Developer: Gust Corporation
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Platform: PlayStation 3
Release Date: March 5, 2013
ESRB: T for Teen
For the past few years, the long-running Atelier franchise has been one of the very few series that I don't mind playing in annual doses. These strange RPG titles blend a focus on unconventional item-crafting with light-hearted character interactions, while also making very significant improvements with each PS3 release. As much as I enjoyed the previous PS3 games (well, minus Rorona), it was about time for Gust to break away from the Arland trilogy of games with a new setting and characters.
Fortunately for me, Atelier Ayesha does just that by being a completely independent title and having a more approachable overall structure. The question is: Does it do enough to appeal to a wider audience as well as satiate fans of the most recent releases?
Meet the young apothecary, Ayesha Altugle, who lives by herself crafting medicine after her grandfather and, more recently, sister passed away. Upon visiting her sister's grave, who was believed to be spirited away three years ago, Ayesha notices a silent phantom figure that resembled her sister, Nio, before it shortly disappears. An elderly alchemist who happened to nearby, Keithgriff, notices the strange occurrence and tells her that it was quite possibly no coincidence at all and her sister may very well still be alive. Ayesha fails to press too much information out of Keith, however, who only tells her vaguely that if she wants to possibly save her sister she must pursue alchemy and uncover the mystery behind special glowing flowers within three years time otherwise she will forever lose any chance of seeing Nio again.
In contrast to the most recent PS3 Atelier games, which were usually overwhelming bubbly and energetic from the get-go, Atelier Ayesha starts with a surprisingly bleaker overall tone. In terms of setting, there are hints of constant decay across the region and the disappearance of Nio serve as lingering undertones throughout. Of course, the game doesn't get oppressively morbid by any means, and it is certainly more whimsical than most games with its character interactions alone, but it is an interesting, albeit subtle, tonal shift from the earlier games. Unfortunately, the storytelling itself isn't as intriguing as it is built up to be in the long run, and interesting aspects about the setting are not fully touched upon, possibly reserved for the upcoming Atelier Esha & Logy, but it does earn itself some endearing moments through its characters and interactions.
As for the gameplay, the various events and character interactions Ayesha encounters meshes together to help structure the game. By gaining 'memories' they will open various benefits throughout the game, like stat increases, alchemy recipes exploration bonuses, and much more, and it serves as an interesting replacement for Atelier Meruru's kingdom development system. Ayesha can also chronicle these events in her diary through the use of 'memory points' to reap even more benefits. Memory points are generally gained through exploration, completing quests, synthesizing, and defeating monsters. In conjunction with storytelling and gameplay, this facet melds together rather cohesively, especially when working towards the many endings and narrative events.
During Ayesha's journey she will also traverse across the region. Navigation is simple with a straightforward overworld map through the various locales, with time passing as Ayesha explores and travels to new areas. Contrary to the narrative, the game is also less pressing time-wise than previous Atelier games, due to its more ambiguous objectives and structure, which is probably rather welcoming for newcomers. In addition to expanding the narrative, traveling allows Ayesha to gather new items for synthesizing and to fight various monsters in a simple turn-based combat system.
The combat system of Ayesha seems to utilize some familiar framework of the Arland trilogy, with support meters that build up through a battle: so party members can defend, follow-up attacks, status enhancing skills, and use devastating finishing moves during combat. New to Atelier Ayesha, however, is an extra layer of depth, with a positioning based system where allies can attack from behind, side, and, of course, the front of enemies. While it does sound like an improvement overall, I think it takes a couple steps back from the pace of Atelier Meruru. Battles and attack animations are quite noticeable slower (and less flashy) than Meruru's, and Ayesha herself feeling less useful in combat. Considering Atelier Ayesha's lack of difficulty and the relatively simple combat, the slower combat system feesl like one step forward, and two steps back, like much of the game in general.
Through the use of Alchemy, or rather, the act of synthesizing, makes for an important aspect of the Atelier series and Atelier Ayesha isn't too different, in theory. Having said that, synthesizing is a bit more contrived and not as integral in this Atelier compared to the Arland trilogy. The quantity and quality of item forging isn't as important, that isn't necessarily a bad thing for newcomers who just want to meet the bare minimum for quests, but it is actually less intuitive than previous games for veteran synthesizers. Deeper nuances of crafting feel restricted until Ayesha raises her skills a fair bit and gains much better quality ingredients. A bigger problem is that, alchemy really feels like it is much less purposeful in general, since it mainly used for basic quest design for revenue, and its overall benefits feeling much more passive compared to what I found to be the much more actively rewarding Atelier Meruru.
One of my bigger nitpicks is with the clumsy design for town based quests or 'delivery requests'. While the goal/task/log interface is intuitive for more story/character pertinent missions, or objectives in various other locations, the local quests or 'delivery requests' in towns are never marked. So the game pretty much expects you to remember what NPCs wanted what. I know I said alchemy doesn't feel as important, since it isn't exactly for anything beyond town requests, but it is the main means of obtaining specific items for the NPCs. Players will definitely want the funds from delivery requests since they are the game's most consistent source of revenue. Considering how there is quite a few delivery requests with deadlines and several towns, it seems like a needless annoyance to not have it noted when the general interface is done rather well.
It's apparent that Atelier Ayesha isn't a very high budget title if you go by looks alone, with that in mind, I do appreciate the new shift in art direction. The prude in me appreciates the more conservatively dressed character designs who actually have pretty faithful character models to complement it. Though, almost to contrast, the environments are still very stark and bland throughout, with the few exceptions of the visual vibrancy with certain flowers motifs for presentation.
On the audio front, Atelier Ayesha has an excellent musical score, and is almost in a different league comparison to the Arland trilogy, and it plays with a bunch of musical styles. The soundtrack is a real treat overall from whimsical waltz-like themes, toe-tapping worthy jazzy tracks, to the more stirring and foreboding choruses. Voice acting is also not bad, but has some drawbacks, primarily due to budget constraints. Compared to the Japanese release there is significantly less recorded voice acting overall, and the dub in general relegated to English-only with no Japanese alternative, which that alone incited some unfortunate internet controversy. Taken all into account, however, Atelier Ayesha does some seriously impressive stuff with the soundtrack, and even the English dub is decent too for the most part despite its constraints.
Atelier Ayesha is both a pleasant diversion and also a disappointing departure from what the previous Arland trilogy established. While the change in tone, setting, characters, and presentation are most certainly welcome, I feel like it takes a noticeable step back as a game with a far less engaging and rewarding structure, especially in comparison to Atelier Meruru. It makes for a more approachable Atelier game, but not necessary the most entertaining. It's definitely a good game in its own right, but I can only hope that the upcoming Atelier Escha & Logy takes some cues from the Arland trilogy, while capitalizing and fully-expanding upon the things Atelier Ayesha tried to do different.
+ Likable characters and some endearing scenes
+ Pleasant new art direction
+ Plenty of things to do and is the most approachable PS3 game in the series
+ Excellent soundtrack and decent English voice acting
- Battles are too slow considering their simplicity and game“s lack of difficulty
- Narrative and setting are underutilized
- Alchemy/Synthesizing is not very rewarding... for series built on it
- Clumsy quest interface
Overall Score: 7.0 (out of 10)
Atelier Ayesha is both charming for what it tries to do different as well as disappointing for what it doesn't do quite as well. While it isn't necessarily the most engaging game in the series, it is the most approachable PS3 title and it will hopefully serve as a solid foundation for the upcoming Atelier Escha & Logy.
A download code was provided by the publisher for this review