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Dust: An Elysian Tail (PC) artwork

Dust: An Elysian Tail (PC) review

"Dust is a warrior on my side of this battle, and I want him to succeed. Without emotional resonance, there is no value."

This action platformer stands head and shoulders above its competition and peers. While there are role-playing mechanics, there are no story-affecting choices to be made here. Dean Dodrill has taken the only risk that matters: Stating the truth. Represented by races of anthropomorphic characters, this is a tale of war and choices.

Meet Dust, fair and temperamental, ruthless and innocent. Sound familiar? We all know him, because he's us. He has little memory and even less understanding, but he is driven to fight and it will be for good. Joined by the adorable, emotional barometer flying-guide Fidget and the moral compass Arhah, your role as a player is to explore and discover. What is his story?

The joy is in the telling.

First released in 2012 on the XBox 360 by way of Microsoft's Indie Arcade, Dust: An Eylsian Tale has since drifted out to other platforms and cemented its success on Steam and the PC scene to the tune of over a million sales. This is an expertly ported PC release of the original console title and features seamless support for keyboard, mouse and gamepad, among other 'unnecessary' niceties such as GUI adjustability.

Some developers throw effects at the wall without much thought, but Dean has selected particles and visuals that best suit the action and intended emotional target. A trained animator, his skills and knowledge bring Dust: AET into sharp focus with storybook precision. Likewise, Dust's swordplay is paired with Fidget's projectiles and a Arhah's 'Dust Storm' enabling flexible and dynamic combat.

This game is optimized for the PC experience and will run on your underpowered laptop or integrated without compromising the experience and mechanics. At 1080p you will need some serious memory bandwidth to turn up all of the video options as this version takes advantage of potential processing capability.

Let's face it; this isn't to be played for the frames per second.

Dust: AET is a treasure in every sense. Hyperduck and Alex Brandon have composed sweeping orchestral themes that beg repeating and never wear out their welcome. So rarely does every element of a game come together into so complete a package.

Save monuments double as auto-saves that minimize retracing your steps after being smacked down. Dust has by this point protected the town of Aurora and is clearly the hero of the day. He is also gaining strength quickly. By means of a level system, equipment and area unlocking abilities, Dust is on the road to near invincibility.

Traditionally animated games can pose a challenge to those accustomed to 'instant response' titles that favor action over realism. Adjusting to how Dust moves is vital to your success, learning when best to unleash an attack and who best to serve will determine how much punishment you take. Given practice and patience you may discover the finesse of combat employed by one who has these skills.

No, we can't all be ninja. That's what buttons are for. You can 'mash the buttons' as Fidget not-so-jokingly suggests and win, but dedicated gamers will appreciate the nuances of melee attack combos which replenish much needed energy for your Dust Storm and projectile abilities. Dust is a swordmaster, and proper respect has been given to the requirements of the title.

A sword swung with the force of a bat is the analog of the undeniable force of nature that Dust becomes as you play.

As I've mentioned, this is a fully voice acted title. Every NPC has individually recorded lines 'from every corner of the globe'. Dust is performed by gentle-but-dramatic Lucien Dodge, Fidget by always-child Kimlinh Tran and Arhah by cold and compassionate Edward Bosco. Lesser knowns respect the stage adage: “There are no small parts, only small actors.”

In what is now three complete play-throughs I have only once skipped any of the dialogue. Where others have seen fit to cut corners, Dean scaled down the scope of Dust: AET to make room for this and it invites more players to be involved. By eschewing gore the principle message of war can be told and not diminished.

The impact of loss, while speaking to Ginger, though Dust does all the talking, makes me feel wary and protective. Every step of the way I am a part of the duality Dust feels, and as determined to see the story to is finale. Every single time. Dust is a warrior on my side of this battle, and I want him to succeed. Without emotional resonance, there is no value.

Daring, no? Dean unselfishly and vicariously admires his own art by means of character dialogue, which is in turn a reflection of the world in which we live. Yes, those mushrooms are real. His respect and passion for this planet, our home and his, may not immediately be obvious to the average player, but it is as bold a message as the value of a soul.

Technical quandaries are the extent of its summary faults: Cut scenes may not work correctly if Windows Media Player is not the default presenter for WMV filetype video. Gamepad support is native only to Xbox 360 controllers. Dust is the lone traditionally animated character, which results in an unnatural emphasis on everyone else. Very minor gripes which are–mostly–easily remedied.

I doubt revamping the title with more animation would significantly alter the emotional impact of this classically told tale. While Dean's original vision of having a progressive town would have added more play time, the essential message of this story required event-oriented chapters to give us a reason to play.

The Good News
Combat offers plenty of choices. Four difficulty options allows players to control their investment of time in learning game mechanics and nuances. Voice acting is complete and movie quality, even if not technically of the same grade. Explorers will be pleased with the variety and expanse of levels. Soundtrack enthusiasts will likely want to add this to their library.

The Bad News
This game can be completed in nine hours, twenty if you collect and explore everything there is on offer. Animated cutscenes could be fleshed out with additional animation, but I wouldn't change their content. The story has cookie cutter elements, but the fact of the matter is all good stories do. There's no effective age limit here.

Buy it now. Right now. On Steam. Or Xbox 360. GO.

hastypixels's avatar
Community review by hastypixels (August 27, 2016)

Wisdom comes from effort and mistakes.

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