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Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk (PlayStation 3) artwork

Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk (PlayStation 3) review

"Atelier Ayesha is a shallow affair. I like its looks and the sweet music it plays, but it just doesn’t appeal to me intellectually."

Atelier Ayesha is one of those frustrating games that get the supplemental details right but falter on core gameplay elements. It’s roughly the opposite of the original Super Mario Bros. (which is great fun to pick up and play, but for some reason lacks leaderboards and 720p graphics). Even more annoying is the fact that Ayesha’s weaknesses are basically its predecessors’ strengths. The developers’ goal seems to have been to create a more accessible Atelier game, but the result is overly simplified and fails to truly engage the player.

Perhaps the most obvious problem is that every area in this game presents you with the exact same side quests. You are asked to kill all the monsters and take all materials from gathering points. While gathering, you no longer have the option to choose which individual ingredients to take (as you could in past Atelier games), but that’s because there would no longer be any point in doing so. Alchemy ingredients in Ayesha don’t have individual properties.

Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk asset

Ingredient uniformity might sound like a trivial matter, but that change actually sucks a lot of fun out of the alchemy system fans have come to love. Atelier games have always been built around a deep and complicated synthesis system. That’s the franchise’s biggest selling point. “Atelier” is the game’s word for “alchemy workshop” (and an actual French word that simply means “workshop”). Alchemy is also supposed to be what motivates players to explore the wilderness, collecting exotic plants and slaughtering exotic squirrels in the process. Gatherable materials in previous titles could vary greatly in terms of their quality and property list. It was often best to collect tons of everything to ensure you would have a variety of different traits available across ingredients. But in Atelier Ayesha, every Ripe Fruit or Dried Herb has exactly the same quality and properties. You also tend to end up with a huge surplus of ingredients just as a result of the repetitive gathering side quests. The result of that altered dynamic is a watered down alchemy system that requires little thought or preparation (although, to be fair, the new Synthesis Skills do spice up the process a bit). Since it remains the central feature, what you are left with overall is blander gameplay.

The changes made to equipment alchemy are even more bothersome. In older games, you would make some sort of iron or cloth out of a carefully chosen concoction of ingredients and then bring that with you to a blacksmith, who would use it to make swords and dresses and so forth. Atelier Ayesha replaces that process with whetstones and dyes, which can only modify existing pieces of equipment. To make matters worse, the effects these items can contribute are unlocked in a set order when you attempt to make them, and it’s unnecessarily difficult to attach other, specific properties. New gear can only be bought occasionally in shops (none of which are dedicated equipment stores) or randomly dropped by enemies. The first time I played an Atelier title, the ability to synthesize weapons and armor jumped out at me immediately as one of the most obviously fun uses of an alchemy system. Ayesha’s version is decent, but by no means a suitable replacement.

With all these things in mind, why would you still want to travel to some stupid forest? There are two reasons: 1) to open up paths to more important locations; 2) to acquire memory points. The new Memory system is a cool idea in theory, but the execution could have been better. Remember how I said that all you do in every area is kill the monsters and exhaust all the gathering points? This isn’t mandatory, but it’s one of the main ways to acquire memory points. Those points can be spent writing entries in your diary, which offer minor effects such as stat boosts or unlock new synthesis items. My only major qualm with this system is that it’s so easy to gain points and so difficult to spend them. New memory entries only open up when storyline events occur, and even then, some events just don’t seem to leave a lasting impression in Ayesha. It was clever of the developers to tie storyline events to tangible character improvements, but in practice, this just staggers your chances to spend the hundreds of points you’ll automatically accumulate without paying any attention to them.

Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk asset

Time management is another Atelier trademark which is downplayed in Ayesha. The game counts off days as you synthesize items, travel around the world map, or repeatedly gather items. You have a vague objective to complete before the 3-year mark, but since the time cost for everything is so lenient, this feature can largely be ignored. Time management in Atelier games is a bit like the three day system in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. I thought I would hate it, but after trying it out, I found the mechanic to be refreshingly challenging rather than stressful. Ayesha at least keeps the system in place, which is better than nothing, but it’s definitely lost its teeth.

Combat in Atelier games is pretty standard RPG fare, and this one more or less follows the pack. Partner skills are probably the most interesting of its small tweaks. Attacking or receiving damage charges up the partner gauge, allowing characters to respond to each other’s actions by taking damage in place of one another or using additional follow-up attacks. There’s also a separate gauge for “super moves.” Past titles combined this with the partner gauge, so it’s nice to be able to manage each ability separately this time around. But the battle system is also somewhat sloppy. Some skills allow you to find items on the battlefield, but the “found something” text overlaps other battle messages. There’s also no Defend option. There is “Move,” which allows for repositioning on the battlefield, but enemies rarely use area-of-effect attacks. I mostly used the ability as a means of altering the turn order, which looks silly since you often have to run around repeatedly to eat up enough time. Atelier Meruru solved both these problems by letting you use Defend to manually adjust turn order. I thought it was a pretty ingenious approach at the time, and I can’t figure out why it wouldn’t have been reproduced here.

As you’ve likely noticed, a lot of the above complaints are caused by comparing Ayesha to other Atelier titles. The game will probably be a bit disappointing for those familiar with the franchise, but newcomers might not take issue with a lot of what I’ve mentioned. Actually, Ayesha is probably an ideal starting point if you’ve been thinking about giving the series a try. It’s certainly the easiest one to play and has the smallest learning curve, but it remains complex enough to hold players’ interest.

Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk asset

To its credit, Atelier Ayesha definitely improves on its predecessors in terms of story and world mythology. Ayesha is searching for her sister who mysteriously vanished years ago, and it seems her disappearance is tied to both alchemy and the various ruins of the decaying world. The game leaves lots of hints about the land’s history: there’s a giant salt field that locals say used to be a grassy plain, a floating town which was a busy port before the sea around it dried up, and a library with no other visitors for hundreds of years. The characters are all laid-back and jovial, but the world they inhabit seems to be falling apart. These conflicting elements make for an interesting combination.

It’s also a very attractive game. There might not be much to do in each area, but the scenery always makes the trip worthwhile. Some of the denser locations have significant framerate issues, but they’re still only a minor annoyance. At least Ayesha has a good reason for the technical issues; Atelier Meruru was equally choppy, but didn’t look nearly as good. The soundtrack is excellent as well. I hung around longer than I needed to in several areas just to hear the music repeat. The only real blemish on the audio is the unfortunate English vocal track. Atelier is one of those niche game franchises which usually include the Japanese audio, so it was disorienting that this time around the only option was English. To make matters worse, the dub is mediocre and overacted. One or two of the main characters are well-spoken, but for the most part, hearing them just makes me picture the voice actors standing in a studio and talking into their microphones.

Atelier Ayesha is a shallow affair. I like its looks and the sweet music it plays, but it just doesn’t appeal to me intellectually. The game is an intentionally easier version of its predecessors, which is nice for new players but somewhat boring for experienced fans. Some of the features that originated in previous Atelier games have lost a lot of their appeal as a result of that simplification. It pains me to say it about such a charming game, but the substance simply isn’t there.


Whelk's avatar
Freelance review by Kyle Charizanis (March 13, 2013)

Lifelong gamer and unabashed nerd. Not even a little bit bashed. He was originally drawn to Honest Gamers for its overall high quality of writing. He lives inside his computer which is located in Toronto, Canada. Also, he has a Twizzler (@Whelkk).

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