Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk is the latest in a long line of games, but the beginning of a new story. Previous games followed the same arc, but Ayesha breaks away on a new tale with new characters. However, similar to the last game, the main protagonist, Ayesha, is in search of a lost sibling. While the story seems a bit bland when compared to most RPGs (world ending disasters, maniacal evil villains, etc) that's part of the charm: simplicity and execution.
Seldom did I find myself really wishing for the game to be about bigger things or have more sinister underpinnings, because what you're presented with is, for the most part, well done and entertaining. All of the characters are well-voiced and interested, except for Ayesha herself. Her voice gets annoying very quickly and her dialogue seems to written much more poorly than the other characters. Only one character being bad isn't too shabby, but when it's your main character, it's much more noticeable.
Although, this is one of the few games that I highly recommend after you stick the disc in to just wait. Let all of the intro company animations play and watch the introductory video. The opening song and animations here are fantastic and really get you into the style of the game. The rest of the soundtrack is equally remarkable and I would honestly set my controller down and just listen to the music from time-to-time.
As you can guess from the name, alchemy and item creation plays a large role in this game, which is where the main point of contention for me lies. I can't deny the depth and attention to detail that was offered the alchemy system, but for something so fundamental to gameplay, it feels like they just expect you to understand the complexities of it all. There aren't many explanations, particularly in the early portions of the game, that help players that are new to the series get accustomed to things. It's not exactly difficult to wrap your mind around how the systems work and interact, but a bit more care would have been appreciated.
When you're not collecting ingredients and stirring pots of goodies, you'll often be completing and quests and engaging in this game's version of turn-based combat. It's your standard fair of selecting attacks, but the game's art style really helps to push it over the edge. The character models and animations are beautiful, the actual attack effects are bright and colorful and the environmental design is often jaw-dropping. It really looks like they put a lot of work into the game's visuals, which helps hide one of the other issues I had: the emptiness of environments. You'll notice from the very start that the areas feel a bit empty and involve lots of running around, but you'll hardly care as much when there is so much beautiful scenery to take in.
There are plenty of quests and activities to partake in during the game to keep you busy, especially in the second-half or so of the game, which is also where the difficult really starts to pick up. I actually found myself dying a bit in the latter portions of the game, while the first half or so is rather simple and straight-forward. It's worth noting that the game's entire story and plot is on a timer, but it's not really that frustrating. Every time you travel somewhere, or anything at all really, it takes up time. There is only a certain amount of time to complete quests and "finish" the game, with various different endings. This feature usually makes you feel rushed, but it really just serves as a narrative device in this particular game and doesn't hinder the experience.
I had fun playing Atelier Ayesha, but I felt like it could have been better. The dialogue portions are well-done and well-voiced, but I quickly got tired of Ayesha herself. Combat is fun and entertaining, especially in the second half of the game once it opens up more, but feels a bit simplistic overall. Graphically it's superb and the soundtrack is engrossing, but I ended up feeling like the alchemy (which is advertised in the title of the game) wasn't quite as polished or explained as I was hoping. If you're a fan of JRPGs and you're after a more light-hearted adventure, I recommend Atelier Ayesha for a nice and beautiful journey.
This review was based on a digital review copy of the game for the PlayStation 3 provided by Tecmo Koei.