[Review] Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk DX – Nintendo Switch

Written by Paige Deltefsen
  • Developer: Gust
  • Publisher: Koei Tecmo
  • Release Date: 14/01/20
  • Price: £32.99 / $39.99
  • Review code provided by: Koei Tecmo Europe

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Atelier Shallie

A Bachelor’s in Alchemy

Atelier is the Madden or Assassin’s Creed of JRPGs. That is, a series that has a new game almost every single year. It’s also one of very few that regularly feature female protagonists (with some exceptions). That in one way or another become involved in alchemy. Often these releases are set up in partly connected trilogies, as Ayesha is the first in the Dusk trilogy she does not get special cameos. Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk DX is the Nintendo Switch port containing both PS3 and Vita content. It can be purchased separately on the eShop or as part of a triple pack, be aware that buying one individual game means you cannot purchase the trilogy set. That being a few swimsuit outfits, and a huge selection of songs from other games (not just Atelier). 

Ayesha is an apothecary whose sister, Nio, has been missing for some time, thought to be spirited away. When visiting her memorial she sees her sister briefly, and a mysterious stranger informs her that if she studies alchemy she may be able to save her before time runs out. Thus she travels the world to study alchemy to get clues about her sister’s disappearance. 

Time Goes By

The major gameplay aspects are synthesis, combat and time management. 

Utilising her skills as an apothecary, Ayesha learns the alchemical practice of Synthesis to create items. With ingredients she has gathered or bought, they can be made into attack items, food and healing salves, accessories and more. The items you synthesize have different quality ranks and attributes, which can lead to you feeding skills into items, to make a different item to make yet another item to get a bomb or accessory with the traits and properties you need. As you level up the alchemy skill you can use different skills to effectively do this, as perks fill and bump each other out, though skills use points. If you run out, attributes of ingredients will not be put in. Fortunately before finishing creation you can retry to get the qualities you want. Once I became less worried about time and understood my skills I enjoyed this system. It is also something that cannot be ignored. Residents of towns may request certain items which is your primary means of money earning. Plus without proper equipment and items Ayesha and her friends won’t be able to face the challenges near the end of the game. The benefit of creating good items is that you can register them at shops. Meaning later you can buy items with the exact qualities you created, instead of wasting time and ingredients making them again. 

This is a turn based RPG, with two additional party members. Ayesha cannot use skills, instead of relying on her basic attack or items she has crafted. While her companions can use MP for skills. Outside of basics there is some positioning, as skills or items have an area of effect. While being behind an enemy means you can land a back attack for additional damage. 

A support gauge, giving you Active Commands, builds up as you fight. These allow your members to take special actions on others turns. Such as following up with a back attack, or shielding them from harm, these have to be selected quickly as the game won’t wait for you. Party members can have special active commands unique to them for example, Juris can protect then counter attack, and Regina can set off a timed bomb. 

Later in the game a special gauge builds up which unleashes a very powerful attack. On your journey you will gather various companions. I found Odelia to be by far the best, as she has an AOE heal skill that can also revive making her essential for boss fights. 

The boss fights were the most enjoyable part where I got to use the combat systems and my items to the fullest. During the main story there are only two or three essential ones. While I know there are optional ones mostly in post game. I wish they were more evenly dispersed throughout the story. 

Being an older Atelier game it has a time limit system. You have three years to save your sister. Various things take up time, travelling between locations, gathering, fighting and alchemy. Where I was shocked to find that any item takes at least a day to make! 

Despite being someone who doesn’t like games with time pressure, I found it to be very little of an issue. At first I got stuck because it turns out I had to be a certain alchemy level to progress, something the game gives no indication of. I spent almost an entire year of the three, running around in circles because I couldn’t hand in the quest. Purely because I failed to spot some water in the first area of an abandoned village. In that year I thought I’d found an important story area but turns out it’s just an extra place with a pretty hard optional boss that one tapped my team. Even having  “wasted” a lot of time I was still able to beat the game before the end. With the extra traveling I was at least adequately item stocked and leveled. 

In one way the hands off approach is nice, I think this game could’ve done with firmer goals.

I’ve heard this is something they fixed in following games. 

I do appreciate that once the goal is reached, if you’ve time left you can continue about your business which is great as often RPGs won’t let you live the reward you achieved. I found myself simply chasing all the cute cutscenes rather than worrying about much else. 

In order to get into combat or find ingredients you must explore the world. Exiting locations places you on a world map which takes time to travel across. Often you’ll need to enter, gather ingredients and fight all the monsters to open up a further path. Once you’ve done that you can walk past without entering. When across the map you can run into traveling salespeople to get items, plus more character scenes depending who is in your party. Most of the locations are typical with some caves but mostly plains and forests. A glass factory, vast salt desert and Homunculus town were some visual highlights. The world can feel a little small but more locations open up, and if it weren’t divided by the world map it would come across as sizeable. Thankfully you have various workshops around the world so you aren’t needing to make constant round trips. 

You’ll likely frequent the main city of Vierzerberg. This city hosts a week long bazaar each month, where your friends will have stalls. These give you the chance to buy items the main store doesn’t. As you progress and make more friends, more shops will open. 

Twice a year contests will show up, in which you display an item to appease the judges. Winning gives you a hefty cash price and I easily won the first two with some random gold thing I found who knows when.

Exploring and running into cutscenes will give you memory points. When certain stories are finished you can spend memory points in your diary. These unlock permanent stat bonuses such as Attack or HP up.

Outside the main story cutscenes the game is littered with short slice of life moments involving you, your companions and other members of the cast. Such as a cowgirl Nanaca who you run into in your travels, or helping your witch friend Wilbell pass her exam. Sometimes two different story lines with a character can be playing out at once. Having members in your party and buying from their store build up their friendship level. Usually leading to a request that nets you a reward, in case the gift of friendship wasn’t enough. With the huge amount of these moments her main goal often seems to be the last thing on her mind. 

Once you’ve completed the game you can use your clear save to go for New Game + which will keep your current equipment and money. Meaning you can save a lot of time and go for much more of the post game content. However on the Switch, there are no trophies to be found so there’s a bit less incentive. The game also comes with a hard mode which makes both combat and alchemy more difficult. A good choice for returning players. Completing scenes may give you some beautiful 2D art which you can view. You also unlock models for the viewer and concept art. In this DX version we have a  fast forward feature for battles, world map movement and some previously seen scenes. Most importantly the ability to run. All of which I used frequently.

And in the evening it’s GIRLS

The first scene that the game opened up on looked rough, but when I played it that was the last thing on my mind. Generally areas are soft looking, with only a couple of standout locations in terms of theme. I knew this series had cute girls as main characters but I was surprised by just how many cute girls are in this game! The character design is gorgeous and even some of the boys don’t look too bad. 

Atelier Ayesha taught me that some JRPGs use stock sound effects, as the healing sound is definitely one I’ve heard in Persona games. The soundtrack is lovely, with boss themes being a big highlight for me. Even if it’s not your preference you can change the songs you hear at every particular point, from a huge list of Atelier and other games’ soundtracks.

There is English and Japanese voice acting, although only important story cutscenes and a smidgen of others are voiced. Even so, having some English voice acting puts the latest games in the series to shame.

A Tisket A Tasket

Performance is pretty good, although in towns, and one area there’s definitely some slowdown in both handheld and docked. There are frequent loading screens but for the most part they are quite fast so it wasn’t bothersome. While rare I had a couple of visual glitches in scenes, one where the camera zoomed so fast past Ayesha the rest turned black, or when Ernie started running on air. 

Conclusion

The story might be a weak point for some. While the game touches on man made disasters, and a civilisation living on the ruins of a much larger one it has little focus in the story. The vast majority of scenes are silly moments with your friends, but for me that kept a smile on my face while playing.

It has quite a few endings, depending on what you’ve done or what friend’s story you’ve completed. Giving you more motivation to play again, though I had three different endings to choose from in my first playthrough. I know there’s probably a reason for this but I felt that Ayesha had a couple of romance possibilities and wish there were some endings for that.

I beat it in twenty hours though I think a few hours are missing from that. Making it short for an RPG but there’s lots of post game content that you might not be able to access your first try. It’s up to you whether to partake but it will go a lot longer towards making the purchase a better value for time.

My favourite aspect of the gameplay was the combat, but I came around to the time management and alchemy. While some aspects change in later entries I think this is a pretty good game.

Pros

  • Cute girls
  • Fun combat synergy
  • Cute girls
  • Heartwarming slice of life moments
  • Cute girls

Cons

  • Single playthrough is short by JRPG standards
  • Lack of direction can frustrate players
  • Infrequent voice acting

Verdict
As a game I was always interested in playing I’m glad I wasn’t disappointed. I’m now looking forward to playing others in the series.
3.5/5

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