I’ll be honest, JRPGs aren’t my thing. Sure, I’ve delved a little into the Elders Scrolls, and the Mass Effect trilogy remains my favourite gaming series of all time, but when it comes to the world of Japanese Role Playing Games, I’m as uneducated as they come. Even with the PS Vita’s strong catalogue of JRPGs, such as the critically acclaimed Persona 4: Golden, I have still managed to avoid the surreal world of the JRPG. I guess my problem is that I am not a patient gamer. I always avoid the grind of gathering, finding and discovering and would rather be straight in with the action.
Reviewing this game without any previous knowledge of the series or the genre, on the one hand, allows me to be fully open-minded about the game itself, rather than comparing it to over similar titles. But then again, I can not with any confidence comment on how it stacks up against the competition. So has this experienced convinced me to further delve into the thick catalogue of games in the genre?
The chance to play and ultimately review Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk Plus was an opportunity for me to experience a whole new world of gaming, and allow me to be patient and achieve the games objective at a slower pace than what I am used to. After over a month of exploring the world created by Koei Tecmo, I ironically found that becoming distracted by side missions, slowly building my skills in battle and Alchemy ultimately led to my downfall. In short, being patient led me to failure.
Atelier Ayesha Plus is an extended version of the original Dusk title and includes most of the DLC that appeared for the PS3 version of the game. Although it is the 14th title in the series, the storyline is independent from any of the other games. You play as Ayesha Altugle, a young Apothecary who runs a herbalist workshop. After receiving a visit from a spirit form of her sister Nio, who has been missing for many years, Ayesha decides to go on a journey to find out what has happened to her sister, and more importantly learn how to bring her back to the real world. Now you know the story, lets discuss the nuts and bolts of the game itself.
The navigation system for Plus is in the form of a old time treasure map, which you can look around with the analogue sticks. Certain areas will be lit up to indicate where you can travel to, and as you explore more areas, more places become available to access. Although it is nice to look at, sometimes finding the destination you desire can become a pain, as the only way of knowing what that area is called is by moving the on screen cursor over a small circle. This means that once you open the whole world, it can be frustrating trying to find the place where you haven’t gathered enough resources, or are yet to defeat all the enemies and only by doing this will you open the world map in its entirety.
Once you select where you want to go, you will watch an animation of Ayesha running to that area. Although certainly unique, it can become quite tedious, especially if you are travelling great distance back and forth to deliver items. Each move takes a certain amount of in game days, and in is vastly important that you do not constantly move great distances unless it is for an essential main story objectives. Time is of the essence in Atelier Ayesha Plus, as I unfortunately discovered.
There are a number of different towns scattered throughout the land, and these are where you will set up shop. Each town has a ‘home’ area where you can save your current game, add memories to your journal or just get busy making new and exciting items with your (strangely) mobile cauldron.
There are three main gameplay elements to Plus– Fighting, performing Alchemy and gathering vital ingredients from the countless areas located throughout the world. Each are essential, and the more you do, the more skilled you will become. It is essential that you give enough time for each to level up. You can have up to three people in your party, who will assist you with battles and gathering ingredients. Each has their own unique skills and special abilities, and as you meet more characters you will learn that some are more useful by your side than others. All the characters have their part to play in the story, and as you meet more people throughout the land, you can choose to have them become a part of your party of three. This not only allows them to fight along side you, but also opens up new story elements as you get better acquainted with your new friends. It can sometimes be difficult to chose who to have in your group. You may have a personal preference to a particular characters personality, but prefer another for their abilities on the battle field. I found myself constantly changing my crew as I felt guilty leaving others behind. Luckily you can pick and choose when to add and remove new members to your party of three whenever you please.
Dialogue can sometimes be confusing, presumably due to the original dialogue not translating well. You will sit through a LOT of uninteresting conversation as you look to increase your friend levels. Cut scenes change throughout. Some are voiced (quite unconvincingly) where as others remain silent and just contain subtitles. There were even instances where all that was shown was a still image, as the subtitles appeared at the bottom of the screen. This constant change was slightly off putting, but all contain enough charm to just about get away with it.
Even with its distressing subject matter, the whole of Atelier Ayesha Plus is surrounded in an overall feeling of positivity. It’s just such a good spirited (no pun intended) game where you will meet an array of friendly and colourful characters, all with their own backstory and all with a unique charm. Although I couldn’t help but be sucked into this positive vibe, when you remember that the main story is a make or break mission to save your sisters life, you can’t help but feel disappointed that there isn’t a bigger sense of urgency. More often than not I spent hours deviating from the main path, instead focusing on smaller tasks such as hunting or make food items for the happy locals. I never felt that I was in any hurry to save Nio, as Ayesha seemed just as happy buying bread from the local bakers or helping friends with their own personal problems. The problem is that the game is just so charming that you’ll want to deliver that bread as quick as possible.
Don’t expect to meet a variety new faces through the game, as you will quickly find recycled faces appearing in every area across the land. This isn’t particularly a big issue, but seeing the same facial models time and time again on locals wondering the streets was slightly disappointing, especially when speaking to characters from a completely new town for the first time.
There are endless side missions in Atelier Ayesha Plus. These consist of either creating an object, or buying something from one of the local shops to deliver. Although they get extremely repetitive very quickly, side missions are a great way of increasing your Alchemy Skill level, which is essential as you progress through the games main story. All ingredients that you gather can be used to create items for battles, food to increase your health or to sell on for profit. All ingredients have unique properties, with each type providing different qualities to your creation. As you create new objects, your skill will increase which will open up more options. New items can also be learned by buying books from various merchants around the world. Although the system for creating items, from the outside, seems to have a lot of depth, I found myself just selecting the first option for each ingredient without really taking much notice of its qualities. Yet I still managed to create high quality items. Perhaps I just got lucky? You will also be tasked with delivering messages and special items for the main cast. Although the rewards can sometimes be minimal, completing these missions important for keeping your relationships high throughout the game.
The majority of battles in game come against wildlife. These range from cute squirrels to massive muscly brutes known as Carriers. Although there are a few variations, you will find yourself coming up against the same enemies time and time again. Though the different variations of each beast have stronger moves, you will soon learn which attacks work best against each type of enemy. Defeating enemies gives you XP and the more you get the quicker you will rank up. This will in-turn increase your Health Points and the damage your attacks make. As you navigate an area, if you come close to one of the beasts strolling around, they will instantly chase you. If you aren’t fast enough in getting away, you will be transported to the battle screen. This can be particularly frustrating when your only aim in an area is to collect ingredients, or if you are low on health.
The battle will end when either all your party members have 0 HP, or your opponents have all been defeated. Items you buy can also be added to your parties equipment. Each character has a preferred weapons, and you can find upgrades, such as armour, through gathering or simple seeking them out in the different shops. Battles are fun, and it is very rewarding discovering which combinations of attacks work best and deciding when is the right time to unleash your best move.
On the PS Vita, Plus looks stunning, with all the characters having their own unique look and towns and forests being full of life and colour. All the variations of environments are extremely detailed, from the skies to the backdrops and I frequently found myself admiring a vast valley or a cluster of mountains in the background of a small town for minutes on end, before I remembered my reason for being there.
It is difficult for me to focus on my overall experience of Atelier Ayesha Plus, due to the massive slap in the face that was my ending. There are multiple endings, depending on characters you befriend, mission you accomplish etc, and I am in no doubt at all that the ending I received was the worst possible conclusion to the game, especially as I had invested so much time into it. This may simply come down to how I decided to play the game, it could have been that I didn’t read the small print, it could have even been because I didn’t deliver that loaf of bread in time, but whatever the reason it felt extremely unfair. Due to the nature of the game, my only option was to start again from scratch after said ending.
A sweet little tale that ended sour for me, and although I will try to pin the blame on Koei Tecmo, I know that the only person at fault is myself. I let myself down, and worst of all, I let Ayesha down… and she was counting on me!
The fact it affected me so much just shows how well designed the game is. It has an engaging story which requires the player to fully embrace exploration. It may be repetitive at times but I still found myself coming back time and time again, wanting to level up to learn new skills and make new and exciting items. Quite simply, I fell in love with the world, and next time I won’t make the same mistakes.
I may just have been converted into a fan of the genre. Next stop Person 4: Golden…