. One day though, while in a short local journey, Ayesha sees an image of Nio in a glowing flower garden inside some old ruins and after learning her sister might be alive, she decides to start a long adventure of three years to try and get Nio back.

In her adventure, Ayesha will travel all over the land using different means while training to become a real alchemist, fighting hundreds of enemies, meeting and befriending many other important characters and helping them solve their problems to form close bonds to them. All while trying to save her little sister. Just like the three games before it, Atelier Ayesha uses the time limit system where we get three years to complete the game. Pretty much every action we take spends a certain amount of days and once they’re over, the ending is determined by what we did and what we missed.

I actually loved the game’s visual presentation. Though it’s definitely not perfect and not even close to what the most powerful PS3 games look like; but Atelier Ayesha’s graphics are actually quite nice. The character models are especially beautiful with an anime style that reminds me a lot of the designs of the CLAMP quartet (Card Captor Sakura, Code Geass), with characters wearing strange but very pretty clothes. In fact, the characters in Atelier Ayesha are some of the best-looking in the entire genre this generation in my opinion.


On the other hand, the environments like towns, plains, mountains and caves are more normal. Some of them have fantastic-looking structures and background objects that really give a nice fantasy feel to them but the lack of an ability to fully explore them hinders how pretty they are. Still, I personally found them much better than Tales of Graces f and Vesperia. Atelier Ayesha is by far the best-looking Atelier game and among these obscure JRPGs, this is quite possibly the most powerful one visually.

A very important thing to say about Atelier Ayesha is that this is an anime-style video game that uses all this moe factor where a lot of the events are about cute girls doing cute things. Ayesha, the main character has a quite exaggerated innocent attitude that can look dumb and might be really disliked by players not used to this, especially if they come from more mature-looking western games. Still, Atelier Ayesha is an adorable and very beautiful game that stays true to its style while managing to be a solid RPG at its core.

There’s a very nice soundtrack to be found on it, with tons of very different tunes for the events, areas and combat. One thing I personally liked a lot is that the game uses different battle songs to avoid repetition and it feels very nice. Besides, there’s an option to use several important songs from Atelier Rorona, Totori and Meruru to vary the musical score even more. The original soundtrack in Atelier Ayesha was composed and arranged by Daisuke Achiwa, Kazuki Yanagawa and Yu Shimoda; who have been known to work on previous Gust games.


One of the few negative things in the game might be the voice-acting; some of the character voices feel bland, like the actor was out of character when recorded. A lot of the public probably wouldn’t notice this but after so many years playing dubbed RPGs, one learns to differentiate between good voice-acting and bad one. Sadly, Atelier Ayesha’s is not that good but you’ll most likely get used to it rather quickly; and some of the characters, like a witch named Wilbell actually sound quite nice. Tecmo-Koei, who published the game this time (NIS America published the Arland Trilogy), decided to cut the Japanese voices to reduce the publishing costs so there’s no option to play the game in Japanese.

In gameplay, Atelier Ayesha is actually a strong mix between a classic turn-based JRPG and an innovative one that focuses more on gathering items and alchemy rather than exploration, combat and saving the world. In fact, the game isn’t about saving the world at all. There’s no villain threatening anything and Ayesha is no heroine; this game is more about her personal quest to save her sister Nio, meeting people, training to be a better alchemist and growing her own business in the field.

As I mentioned before, the game uses a time limit where Ayesha has three years to complete her adventure. Most actions in the game spend days; gathering items while exploring an area, mixing them in her cauldron in a workshop and traveling between one location to another in the menu-based World Map, among others. So you can see days in this game as a form of currency. As days pass by, Ayesha will get access to new areas, sidequests, party members for combat and many other things.


This time limit means that you have to administer what you have and what you’re planning on doing and accomplishing in the game ahead of time. Chances are that for the vast majority of players, three years won’t be enough to complete the entire game. Saving Nio, which is supposed to be the “main story”, is completely optional as you can focus on other things in a playthrough instead of saving her. Fortunately, you get a very nice diary where Ayesha writes and organizes her missions and other tasks for you to follow easily. Playing with a time limit might seem annoying as it doesn’t let you enjoy the game at your own pace but it does have a lot of potential for several different playthroughs.

The areas you explore are quite small but there are a lot of them in the game. Each one has different enemy models to kill in a classic turn-based battle system where each character focuses on a play style; Ayesha, for example, is the only character with access to items which lets her attack with bombs and heal party members with potions. Wilbell, a very cute witch uses area-of-effect spells to damage several enemies in a single turn. Juris is a physical powerhouse that can deal tons of damage with his knives, and like them, other party members are available.

The combat is very fun and can be challenging. Using skills and alchemy items in correct ways is vital to emerge victorious. Sometimes you can get surprised by normal enemies being strong but there’s always a nice strategy available. Some end-game bosses are extremely difficult though so don’t expect to kill them with a low-level party in the first playthrough. There are elements, back-attacks, AoE, healing and many other things to use in the battle system.


Each area in the game has hundreds and hundreds of items to gather that go from plants, food and rocks to jewels and debris from very ancient machinery. As you advance in the game, Ayesha will learn formulas to make dozens of alchemy items using cauldrons scattered in several workshops in the World Map. She can make items to exchange them in tons of sidequests to earn money and memory points to spend writing in her diary (this nets her very nice bonuses in combat, exploration and alchemy), items to use offensively in combat and others to heal her friends while exploring.

The alchemy system is much better than in the Arland Trilogy and seems to be going in the right direction. Items you gather and make have several stats like quality and other traits like “Attack +2” or “Price +10%” that can carry over to a new item and affect them if you decide to use them in battles, sidequests or sell them in one of the many shops all over the land. Understanding the alchemy system is a little tricky as it is quite deep and seems complicated, but tutorials and practicing with it is the best way to get used to the system.

It took me about 32 hours to complete the game; not very long by RPG standards and I left a lot of things incomplete like character-specific quests, end-game optional bosses, alchemy formulas and many others. Playing Atelier Ayesha two or three times is actually a very good idea to fully enjoy everything the game has to offer. There is much more content than it appears at first, even outside the game itself with artwork and movies to watch in the main menu.


I know Atelier Ayesha won’t get the attention and praise it deserves. It’s not the best game ever and not everything went right on it but if you look deeper into the moe and fairly simplistic exploration and storyline, you’ll surely find a nice and deep RPG at the core. As I already said, the game isn’t about saving the world, being a hero, explore vast areas and a great epic storyline. It’s just about a beautiful girl on a personal journey to save her sister and become a great alchemist. But even with that, I genuinely think it’s a very good game. The alchemy system alone is extremely deep and fun to use and the characters, art-style, soundtrack and combat are pretty good as well.


Pros:

-          Really beautiful art style.
-          Alchemy system is deep and lets you do a lot.
-          Combat is fast-paced and very fun.
-          Breaks the usual JRPG formula in a positive way.
-          Allows several different playthroughs
-          Many endings and content to unlock

Cons:

-          English voices are not very good.
-          No option to play with Japanese voiceovers.
-          Storyline is not very interesting.
-          Time limit doesn’t allow playing at own pace.

-          Graphics and Visuals…….......9
-          Music and Sound Effects….....7
-          Gameplay……………………8
-          Replay Value………………...9


-          Overall Score……………….. 8.3 / 10

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