Review: Atelier Ayesha Plus: The Alchemist of Dusk – A Diamond in the Rough
Atelier Ayesha Plus: The Alchemist of Dusk adds to a string of PlayStation 3 titles ported over to the PlayStation Vita.
The package adds the full original game as well as a DLC dungeon, costumes and dual audio to make for a release that even existing fans would consider revisiting, in addition to one attractive to the presumably JRPG loving Vita audience.
In The Alchemist of Dusk, Ayesha is on a quest to rescue her sister Nio. Initially everyone seems to believe that the worst has already happened to Nio, but a certain event in the beginning of the game puts things in a new perspective.
Ayesha herself is just an apothecary and is thus unable to understand or manipulate the events that lead to her encounter with her sister and so she sets out across the land to gather knowledge and meet allies.
Although the tone of this might sound grim, the game does a fantastic job of remaining upbeat and bright throughout. It can only be called refreshing in a world where the dark fantasy RPG reigns supreme.
This brightness is especially apparent in the game’s lovely anime art style. The character models, environments, cinematics and event still are bursting with charm and the vivid hair colors and costumes almost make it seem like a magical girl setup.
Complementing the detailed and beautiful art style is the soundtrack, which is quite enjoyable. The songs are generally softer and less dramatic than what you’ll hear in other games in the genre.
The gameplay is surprisingly varied and fun. Since the game revolves around alchemy and the creation of items, you’ll rely on the system for everything from progressing the story to defeating enemies and making money with delivery quests.
You can only create items you have recipes for and you can obtain recipes in a number of ways. While some recipes do have specific ingredients, I liked how for the most part you could just use ingredients from a certain group. This way you can substitute higher quality ingredients as they become available and eventually create better items.
Ayesha is the only character that can use the items you create or that generally uses items at all, which shoehorns her into a support role that spices up combat. Use an item to lower an enemy’s ice resistance before having the mage girl launch an ice attack, or dock their physical resistance before the swords-wielder uses her special.
Of course, Ayesha can play the middle by dishing real damage with a variety of explosives and toxins, or healing and buffing outright with medicines and food dishes. The freedom and variety offered in this approach is commendable. You can even create equipment for the characters.
Exploring the environments is linear and surprisingly enjoyable. You won’t find any labyrinthine maps or dungeons in this title. In most instances you proceed rather straightforwardly from one end of the dungeon to the next, engaging in combat with enemies and gathering materials whenever possible.
As you might expect the game goes whole hog with the fan service and there are scenes with groping, attacks with epic panty shots, dialogue about getting naked and so on and so forth.
The game develops its characters with an absolutely ridiculous amount of dialogue scenes. I have to imagine that even the biggest fans of character development would eventually become overwhelmed with the staggering volume of cutscenes in Atelier Ayesha Plus.
You go to the shop there is a cutscene. You step outside the shop and there is another scene. You get to the world map and you take three steps before being snatched into another scene.
Most of the time this is acceptable, as the scenes can be entertaining and some are significant to the level of adding new quests, but the fact that you can’t skip them makes the sheer volume hard to deal with.
Another negative aspect deals with gameplay; while in general its varied, it suffers from how difficult it can be to figure out what you should do towards progressing in the game.
You get a journal, which keeps track of certain tasks and metrics, such as how many of what item you need to deliver and to whom, as well as more important “major” tasks.
The problem is — with the important tasks at least — that very little detail or instruction is given in the way of accomplishing the task. One of the goals was literally as vague as “hit the road for info.”
While this could be viewed as a unique, non-linear approach to making progress in this kind of game, it doesn’t innovate in the genre enough to forgo clear tasks and objectives.
Many times when I finally saw a scene that put me on what I could be sure was the right path, I felt that it had only been witnessed via chance or luck, rather than the result of me purposely taking actions to try and further the story.
Traveling from place to place on the map and synthesizing items both consume days. Certain major tasks need to be accomplished within a certain in-game time frame or else you’ll reach one of the multiple less satisfying endings in the game.
Pair this time limit with large gameplay segments where the player is more or less running around aimlessly with scarce direction trying to figure out what to do and you create a panicked, frustrating situation that is about as far from fun as a video game could possibly be.
Another issue I had with the game was that it seemed almost completely devoid of challenge on the standard normal mode. I used a basic craft item and healing ointment from the time that I started the game until just a few hours before the end.
Although great flexibility was afforded in the crafting and combat systems, it was far from required to get through the game, where spamming some of the weakest items would get you along just fine.
Also, I recall only two boss fights in the entire game: one scripted nigh unwinnable fight towards the beginning of the game and the final boss. I know there are some in the DLC dungeon, but the main game’s offerings were hardly significant.
I had played for just over 20 hours and had determined that the fancier ointment was exactly the healing item I needed to outlast the last boss, but the time it took me to synthesize it was the last I had and I was shown an alternative “bad ending.”
That was an incredibly unsatisfying situation and would never have happened were I not doomed to spend so much time searching for some sign or clue to help me get on with and actually enjoy the game.
What’s strange about Atelier Ayesha Plus is that the issues I have with the game seem more like consciously made development decisions rather than the oversights or omissions that typically make up my complaints. The time limit wouldn’t at all be a problem if only you knew what to do half the time.
Although it is still good, I don’t feel that The Alchemist of Dusk really reaches its full potential. The wonderful visuals and music, sense of humor, deep crafting and combat systems and relatively diverse gameplay are marred by hours of mandatory cutscenes, awful pacing and one of the most vague, ineffective goals systems I have seen in a game.
I enjoyed lots of things in this game, but the negatives are very significant for me. Atelier Ayesha Plus: The Alchemist of Dusk was almost fantastic but it falls short enough to be only a bit better than average.