It’s only been seven months since the release of Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland on PlayStation 3 here in North America. Despite how fresh those memories are though, Tecmo Koei is already prepping the next installment in the beloved franchise, entitled Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk. This latest entry deviates from the Arland sub-series that we’ve been playing for years, and provides a brand new adventure; one that includes a fresh story, an original cast of characters and some gameplay differences. Franchise veterans shouldn’t be too worried about these change ups, as many elements from the previous titles will be making a homecoming in The Alchemist of Dusk. At the same time, newcomers may find plenty to like about this deep Japanese RPG.
Atelier Ayesha tells the story of Ayesha Altugle, a young, amnesiac girl living a reclusive life after the death of her grandfather and disappearance of her sister a few years back. To make a living, Ayesha synthesizes and subsequently sells medicine. Shortly after the game begins, the alchemist finds out that her younger sister, Nio, is in fact alive, and trapped in another dimension. At this point, Ayesha vows to find her, no matter the cost. Alas, the grand journey commences.
Aside from original lands to explore, The Alchemist of Dusk introduces a newly modified battling system. The combat will initiate with players moving their character around on a battlefield. Unlike previous installments, distance and positioning are vital to achieving victory. Characters within certain proximities can even support one another by attacking enemies in tandem to deal extra damage. While the mechanics at play here are not a radical departure from previous Atelier titles, they appear to emphasize spatial awareness, and because of this, add a little extra pizzazz and strategy to the very traditional, turn-based system of the past.
But fighting is only a portion of an Atelier game — and a very small portion at that. Where the games focus most of their efforts is in the titular alchemy itself. For those unfamiliar with how the series works, the main goal of almost every Atelier title is to fight monsters and fulfill quests in order to obtain specific ingredients. Once these fixings have been acquired, they are then able to be synthesized into new items. Mixing and matching constituents into weapons makes for some snazzy augmentations to one’s arsenal, and is the staple for which these games are truly known.
Although the core aspects of the alchemy system haven’t changed much in Dusk, there are some notable enhancements present. In an effort to provide an even more comprehensive experience, Ayesha is able to learn new synthesis skills in order to tweak the final results of the items she’s crafted. Going a step further, a diary is kept for recording all events, rewarding players with bonuses the more they make use of it. Of course, the rules of the past apply to this installment: the better the ingredient, the bigger and better the end item will be. In that regard, these games are wickedly addicting.
So while the alchemy itself has been altered just a bit, what should be immediately identifiable is the game’s graphical presentation. Back are the cel-shaded-like characters and aesthetics, giving the game a lush coat of anime-infused paint. By this stage, Atelier’s developers have had plenty of time to optimize the game’s visuals, which look to be at their peak in Ayesha. Though, the largely unchanged graphics engine seems to be showing its age at this point, as characters can lack detail and look rigid in their movements.
Also making a re-entrance are the whimsical tunes that pollute the airwaves. Composed by Daisuke Achiwa, Kazuki Yanagawa and Yu Shimode, the soundtrack of Atelier Ayesha will be similar to the previous titles. In fact, the theme song, Hanashirube, is sang by Mutsumi Nomiyama, the same artist whose work appeared in Meruru. Apart from the wonderful music, it has been confirmed by Tecmo Koei that The Alchemist of Dusk will not include dual voice-tracks, as initially rumored, meaning Japanophiles will be disappointed in the dubbed-only voice-overs.
Nevertheless, Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk is shaping up to be a solid, though mostly familiar release in the long-running franchise. There are some new additions, but not to an overwhelming extent. This probably won’t matter to die-hard loyalists, and won’t be noticeable to newbies, so the true lack of innovation seems to be of little significance or consequence in this case. If deeply involved games with traditional battling mechanics and arcane layers of item synthesis sound intriguing, Atelier Ayesha looks to be a great RPG worthy of such a gamer’s time. Be mindful, though, the series is niche, but with this release looking to be the pinnacle of the series, I can’t think of a better time to get your feet wet than now.
Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk launches on March 5 exclusively for PlayStation 3, for the bargain price of $49.99.