Title: Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk
Publisher: Nis America
Release Date: March 05, 2013
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The Atelier series have become sort of like yearly things in recent releases, due to getting good sales in Japan. With Meruru, we saw the conclusion of the story that takes place in Arland, so Ayesha is an Atelier game that introduces a different land and starts a new story. GUST changed some of the mechanics, hired a different artist to do the character designs, and creates a new setting with a different set of characters while retaining the Atelier feeling.
Atelier Ayesha starts off with the titular Ayesha, who works as an apothecary (medicine maker) in a remote workshop near some ruins. Her little sister Nio has been missing for three years after going to the ruins to gather materials. One day Ayesha heads down to the ruins to Nio’s “grave”, and sees a floating image of Nio that quickly disappears, as well as some glowing flowers. A middle aged alchemist arrives, telling Ayesha that the key to finding her sister is alchemy, and she has around three years to do it before Nio really disappears. Ayesha decides to take a break from her job and go on a journey to learn about alchemy, the glowing flowers, and find her little sister.
Ayesha meets a variety of people that end up helping her, in typical Atelier fashion. Being the start of a new subseries, the liveliness and amount of characters hardly compare to the busy atmosphere of Atelier Totori and Meruru. The Atelier games are usually known for fun character interactions, but this time around, it feels like the party members don’t get enough scenes with each other. I quite enjoyed the different conversations triggered by taking two different party members, but those didn’t really exist here. The NPC scene are plenty, though, as well as scenes with Ayesha and a given character. Overall, the Arland trilogy felt much more energetic, and the characters seem much more “together.” I did like a lot of the characters in Atelier Ayesha though, particularly Wilbel and Linca.
The main draw in gameplay is still the alchemy system, which has been streamlined so that it is easier to make items in batches. As usual, it is more complex than it seems, particularly when you delve into crafting powerful equipment. However, it does feel a little more beginner-friendly, as there is rarely a situation where you need to re-create an early game item later on when you find higher-level materials. Gone is the old equipment crafting system, as well as the (pretty much) series staple bald blacksmith Hagel. Instead, one must hunt for weapon drops from monsters, and then create items used for upgrading the basic weapon, giving it more traits and bonuses. While the customization of previous games is still there, hunting for weapons instead of making an ingot through alchemy isn’t as convenient. Those coming from other RPGs might find this new system more normal.
The battle system has also been upgraded to include positioning around the enemies, back-attacks, and more support options other than guarding someone or conducting a follow-up attack. Strategic use of the system can lead to a supposedly unwinnable fight becoming possible on the first playthrough. Characters also get more skills each, and Ayesha is no longer very weak like her previous alchemist counterparts. Her attack power may be lacking, but her defenses and HP will surpass others very soon, and she can defend other party members from attacks as well. To counter the more involved battle system though, is the bad pacing of the appearance of boss fights. For the first two years, there are virtually no bosses other than a few reports of stronger-than-usual enemies appearing around the map. Then, in the final stretch of the game, the story throws at you two strong bosses much more powerful than anything you have faced so far, as well as a large number of optional boss-level fights and character event-specific bosses.
The calendar system and 3 year time limit returns, this time with no possible extension. However, the time limits are so lenient in this game, there is little to no pressure. There are literally zero deadlines to meet, aside from saving Nio before the game is over. You don’t get your seasonal assignments in Rorona, or the adventurer ranks in Totori, or even the population management in Meruru. In Atelier Ayesha, you simply do alchemy, go through ruins, and activate events until the end. Even with the three-year time limit, there is no need to feel pressed for time as long as you don’t try to get the most difficult ending on the first playthrough. Ayesha is a good starting point for those intimidated by time limits, although I personally liked the way Rorona constantly gave you new objectives.
Speaking of time limits, even the quests should serve little to no pressure. Instead of having a guild that gives out quests, you now have to talk to individual NPCs to receive them. The quests reward you with much more money than before, and have extremely long time limits. You are literally given more than a year to bake a girl some muffins, rather than the weeks or months given by the quests in previous games. Also, Ayesha has no popularity bar to maintain, and missing the deadline for a quest only results in a deduction in the rewarded cash. The new quest system is great for lazy and tardy people like me (How I wish someone would pay me loads of cash for some baked bread, and give me two years to do it without ever handing the job to someone else!), but lacks the more realistic urgency and consequences of prior games.
In short, Atelier Ayesha is definitely a good starting point for PS3 Atelier series newcomers, due to the much more lenient time limit and quests, as well more streamlined and “normal” RPG elements compared to previous entries. You have multiple towns, a more concrete plot and objective from the beginning, and a more adventurous feel as there are several multi-floored ruins to explore. However, for polish and pure fun, the previous game takes the cake with a livelier cast, more playable characters, and more exciting boss fights. Ayesha has the better music, and is different enough from the Arland trilogy to feel like a refreshing new start.