Just a month after developer Gust released an English version of Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland, along came a new instalment in the long-running, alchemy-focused RPG franchise for Japanese shores. With several hours of Atelier Ayesha: Tasogare no Daichi no Renkinjutsushi ("The Alchemist of Twilight Land") now under our belt, we've been impressed that it retains its breadth of content and experimentation alongside the many objects and weapons that you can craft out of the blue, like in past Atelier titles.
You play as the titular character Ayesha, an alchemist who has lost much of her memory prior to the game's tale. After a series of events that take place in the first hour, she finds out that her sister, Nio, thought to be long gone, is trapped in some unknown dimension. It's up to Ayesha to find the means to bring her back, while also recovering fragments of her memory. Along the way, she comes across boatloads of people willing to help her out, and offer item-crafting requests through the long-lost art of alchemy.
And create you shall. The sole focus of all Atelier titles since Atelier Marie for the PSOne have involved synthesising ingredients into brand-new items for quest fulfilling and combat exploiting. Mixing items into weapons and curatives couldn't be easier; though the process can get deep, depending on how much experimentation you're willing to do. Alchemy requires you to combine two to four ingredients of different properties to create a batch of entirely new items. As long as an ingredient is from the same property, players can mix and match to create upgraded versions of specific items.
For instance, a standard fire potion that explodes upon contact can have its blast radius extended, or its elemental properties enhanced, if you use a higher-quality item within the same family to synthesise with. Finding extra recipes to craft bigger and better goods is just a matter of unlocking them through the game's narrative, or buying books and scrolls from in-game vendors.
No RPG would be complete without a means of resolving conflict, and this game doesn't shy away from fights. Atelier Ayesha's turn-based action introduces a buddy system, whereby party members can take one for the team during an enemy's attack. Conversely, other party members can follow up with a special attack right after a team member pulls off an attack. As long as you have enough meter in the active command gauge, it's possible to end a fight without your opponents taking a single turn.
Positioning your party also matters greatly, as enemies can take more damage when being attacked from behind. You can do this by either using the move option or initiating an action gauge rear attack-support skill between commands. Our battles were littered with encounters with wolves, pixies, giants, and mini-dragons, but the horde was no match for our deft use of the AC team-up attacks and items that we synthesised before questing.
Highlights include hand grenades with fire and physical attributes, black-colored volatile concoctions that inflict slow and poison effects, and a multi-hitting sword attack that strikes within a large radius. It also helps that on the dungeon field, Ayesha can pull off a cane strike on a foe with the square button that fills up the AC gauge and maxes it out for the fight.
In any case, you should never, ever leave the confinements of Ayesha's pad without curatives and synthesized ordinance unless you're feeling suicidal. Compared to past Atelier titles, enemies hit harder than before early in the game, to the point that we had to keep one of our party member's AC gauge filled so that she could provide cover for one of our compatriots with a lower constitution.
Throughout the course of the adventure, you will see a counter on the top right of the screen displaying the number of months, years, and days that have passed by. Travelling and gathering ingredients takes time, which in turn will affect story bits in the game and possible branching paths and endings. A memory points system is also implemented, meaning that for every action Ayesha does, she gains a certain number of points to unlock pieces of her memory using her diary in the alchemy lab. Not only does this unravel the story further, but she also gets statistical boosts like higher hit points or a higher chance to get a bonus synthesizing effect.
Gust still has room for polish in the presentation department, and we noticed graphical faults from the previous title Atelier Meruru cropping up in Atelier Ayesha. Expect to find character mouths move continuously even after speech is completed, stilted animations and some frame rate dips while in the game's major town.
Also, for a game that claims to be darker than past Atelier entries, we have yet to see the progression put into effect. The game's aesthetics are still as cheery as in past versions, though we hope that's something that will change as we investing more time into the narrative. For now, we're content to bask in the watercolor-plastered atmosphere the game has to offer, complete with its cast of characters like Winbell the 14-year old witch-in-training, Regina the burly female ruins excavator, and Linca the quiet female bodyguard who speaks with a big sword.
This installment in the Atelier series still retains its charming aesthetics, setting, and alchemy concept, and as a result, we can't wait to see how the rest of the game unfolds. The NIS Games staff is currently working on the game's English localization; so at least for now, RPG fans will need to import a copy as it is available now.