Kickass swords? Check! Crazy buff dudes? Check! Half-naked female characters? Check! Complex dungeons? Super check! All of these are not in Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk, Gust’s newest addition to the PlayStation 3’s RPG catalog. Welcome to a reverse-troped world of girl power in the next installment of the Atelier series.
Enter the world of Ayesha, a young and naively innocent apothecary who sees her dead sister while gathering herbs one day. This fateful moment kick starts her journey into finding out what happened to her sister and how to rescue her. It sounds like a typical RPG starting plot but what makes this game unique is the gameplay mirrors the story. This is one of the few non-linear Japanese RPGs because it doesn’t force you to do anything. The philosophy of the story is to search and find your own meaning in life instead of being told what to do and the gameplay mirrors it perfectly, allowing players to go through pieces of the story in different ways and at different times. No one playthrough will be the same.
Atelier Ayesha employs a time system seen in other games of the series. Every move on the map, every fight in a dungeon, and even picking up alchemy supplies off the ground takes up time. Almost everything in the game moves the calendar forward. You have three years to do everything and anything you want before the game ends. What happens? Well, it depends on what you did or did not do which allows for different endings and adds to the replayability of the game. A person could spend an entire playthrough doing almost nothing but side-quests.
This is an RPG and RPG’s are all about the story with everything else being second place. On one hand, the story is not as intense or serious as other current RPGs, and considering the main cast is 80 per cent female it is a great game for female gamers to enjoy and relate to. It tries to be fresh and bold, going against the current market focus of heavily male casts. But on the other hand, the story comes off as a bit childish in that the topics are focused for a younger audience. Sub-stories like teaching a friend how to cook or being afraid of the dark are not on the older demographics’ wish list, making the game catered towards a pre-teen to teenage demographic that has been left void of many RPGs this generation.
Battles in the game are a little different than usual because it uses a turn based system that allows you to see the turn order, letting you to maximize battles and not get hit lots of the time. Weapons and gear are also rarely sold in stores so finding them off enemies and spending money on items to reveal their properties will consume some of your gaming time and your cash. But take comfort in that the game is not a grind. It is easy and fast to level up and if grinding is ever needed then it means a part of the game was skipped over and backtracking will solve that headache.
Graphically this game is a mixed bag. The characters are sumptuously cel-shaded and nice to look at but the world is so small that the graphics engine is hardly pushed. Depending on if you want your RPGs looking like Mass Effect will dictate how much this is a problem, but for what is on screen it looks good. It is no Alex Ross masterpiece but it isn’t your brother’s kindergarten sketch either.
The soundtrack is unique considering a lot of current triple-A games like Assassin’s Creed, Final Fantasy and Mass Effect are pushing super serious, heavily orchestral tracks. This music has a calm and somewhat jazzy western movie feeling to it. When I was playing the game I kept thinking I was playing Wild ARMs 1 because of the soundtrack. It is one of the few times I enjoyed the music of a game this console generation instead of listening to other music or movies as background noise.
As a fan of Jamieson Price (Suikoden 5, Catherine, dotHack: Liminality) I was excited to be playing another game utilizing his great voice over talents. However, it became a shame that the game has a bi-polar attitude when it comes to actually using voice overs. Half of the game uses voice overs while the other half uses only text for the cut scenes. Considering every little event in the game is a cut scene, which puts Hideo Kojima to shame, it becomes more than frustrating at wondering why certain events get the coveted voice over time when they seem minor compared to other events.
Atelier Ayesha is a fresh, easy-going RPG in the current market climate of melodramatic seriousness. If you are the kind of gamer who has an open mind and is willing to go back to a simpler time and logic then this can be a fun game with a fun story to enjoy. If the fate of the world needs to rest on your 24-inch pythons as you try to survive a suicide mission then you’ll probably fall asleep during the opening scenes.
Girl Power levels up as this game is designed for the girl gamer or those wanting a fun, relaxing storyline in the sea of grim seriousness. It is easy to pick-up and enjoy but suffers from a lack of customizable depth and doesn’t pull the right heartstrings in the story to make it an instant classic.