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Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk DX – In-Depth Review

Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk DX is a remaster of the original JRPG released on the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita back in 2012 – 2014. It’s come back for 2019 – 2020, with added features and improved graphics. This new release brings the title to the PC, Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 which I am reviewing the title on.

For those unfamiliar with the Atelier series, this is a longstanding series of games with more than thirty titles released under the name. They focus on alchemy and a large part of the focus is on collecting ingredients and combining them to make better items and to progress in the game.

The main games under the Atelier name come under a sub-series. This is the first part of the three-part Dusk series and needs no familiarity with any other titles. The entire Dusk series has been remastered and re-released. You can read an overview style review of the Dusk Trilogy here.

In Atelier Ayesha, you play as the titular character who is an apothecary – someone who makes medicine. She spends her days at her workshop in the countryside, mostly creating medicine and delivery across the continent.

We learn that her sister Nio went missing one day in the past when collecting herbs at the nearby ruins. Ayesha occasionally visits a shrine in the ruins, using it as a gravestone. One day, she sees something unexpected. Nio’s form appears, glowing and ethereal. This ignites Ayesha’s determination to find out what happened to Nio and to bring her back home – the overall aim of the game.

Ayesha is given a hint from a mysterious older man from a faraway land that studying alchemy and a glowing flower found in the ruins is the key to understanding how to save Nio. Not knowing anything about alchemy, this starts a journey to learn more.

The story continues with Ayesha running into both old and new friends along the way. She travels across the continent, both learning more about alchemy, solving people’s problems and finding clues along the way.

While there is the main story of finding Nio, there are a lot of side quests along the way. The game has a fairly relaxed pace and I spent more of my time on character-centric scenes such as hearing about the problems between a character called Wilbell and the problems between her and her grandmother or how Nanaca travels around the continent with her cows than I did searching for clues or focusing on alchemy. In some ways it feels almost like a slice of life anime, where minor problems come up, we solve them together and conversations about things like eating sweets together are shown.

I really enjoyed the story for the most part. It felt like there wasn’t a huge amount of plot for the main quest, but looking back I can see that a lot of it was woven into the more character-centric scenes. The world and characters felt quite fleshed out too due to the focus on them.

The story does come to an end eventually, but in a different way than many do. While I’ll avoid mentioning any spoilers, I will say this; you can finish the main story but then not get the ending for a long time after.

You have a set time limit to complete the main story and it’s rather forgiving. I personally used about two-thirds of it, while wasting a lot of days and not worrying about the deadline. If you complete the story before then, you still have to wait until the time is up to get the ending – or endings I should say. There are multiple possible endings to choose from if you can fulfill the conditions to unlock them.

While you do have to wait to see the ending, you can spend time both mopping up side quest content from before, creating more powerful items and there are a good number of post-game quests too, with plenty more scenes to see.

I was quite impressed by just how much post-game content there was. It did feel odd to have finished what I considered the main part of the game and then to be completing more side quests while essentially waiting for time to pass, but it kept up the same tone and quality as the rest of the game had.

Some of the post-game content may be part of the ‘Plus’ or ‘DLC’ content. The remastered DX version includes all the DLC from the original game and the extra content from the ‘Plus’ version on the Vita. This includes some cosmetic content too – while it does not specify, I can only assume that the option to have Ayesha running around in a bikini is from the DLC and not the original.

When looking at the gameplay, Atelier Ayesha keeps the standard JRPG aspects of walking around towns, exploring dungeons, talking to NPCs, completing quests and fighting monsters. It does have quite a different spin on them to a lot of similar games though.

In towns, you walk around, shop and talk to NPCs as normal. Or you can bring up a menu and teleport directly to any visited area within that town. As you meet certain conditions, doing so often triggers scenes with other characters, whether it’s to advance the story, a sidequest or just to add a bit more depth to the world. You can also find many NPCs with a delivery quest – to find, make (or already own) a certain item or type of item and to bring it to them for a reward. These delivery quests continue throughout the game in any main city and are an important part of unlocking ‘memory points’, which allow you to write diary entries and get bonuses. There are many ways to unlock these points, but delivery quests are an important one.

In dungeons, you walk around and fight monsters much like other JRPGs too. The differences here are that again you can access the menu to teleport between areas and there are gathering points. In these gathering points, you can have Ayesha can pick up some items. Unusually, the nearby monsters very politely stand still and wait while Ayesha does this. The monsters show on the map and trigger a battle if you run into one or hit one with your staff.

Battles again differ from many other JRPGs. While it has you attack monsters with physical and area attacks, as well as some nice extras such as covering each other and moving position, there is one big difference. Ayesha is the only character who can use items. In exchange, she cannot use other special attacks. With her physical attack being nothing special and a lack of direct healing skills from most other characters you can have in your party, this leaves Ayesha both needing to use items to do significant damage and often acting as the party’s healer. This felt very odd at first, considering that I am one of the many who tend to horde all their items in these types of games and then never end up using them.

In the DX version of the Atelier Dusk Trilogy, both wandering around towns and dungeons, as well as battles goes much quicker than the original. This version has implemented a function to run and to speed up battles at either 1.5x or 2x speed. It really helps increase the pace of the game, particularly in dungeons. I really appreciated the feature, as I often do find myself feeling that JRPGs have me spend too much time walking around and not enough time experiencing the story or other content.

With the only character who is always in your party being limited to item usage for special attacks, this brings the focus back towards alchemy. Ayesha can learn to create healing items, attack items, accessories and more. I did find it odd that she cannot create weapons or armor, but she can create items to improve them.

The alchemy system feels quite simple until it doesn’t. At first, it’s enough to stick any suitable ingredients in the pot and it will come out with the correct item as long as you follow the recipe. As you use alchemy more, you increase your alchemy level and learn new skills. These get an in-game tutorial and it explains well enough for casual use, but I did come across a part where it just wasn’t enough.

One issue I had with the game is there is a huge difficulty spike near the end. I played the game, never really fully understanding how to use alchemy but using it to make some basic items and then I came up against a boss and died. Then I died again. And again. I leveled up and created some more powerful items and the same happened. Before this point, I had never struggled too much to defeat an enemy.

Eventually, I gave up and looked outside of the game itself to some guides to get more of an understanding. While I didn’t follow the guides exactly, I used the principles learned to use aspects of alchemy such as transferring properties from one item to another and combining chains of ingredients to create better ingredients for the final product. Instead of creating powerful healing items, I was now creating powerful healing items that automatically activated when on low health and kept occasionally healing after use, attack items which did far more damage than the originals and accessories which combined the benefits of several different areas.

My feelings are very mixed on the alchemy, as it is an incredibly detailed system and I love using it – but only after I figured it out, which I feel like the in-game explanations did not sufficiently teach me. I did really like being able to create so many different items and even then being able to create unique versions of them with different properties. The fact that I needed the insufficiently explained advanced features to continue did create a struggle though.

Another system that is fairly unique is the calendar system. As mentioned, you have a set amount of time to complete the main story. Time passes you do either traverse the world map, when you gather items or when you perform alchemy. This was interesting as it kept some pressure on about wasting time as I got closer to the end of the game. There are also events that only happen on certain dates, so you have to manage that if you want to participate in them. Some delivery quests also have expiry dates and your reward can be reduced if you miss this.

While the time limit is important, there are reasons to complete all these sidequests and similar activities. The game constantly seems to give out various bonuses. Whether it’s increased stats, improve alchemy skills or just money – you can get a bonus for it. You come equipped with a self-updating notepad that logs main story quests to ones for every visited area to clear out all enemies and gather all the items. It seems like everything and anything gives
some sort of reward. The notepad is a brilliant way to see your options for where to go next, as well as being a great feature if you haven’t played the game in a while.

A notable type of sidequest is the diary. Every so often when you see a scene, you will be able to write about it in your diary. This requires memory points, which as mentioned you can get from delivery quests and quite a few other methods. Filling in diary entries is both a nice extra look at the story and can give some rather useful rewards.

As the game is very character-centric, I’ll mention some of the more important characters met earlier in the game.

Our title character Ayesha can be quite naive and easygoing. Despite being quite knowledgeable in her area and being highly regarded for her medicine, she is not very self-confident and can be quite a pushover. She is shown to be a bit of an airhead, forgetting what she is doing, getting distracted easily and getting lost. She has quite a strong sense of responsibility and can be quite determined.

Soon into the game, we meet Regina. She is a prospector and an expert on mining materials. She supports Ayesha strongly and seems to see her almost as a little sister. Despite looking like a young girl, Regina matches and beats the male prospectors in skill and loves alcohol a bit too much. She has a bit of perversion to her character, more than once trying to give Ayesha a squeeze.

Wilbell is a witch in training, though she does not like to admit to not being a full-fledged witch yet. She is childish, not very responsible and can be quite clingy but she helps Ayesha wherever she can. Her scenes often have quite a lot of comedy to them, with one example being when she tries to trick her teacher, who she essentially describes as amazing in every way. It doesn’t go well.

There are quite a few more characters, both playable and non-playable. We meet the mysterious old man whose name we learn later. We meet an official named Marion from a far off land and her bodyguard Linca. We meet a longtime friend and wandering trader named Ernie. There are far more characters to meet and many of them have scenes where you can get to know them better. If you have played the original version of this game, it’s worth noting that a couple extra are now playable characters, who you can bring into battle.

I thought the cast of characters was very interesting overall. I found myself going out of the way to see all of the optional scenes for all of them, whereas I might not have in games with a less interesting cast. It was fun to see some of the characters interacting with each other in unexpected situations too.

Moving on to the graphical side of things, I was quite impressed considering that this was originally a PlayStation 3 game. It has been changed to high resolution and it looks quite good overall, if understandably not as impressive as the newest game in the Atelier series. There are still some low-quality textures mixed in there, but it’s better than I expected. The illustrations are beautiful too.

The audio was also a positive experience. The background music is a fairly wide selection and fits well with the scenes. The game includes voice acting throughout in both English and Japanese, so you can choose whichever you prefer. This was introduced in the ‘Plus’ version, again not being in the original.

Overall, I really enjoyed Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk DX. While I may have some mixed feelings about the alchemy system and took issue with the difficulty spike, I enjoyed the world, the characters, all the side stories experienced along the journey and the relaxed feeling of the game.

If you would like more detail about the remaster of the trilogy as a whole, please see the overall reviews linked here.

The trilogy pack can be bought digitally on Steam. You can also buy Atelier Ayesha, Escha & Logy and Shallie individually on Humble Bundle or Steam for PC, or on the respective console store. Physical versions are available via Play-Asia at the time of writing.

Many thanks to Koei Tecmo for the review copy.

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