Atelier Ayesha Plus: The Alchemist of Dusk Review

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Title: Atelier Ayesha Plus ~The Alchemist of Dusk~
Developer: Gust, Koei Tecmo
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Type: Vita
Download: 2.9 GB
NA Availability: 
Digital Download 

EU Availability: Digital Download
PSTV Support: 
Yes

Atelier is a name and franchise that is very controversial across RPG fans.  It’s a niche franchise, but when you’re concerning the RPGs on the Vita, what isn’t?  Atelier is a special breed of niche, though.  Lots of RPGs can be considered niche because very few RPGs are mainstream like Final Fantasy.  Even among RPGs, Atelier is a bit of a niche brand, much like Hyperdimension Neptunia can be at times.

Atelier is niche because it has a very different take on the genre, and it’s in a way that a lot of RPG gamers don’t like.  Most RPGs are about exploration and combat, especially on combat, party formations, skill trees, etc.  Atelier is a game that has combat, but focuses more on other areas, like item creation as well as time limitations.  The latter is the biggest reason a lot of RPG fans try Atelier and put it down a few hours later, not wanting anything to do with the franchise.

I’ll admit that the time restrictions in Atelier Totori really pushed me away from completing that title.  I hated that the game constantly reminded me that I was running out of time and that I couldn’t go and explore at my own pace.  Thanks to a recent bit of funding thanks to my Fullscreen partnership, though, I’m giving the series another shot.  Here is my official review of Atelier Ayesha Plus: The Alchemist of Dusk!

Story

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The Atelier series is known for its casual and light-hearted stories.  Unlike games like Final Fantasy, Tales, and Ys, Atelier is never about a world-ending conflict.  The stories are more condensed around the main character’s personal life.  In Atelier Totori, it was about the character being licensed as an adventurer and discovering the past of her mother.

This game follows a young apothecary named Ayesha, whom works in a small workshop near a set of ancient ruins.  As she travels to collect herbs for the medicine she makes and gives to the nearby town, she happens upon flowers with an unearthly glow.  Before she can muster up a question, an apparition of her sister appears, whom had been “spirited away” some time before, presumed dead.

With the knowledge that her little sister is still alive somewhere, Ayesha embarks on a journey to research more into the glowing flowers that enabled their communication and to find her sister.

The story and plot are pretty light-hearted and less serious than you’d expect from most RPGs.  Many of the character interactions are more friendly and less “we have a serious threat on our hands”, so those not used to the series may be in for a fresh change of pace with this, along with all of the other Atelier games the Vita has to offer (Totori, Rorona, Meruru, and the upcoming Escha + Logy).

Gameplay

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Atelier Ayesha Plus is a turn-based RPG mixed with an item synthesis game.  It’s hard to just call it a turn-based RPG because of how the focus is divided between combat and item creation.  So let’s just call it both an RPG and Item Creation game.  It is also an enhanced port of the PS3 title, Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk.

There are two things we should go over before describing how the game works.  Since this is my first Atelier review, let’s talk about the business model of Atelier.  A friend of mine asks every so often if Atelier is just a rehash of the same gameplay system with new story.  For all intents and purposes, it’s not far from the truth.  Atelier runs the same basic formula of exploring, time restrictions, dungeon crawling, synthesizing, etc.  There was a ton in Ayesha that worked exactly the same way in Totori, and that’s 4 Vita games back.

What makes Atelier unique is that it constantly adds new features to the system.  A little extra combat skill here, some extra synthesis options there.  What makes Ayesha Plus unique is that the time restrictions are much more lax this time around and the inclusion of the Memory system.  The Memory System is from Atelier Escha + Logy, the sequel to Ayesha, which lets you use points to unlock memories based on story events to give you extra stats and gameplay enhancements, like extra Experience in battle.  Speaking of the sequel, Ayesha Plus also has a couple extra bosses from said sequel.

What this boils down to is that all of the changes in each new game are small, but they can modify the feel enough that it seems like there’s more than just some minor gameplay changes.  Playing Totori and then Ayesha really shows how lax the time restraints are.  There are still time restraints but there’s a huge amount of excess time, so there’s plenty of room for error and getting side-tracked.

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Progression in the game is divided up between three main areas: Story Events, Exploration, and Item Creation.  You will always have some sort of objective that progresses the next story events, and these objectives are always spawned by story events.  Because of this, and because of how varied these can be, it’s a good idea to keep a constant eye on your Notebook to look at what objectives you have and what they unlock.  I say the latter because many objectives don’t unlock more story and you could be wasting precious time on a dozen side missions not realizing that they’re side missions.

Exploration is done in towns as well as dungeons.  Almost every point on the map is a dungeon filled with monsters and harvest points.  Monsters you can fight for item drops as well as experience towards leveling up and getting stronger.  Harvest Points are for collecting materials for item creation.  Each dungeon has a set number of encounters and harvest points and once they’re used up, you have to leave and come back to collect from them again.

Item Creation is the basis of the entire series, and that is the lovely craft called Alchemy.  All side-quests and many story objectives require you to create items.  You do this in your workshop by combining materials into new items using recipes that you learn from story events or from Alchemy Books you can buy in the shops in certain towns.  The more you make, the higher your Alchemy Level rises, and that further increases what you can make.

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Aside from quest and objective goals, you also have to make pretty much everything you use in battle.  Healing Items, Attack Items, Support Items, etc.  You can register these items in shops and then buy in bulk, but you have to be able to create them yourself before you gain access to that option.  The heart of Atelier has always been the item creation system, and that’s a huge part of this game as well.

Now let’s talk about what everyone doesn’t like, and that is Time Management.  You have 3 years of in-game time to find and rescue Ayesha’s sister.  Getting there is playing the game.  Time is taken up by pretty much everything you do.  Traveling across the map, using harvest points, fighting battles, creating items, leaving and re-entering a dungeon.  All of it uses up time and if you don’t make it to the final area before the end of the 3 years, the game will end and you’ll get the bad ending.

The good thing is that the game gives you a ton of extra time.  If you follow everything by the book or follow a guide, you can get to the final dungeon barely halfway into the second of the 3 years, nearly giving you half of your total time to explore and do side-missions.  That is not to say it’s impossible to get the bad ending without trying to, but there’s a lot more freedom than in past titles.  Enough that you don’t have to constantly worry about it.

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Combat is less of a focus, but still here.  You have turn-based battles against enemy parties, with the main unique aspect being team actions.  As you fight, each character’s assist meter will go up.  Once you have enough, they can interact and add extra actions to a turn.  These can range from having a certain character shield someone else from an incoming attack, or having them perform follow-up attacks when an ally strikes at an enemy.  When you win, you gain experience towards leveling up along with money.  It’s a pretty standard RPG formula.

With the base game along with the extra bosses, you’re looking at around 25-30 hours of game time.  Once you beat the game, you can play again with New Game Plus.  With this, though, you don’t get to carry over much.  All that carries over to a new game is equipment on your characters.  No ingredients, money, leveling, or anything like that.  Equipment aside, it’s like just starting a new game.

Controls

Controlling the game is no hard task.  You don’t need to worry about the Vita’s special features as it does not use them.  Touch controls are not present, nor are motion controls.  It may also be worth noting that the game does run on the PlayStation TV, but doesn’t have any special controls for the extra buttons on the DS3 and DS4 controllers.

Moving around is done with the Left Analog Stick and the D-Pad can also be used to move, but only on the map.  The Right Analog is used to zoom in and out in dungeons and in scenes.  The L and R triggers are used to access various systems, like saving the game or your notebook.  This varies depending on whether you’re in a dungeon, the map, or a town.  Then the face buttons.  X handhelds choosing options or interaction.  Circle lets you cancel a menu option or jump in the field.  And triangle pulls up the customization menu.

Presentation

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The Atelier games have always been known to be visually beautiful, and Ayesha is the same way.  It looks like a PS3 game and not much downgrading was done to make it work on the Vita.  This is the way all Atelier Vita games have been.  The visuals are nothing less than gorgeous and put many other Vita games to shame.

The visual detail of more advanced Atelier games do come at a price.  Ayesha Plus has a clear struggle with running on the Vita.  There are many areas with slowdown and lag as you are running through various areas.  Many environments are small, which helps, but there’s a clear sign of struggle for a fair amount of the game.  The game also fidgets and gets jumpy when loading certain areas or battles.

Next is the voice-work.  The game has dual audio options, which is great for those of you that do not like hearing English dub in your RPGs.  There’s a weird aspect of this, though.  The Japanese Voices cover pretty much every scene in the entire game.  The English Dub barely covers half.  I did some research and, as far as I know, this was the same in the PS3 version of the game.  The game is far from the max file size for a game, so why would the development team only dub half of the game in English when the entire game is dubbed in Japanese?

Summary

Atelier Ayesha Plus is the latest PS Vita “Plus” edition of the series.  It definitely has an issue with slowdown in a few areas.  However, if you’re new to the series, the lax time restrictions and extra features make this a great place to start. 

8/10

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