The Atelier series has been churning out titles for the better part of sixteen years and during that time, not only has it amassed a huge range of JRPGs to enjoy but a cult-like following in the process. The latest title to adorn the Atelier name is Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk. Unlike previous Atelier games, Ayesha is an all-new Atelier outing with new characters and an alchemy hook this time around. Despite the heart-felt efforts, Ayesha falls short due to a lack of refinement and questionable design elements.
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Platform: PlayStation 3 (Reviewed)
Genre: Japanese Role-Playing Game
Release: (EU) March 8th, 2013, (JP) June 28th, 2012, (NA) March 5th, 2013, (INT) August 23rd, 2012
Atelier Ayesha places the player in the gifted shoes of a young apothecary by the name of Ayesha. The bright-eyed and at times strange alchemist has been crafting medicinal wonders on her own, ever since the death of her grandfather and the mysterious disappearance of her sister, Nio. One day while visiting Nio’s resting place, Ayesha is greeted by a spectral vision of Nio which convinces her that her dear departed sister may not be as departed as she first thought, prompting Ayesha to embark on a journey of discovery.
One of the reasons JRPGs have been so successful with the role-playing fraternity over the years is their ability to engage players with characters that are deep, interesting, and easy to relate to in some degree or another. Unfortunately, Ayesha‘s character line-up lacks the depth of past Atelier titles and didn’t quite draw me in like previous Atelier outings. Part of this can be attributed to some lacklustre English voice-acting that can be jarring enough that heart-felt moments in the story can take a horrid turn for the worse in a matter of seconds.
Ayesha herself is supposedly meant to be perceived as a competent alchemist but in actuality comes across as an airy-fairy, ditzy teen. I’m not sure if it’s the blank expressions or the vanilla personalities of her travelling companions that made me feel this way but my initial impression of Ayesha stuck and never let go from start to finish. It hurts the character development quite a lot given I couldn’t engage with Ayesha completely. I tried to like the rag-tag ensemble cast but simply put, just could not. It’s actually quite a shame since the alchemy element is such a strong and engaging mechanic that Ayesha and her merry cohorts let down.
Throughout the course of your travels, an assortment of ingredients can be collected and thrown into cauldrons for surprisingly beneficial results. Despite how odd it may seem to find mixing cauldrons littered in random locations and how even more bizarre it was to borrow these cauldrons to blend reagents together, the process of producing your own concoctions proved to be an imaginative addition to the game. Alchemy has been carefully thought out and with an immense selection of ingredients to discover, ranging from diverse categories, in varying degrees of quality, producing nearly infinite possibilities and combinations. It’s a challenging prospect that will fascinate and engage, particularly for completionists and the obsessive-compulsive that must see and experience it all.
Synthesized items have multiple purposes such as providing a stream of revenue through sales, but can also be hugely beneficial producing items that can improve a characters’ ability or modify their stats. The character development becomes a personalised experience and gives back to the player, depending how much time is invested into running your own pseudo chemistry lab. It is a time-heavy process and given Atelier Ayesha is time-based; the amount of harvesting, mixing and side-questing you do will have a bearing on the main quest of finding your sister Nio. There are plenty of pros and cons here to consider, boiling down to the type of JRPG player you are.
Apart from getting lost in all the ingredients gathering, there’s also a wonderful adventure to explore and plenty of battles and monsters to encounter. A solid deal of levelling up will be required to progress the story forward as enemies can prove to be stiff opposition if characters aren’t levelled up properly before engaging in larger scale battles. Luckily, combat only occurs when actively running up to wandering hostiles so harvesting can go uninterrupted until you’re ready to throw down. Battles require a strategic mix of positioning and timing for maximum effectiveness on the battlefield. Obviously, front on assaults are not as rewarding as attacking from the rear and launching massive special moves can deal huge amounts of damage, but will also incur a longer cool down timer. Some might struggle to master it all at first but after a few brief encounters; everything falls into place and makes perfect sense.
Atelier Ayesha is a beautiful world to live in, washed in a rainbow of colour presented in gorgeous cel-shaded style. Unfortunately the heavy processing to create it all impacts on frame-rates with a few occasions of noticeable drops but these are minor technical issues that can be overlooked. The soundtrack is a delightful mix of whimsical melodies that those familiar with the Atelier range will appreciate, but whether or not you’ll remember them once the adventure is over is certainly open to debate.
Breaking away from the norm, Atelier Ayesha adopts a rather interesting progression system through the use of memory points. Memory points are earned through various activities from conversing with NPCs, to more relevant actions such as completing quests. Ayesha makes use of the points as a means to jot her thoughts into a diary which essentially recounts all the events from the main storyline to branching side stories. These ‘memories’ if you will open up access to stat boosts for further character enhancements that so many of the JRPG players enjoy, including me. It’s a well-paced approach that ensures players remain on the right path, as well as keeping the protagonists well equipped to handle the varying hurdles.
Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk has massive amounts of potential with its inventive alchemy system but does fall short on immersion and character design. If you can forgive Ayesha and her flock of allies for being on the dull side, there’s plenty to enjoy on the weight of the alchemy experience alone. Coupled together with bright, vivid visuals and a well-scored soundtrack and you get an Atelier title that ticks plenty of boxes to make it a justified purchase, even though it misses a few marks.
7.0 – Good. Entertaining but is held back by a couple of flaws. It will certainly capture its intended audience but it won’t appeal to everyone.