Review: Atelier Ayesha Plus: The Alchemist of Dusk (PSV/PSTV)

atelier-ayesha-plus-alchemist-of-dusk-review-banner

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 3
  • PlayStation Vita

Extras:

  • PlayStation TV Compatible Yes
  • Cross-Buy No
  • Cross-Save No
  • Cross-Play No
  • Cross-Chat No
Title: Atelier Ayesha Plus: The Alchemist of Dusk
Format: PlayStation Network Download (2.9 GB)
Release Date: February 10, 2015
Publisher: Tecmo KOEI America
Developer: Gust
Original MSRP: $39.99
ESRB Rating: T
Atelier Ayesha Plus: The Alchemist of Dusk is also available on PlayStation 3. The PlayStation Vita version has additional content.
The PlayStation Vita download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

It’s time for another Atelier game! Atelier Ayesha Plus is a port of the PS3 game Atelier Ayesha with a few updates and changes. This review will cover the game as a whole along with the updates for the Vita version so those curious about what’s new can skip ahead to the last three paragraphs of the gameplay.

Atelier Ayesha is the beginning of the “Dusk” series of Atelier games, followed up by Atelier Escha & Logy and the upcoming Atelier Shallie (in that order). Atelier Ayesha follows the titular character Ayesha, an apothecary living alone. Several years before the start of the game her sister Nio left to gather medicinal herbs and went missing, assumed to be spirited away. However, while visiting Nio’s grave Ayesha sees her. The image of her sister fades away but a passing scholar named Keith informs Ayesha that her sister is alive. He tells her that she should study alchemy and estimates that she has about three years to save her sister.

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From a story standpoint, Atelier Ayesha feels like one of the weaker entries in the Atelier series. At least for the first half where most of the story progression amounts to “find Keith and get him to tell you more about how to save Nio.” The main plot picks up once Ayesha becomes a little more competent and the game still has a lot of side stories and character events to fill the gaps. The one area where Atelier Ayesha does shine over other games in the series though is in world building.

It’s especially pronounced in some of the optional content but even in the main story there are frequent reminders that humanity has had an overall negative impact on the world. Intros to each of the major towns in the game tell of a once-thriving sea now dried up or a giant library that has been long abandoned by humans. The world building is one of the best parts of the game and really helps set the stage for the story and characters.

Gameplay:
In addition to most of the things you find in a Japanese RPG, like combat and whatnot, Atelier games are notorious for two specific gameplay mechanics: an alchemy/crafting system and a time management system. Atelier Ayesha has a great alchemy system and an engaging (though easy to cheese) combat system. The time management is still around, of course, but the game is pretty lenient with it. One might say even too lenient, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

The alchemy in Atelier Ayesha is almost like a puzzle. As Ayesha levels up her alchemy level, she gains alchemy skills which give her the ability to draw out bonuses, copy traits from the ingredients or delete traits from the resulting item. The order the ingredients go in and the order skills are used are all pivotal to the result such that changing the order, even with all of the ingredients being the same, can greatly affect the power of the resulting item.

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The system is incredibly rewarding and fun once all of Ayesha’s skills are unlocked. Sadly, the skills can take a while to open up though it also means that the systems are added slowly enough that the game doesn’t need to info-dump five tutorials right off the bat. All that said, using the alchemy to get a powerful skill onto a weapon or to craft the most overpowered healing item remains one of the most satisfying things to do and Atelier Ayesha offers ample ability to do that.

… the game clearly isn’t very limiting on time …

The combat is a unique take on some of the systems of the previous Atelier games. The basic turn-based combat with ability for allies to jump in with assist attacks or to save up for super attacks are still around but Ayesha also has an interesting positional component. Allies can take up one of four positions around the group of enemies. This adds some push-and-pull to combat as there are advantages and disadvantages to how you space your team.

For example, allies that are next to each other can use some assist attacks and Ayesha can create healing items that heal a group of allies that are all next to one another. But some enemies can also attack a close group of allies plus any ally that attacks an enemy from behind gets a damage bonus. Mash it all up and the combat allows for some thoughtful strategy. At least for the bosses and optional content. The main story is a little on the easy side and made even easier thanks to the ability to create super powerful bombs with the alchemy.

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Also a bit easy is the time management. Atelier Ayesha runs on a time system so everything from fighting enemies to crafting items takes up in-game time. The game gives three years to accomplish everything and at the end of the three years that’s it. However, the main story doesn’t take nearly that much time. Apparently it’s possible in just over a year but I took a little longer. Still, my playthrough of Atelier Ayesha Plus is sitting at two years and one month with all of the endings unlocked. There are still a few things I can do, but the game clearly isn’t very limiting on time.

That said, it’s good that the game isn’t overly tight because the main story can be a little hard to follow at times. With some of the other games in the Atelier series, it’s very easy to gauge how well things are progressing. Atelier Ayesha doesn’t really have that. The game throws a ton of tasks at the player and although the ones that advance either the main story or a side story have a star next to them, it’s still tough to tell if things are advancing ahead of the curve or if you just wasted too much time alchemizing an item that you don’t need yet.

There isn’t much new content in the Plus version of the game but Hard mode is one of the most obvious differences. I played the game on Hard and I’m not sure if it’s because I had played the game once before on PS3 but I found it to still be fairly easy. The most noticeable difference in Hard is that alchemy produces fewer items. This makes fulfilling optional Deliveries a little tougher but not by much because it’s still possible to register items to a shop and then rebuy them in bulk. Enemies are also tougher in Hard but the game was pretty easy to begin with and I still didn’t have much trouble defeating the bosses of the game.

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Also new in the Plus version are some extra bosses at the end of the game, a few of which are lifted from the sequel Atelier Escha & Logy. Because they’re at the end of the game and there’s no way to transfer a save from the PS3 version, challenging these bosses requires replaying the entire game. These new bosses are extremely tough, far tougher than any of the other bosses in the game, requiring the best equipment and bombs Ayesha can craft. Trying to gear myself up for these fights has really proved to be a way to test my mettle as a fan of the series.

Finally, there’s a new “album” that was added to the game. It’s mostly just a board full of optional quests that dole out some unlocks for the game such as new bonus artwork or new costumes. There are a couple minor gameplay changes that the album unlocks as well: being able to change party members anywhere or a free battle mode.

… the load times before an event are noticeably long …

Visuals:
On the PS3, Atelier Ayesha was a welcome step up in graphics from the previous games so I was curious how well the game would transfer to the Vita. Graphically, it actually transferred quite well. The characters all still look good (the main ones at least) and the environments come across beautifully. Ample changes in scenery help keep the game fresh but are all tied together enough to help fit into the world the game is building. Battles are fun to watch with the usual over-the-top attack animations. The Vita version bundles some costumes that were originally DLC on the PS3, plus adds a few new ones to unlock in the game. Sadly though, of the eight playable characters, only three have extra costumes.

What didn’t transfer as well was performance. Atelier Ayesha on the PS3 already had some minor problems and the port to Vita just exacerbated those. Switching areas or going to the world map takes several seconds longer and the load times before an event are noticeably long. Worse, NPCs and enemies don’t load immediately when entering an area. This is mildly annoying when waiting for an NPC to load but even worse when an enemy loads in right on top of Ayesha. Some of the larger towns cause the game to crawl while it loads in NPCs.

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Audio:
I’ve always enjoyed the music in the Atelier series and Ayesha does not disappoint. It’s a great soundtrack that really helps to emphasize the world. Especially nice are some of the unique battle songs for the bosses and even a few of the optional bosses have their own unique battle theme. The final boss of the story has a downright chilling theme song. As with other games in the series though, some of the generic town and battle themes can be swapped in the options and there’s DLC that adds a collection of music from across the Atelier series. An interesting thing that is either new or I didn’t notice on the PS3 is that the extras menu, which has a jukebox for all of the music in the game, has comments on each song by the composer of that song.

… the world feels wonderfully crafted …

Of the Atelier games on PS3, Ayesha was the only one that didn’t feature dual-audio. Atelier Ayesha Plus rectifies that by offering both Japanese and English voice tracks. However, even on the PS3 the English dub was not complete and Ayesha Plus is even less complete, perhaps for size reasons. What’s most odd though is that two characters can be having a conversation and all of Character A’s lines are dubbed while Character B’s lines are silent. It’s a jarring experience but at least the Japanese voice track is complete.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single player only.

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Conclusion:
There’s an extremely fun game packed into Atelier Ayesha Plus with a deep alchemy system and strategic combat. It is disappointing then, that the game doesn’t offer much of a chance to break those systems until the very end of the game. Even if that and the minor performance issues keep the game from reaching its true potential, there’s still a lot to enjoy in Atelier Ayesha Plus. The sense of adventure is as strong as always and the world feels wonderfully crafted and thought out. Overall I have no problems recommending the game except maybe to those who played the game on PS3 and were hoping for new content.

Score:
8.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built in screen capture feature.

Written by Andy Richardson

Andy Richardson

A longtime PlayStation fan who enjoys JRPGs and rhythm games when he’s not tweeting about his parrot.

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