Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk Review

Atelier Ayesha:  The Alchemist of Dusk is a new entry in the long running Atelier series.  It's plot is separate from the Arland trilogy (Rorona, Totori, and Meruru - try saying those 3 times fast!).  Does it stay true to the formula long time fans have come to love?

It's not a secret to everyone, but I really like the anime art style in general.  This game is a 3D modeled, anime style game, so, naturally, I like it.  There are occasional event still pictures that look really nice, and can thankfully be viewed again once you complete the game.  The whole game is very pastel colored, so it stands out from the usual bright colored JRPGs and the gray and brown WRPGs.  The only thing that bothers me is some of the text issues.  There's a few instances of overlapped text, and there's even more examples of text that doesn't quite fit in the box.  It might not bother everyone, but it was my job to notice this stuff for three and a half years, and that's a skill that sticks with you.

The music is usually some nice cheery RPG music.  There's also an occasional vocal track that reminds me of the Ar Tonelico games.  It's pretty good if not particularly memorable.  The game is dubbed, which is surprising considering the last few Tecmo Koei games.  Much to the chagrin of "purists", there is no sub option.  As unpopular as it might be, I would rather games be dubbed (except Chaos Wars...*shudder*), than subbed, for my own personal reasons.  The option for both would have been nice, but the dub actors are fine, and the file size is huge enough without having double the audio.

The basic premise of the game is you play as Ayesha, an apothocary that wants to find her missing sister.  Early on you meet jerkbag Keithgriff, the bipolar alchemist who tells Ayesha that she is actually an alchemist, not an apothocary, and attempts to help set her on the road to find her younger sibling.  Did I mention he's a jerk?  Anyway, off she goes with 3 years to figure out how to do it.

If you've played any of the other Atelier main series games (ie: not the Iris ones), you will know this time limit well.  All the ones I've played have it, and so does Ayesha.  It always feels a bit arbitrary to me.  It's very possible (and not too hard if you concentrate) to do what you need to do in the game in that time limit, but I don't like feeling rushed.  It's not as bad as it was in Rorona, but the time limit keeps me from diving into the synthesis and actually getting good at it.  In the Iris and Mana Khemia games, I really felt like I could experiment and fully understand the alchemy process.  Not so in the main Atelier games.  There is a tutorial that teaches you the basics, but I really felt that there was so much information that wasn't really communicated.  Most of it is actually in the "help" section in the Library menu, which I didn't discover until late in the game.

What else didn't I like about the time limit?  I didn't want to wander too much, sometimes avoided battles and gathering ingredients, all in an effort to maximize my time.  Is it a deal breaker?  No, but I always felt pressured to cut corners so I was sure to finish within the 3 years.  I'm a completionist, not a speed runner, if that helps you understand where I'm coming from.  I would have loved to gather lots of ingredients so I could play around with the alchemy system and make really good quality stuff, and lots of it.  Instead, I tended to use whatever I had the most of, just to fill the townspeople's requests.

You will want to do those requests, since that is the main way to make money in the game.  Battles yield little and items don't sell for much.  Each request has another time limit, but most of them were doable.  The few that weren't do stick out to me, but there were only three or four of them.  I never felt like I had too little money though, so just make sure to do the requests when you can.  There wasn't much spare time to try and make super equipment either, since you can't make your own equipment, but have to instead enhance things you find.  Again, I was held back by the time limit.

In it's defense, the time limit is more lax here than the other Atelier games.  There's no real intervals, you just have 3 years to complete the main story.  In previous entries, you had six month milestones to reach to get the good ending.  Thankfully, not here.  Sure, there are contests to enter every six months, but they aren't necessary.  So if you want to break into the Atelier series of games, this is a great start.  You get the basic gist of the 3 year limit but freedom within it, which makes the imposing time limit tolerable.

Battles are turn based and fun.  Characters get several skills, which take either MP, AC meter or the super meter.  It's almost too much, but I like having options as to what skills to use when I need them.  Although, some AC (action command) skills need specific positioning, which isn't conveyed in its description.    Positioning effects more than that though, since you do more damage attacking an enemy from behind, but can do useful "pursuit" attacks when next to your party members.  So there is more to the battles than normal turn-based combat, but it's not likely to change anyone's mind if they don't like turn-based fights.  The harder battles can be pretty dynamic and flashy.  It would be nice if enemy levels were displayed on the map when selecting an area, so you would know to avoid it instead of running in and hoping for the best.  Losing a fight returns you to the world map and you only lose a day, but again, that is just more time eaten up.

While at times the time limit feels oppressive, the game actually takes a good long while to complete.  Depending on what you actually do in that time limit, it can easily take over 20 hours for a playthrough.  My wife clocked in at just over 24 hours until the credits and I was even over that!  Unless you have some planning or understanding of how to spend your time, you may want multiple playthroughs to get all the events, endings and trophies.  Unfortunately, all of the trophies are secret, so it's harder to know what to shoot for unless you have played another Atelier game and know what they look for.

New game plus is present and gives you a few advantages from your previous save, but more would have been appreciated.  You keep your current equipment and the money you had, so sell all of your stuff before the end of the third year.  Also, you can't skip any cutscenes, just make the dialog go faster, so going through multiple times can be a chore.  You can skip to the first major town when starting again, which is nice.  I'd prefer to keep a lot more of what you earned, but what you get does help give you a leg up on another run through the game.

Did I have fun while playing?  Yes, I did.  I don't know if I will go back to get the other endings or trophies, though.  While I'm not a fan of the time limit, this is the best it's been in the Atelier games I've played.  I like the look of the game and battles were fun.  I could also play it in front of my kids with no issues (well, except for the hot springs scene) and my wife enjoyed it as much as I did.  If you want to jump into the main Atelier games, Atelier Ayesha is a good point to start.  The time limit is more lax than the others and you don't need to know any back story to enjoy the plot.  Oh, and...


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