[Review] Atelier Ayesha - The Alchemist of Dusk

By now I've played through the game twice, did everything there is to do and watched all the endings. And while Meruru is still my number one when it comes to Atelier games, Ayesha is a pretty close second.

I've got to admit tho, that it took me quite a while to really get into the game. Unlike other titles from the Atelier series, Ayesha gives you a lot of freedom. An overwhelming amount of it. Combine that with Gust's not-so-very-in-depth tutorials and you are sure to be confused by the game at some point.

To me it kinda feels like Gust want you to explore Atelier games yourself first, figure out how things work and then own the games with all your knowledge on your second playthrough. Even if you can basically complete & see everything there is on your first playthrough with Ayesha, it still gives off the same vibe. And it's still fun to do so.

But let's start with what the Atelier series is about, for those of you that have never heard of it before, and what has changed for this new title and then I'll talk about how it all adds up.

The traditional Atelier games (pre-Iris & post-Mana Khemia) aren't your traditional JRPG fare. A deep battle system and epic stories of heroism aren't the focus in these games, no, instead you take on the role of a young girl trying to find her way in the world while becoming an Alchemy master. Let me quote someone from gamefaqs who summed it up quite nicely: 

"Okay, you know how every RPG has the grand heroes chosen by fate to become wonderful friends and stand up to the evil sorcerer / empire / corporation / monster and keep it from destroying the world? 

This game is not about them. 

You know how in almost every RPG, buried about halfway down the final dungeon, sitting next to the second to last save point in the game there's a shopkeeper who has every healing item in the game and every weapon or bit of armor that doesn't require an epic quest? The one who leaves you wondering: "Just how in blazes did she get down here? I'm the ridiculously powerful chosen one and it's almost impossible for me to do it, so how did a lowly shopkeeper pull it off"? 

This game is about her. "

These games are more about strategy and planning than grinding your way through dungeons. You have a time limit (usually 3 years) and actions like battles, synthesizing, item gathering and wandering around the world map will use up time. To get a good ending you need to trigger certain events in time, some by fulfilling quests, others by taking your friends to certain places or being at the right place at the right time. 

A lot of RPG gamers found this time limit to be annoying and unusual when it first got introduced to the West with Atelier Rorona, but I see it as a challenge and I love planning ahead in general. I love managing my time and resources in the best way possible, so the traditional Atelier-style does suit rather me well. 

Now while time limits were a rather strict (& pretty frustrating) thing in the first entry of the Arland series (Rorona), Totori was already a bit more forgiving and Meruru didn't really put any serious pressure on the player anymore. 

With Ayesha things get even more relaxed. While you needed to complete some goals before specific dates in the other games to avoid getting an early bad end, your only limit this time around are the 3 years of in-game time. You can finish the main story as quickly or slowly as you want within that time. There are almost no events you can miss, events that only happen on a specific date are very rare (and not even required for any of the endings/trophies), getting friend events does no longer require you to take a person to a specific place on a specific date and the likes, most of them will instead be automatically triggered on the world map when you pass a "trigger-place" with that person in your party. 

Ayesha is practically the first Atelier game where you really don't need a guide to get all endings, something which can even be achieved on your very first playthrough, a huge plus imo, even though I really enjoy playing through the Atelier games a second time, a lot of gamers do not want to be forced to do that to see everything and for most games I wouldn't want to either. Free time is usually a rather rare thing for adult-gamers and it's good to see more developers reacting to that. 

Now let's get a bit more into detail...


Graphics (3D):
The graphics are utterly beautiful. Especially the textures of the character's clothes and hair are so well done. Such a gentle, hand-drawn look. By now Gust has truly mastered the art of cel-shading. The nature and cities in Ayesha were also very nice to look at but as in all Gust games I always feel like they could need a little more detail (and nicer plant textures).

The character models definitely need more animation, especially facial expressions. Moving mouthes, occasional blinking and changing the position of an character's arm just isn't enough anymore. It would be really nice to see them change their gestures and expressions a bit more during the dialogue scenes to make them more lively.

The walking/running animations still look as stiff to me as they did in all previous games. 

There's very little variation in enemy design. Most new areas only get recolours of previous enemies. But at least all of them look pretty cool or cute (or both).

Graphics (2D):
For Ayesha Gust got a new artist, Hidari, who replaces Mel Kishida from the Arland series. The transition from the 2D designs to the 3D models works a lot better with Hidari's art style compared to Mel's style.

The 2D event scenes are all very pretty, but some of them don't even have much of a background besides some pink shoujo manga sparkles and other glittery stuff and pastel colours, something that often bothers me about games that use event CGs, it's fine if it's a close-up of the faces, but other than that they should get rid of the cheap-background-habit. I also found the girl characters to be too "super-deformed" a few times... while the dudes always seemed to look pretty cool no matter what. 

I really liked the soundtrack, especially the vocal tracks, like the beautiful opening song that often made me forget about loading my saved game and instead listen to it in full again:

Then there's songs like the creepy "Silent Hill", the jazzy "Doctor Strange" (I see where you get your inspiration, Gust.. ;D) or the beautiful "Maria"...  "Seeking Treasure" made me think of Ar Tonelico and these two are just so wondrous & magical... And then there's always the fabulous "Bug Tango" (I think that's what it translates to? ^^;), which isn't exactly a new song, but still one of my favourites. How it mocks you with all it's silliness and yet still ends up sounding catchy and sexy. 8)

Gameplay-wise things haven't changed too much. It's still a rather basic turn-based system, with speed-based turns and support-actions that can be triggered outside of a character's turn. The battle system might be a small step-back from Meruru, being a bit more simple, and besides adding in-battle-movement there's nothing new about it, but it works well and since you don't have to spend all your time fighting & grinding, it doesn't need to get too boring either. Battles have a quick flow, animations are speedy and I didn't find myself being annoyed or bored by doing a couple of fights like I was with Fate/Extra. 

The main focus is of course on the alchemy system and they did a damn good job with Ayesha's alchemy system... it IS very confusing at first, but that moment, when it clicks in your head and you finally know what exactly you're doing... that's the moment you might start having some real fun with it. I know I did. 

If you don't... don't worry too much, the game doesn't really force you to do any alchemy if you don't want to. Almost everything (you need) can be gotten some other way and what little you do need to synthesize doesn't require you to have a super high alchemy lvl either. :)

Other than doing alchemy or battling your way through the gathering places and dungeons, you can take care of requests by town folk to earn some money and collect memory points. Said memory points can be spent to write down Ayesha's memories into her journal, which will give her various bonuses like new recipes, stat boosts or being able to create more items in alchemy in one go. There's also the bi-yearly Treasure Contest in which you can show off rare items and win prizes.

I think this was my only problem with the game. While I liked a lot of the characters, I didn't really care too much for most of them for the first half of the game. Ayesha herself was probably the one I had the biggest problems with. I just don't get her. Right from the start she seems way too laid back, sheltered and oblivious to the world to me. So her little sister goes missing, the only family member that she's got left dies and what does she do? Shut herself into her workshop to produce tons of medicine, her only contact to the outside world being a travelling salesman named Ernie, who she considers to be one of her best friends and about once a year she visits the nearby city, where her other best friend Regina lives...?

Who would actually do that? Isn't that the most boring life ever? If Regina is such a good friend of hers, why doesn't she visit her more often? Why doesn't she travel around with Ernie every once in a while, if just to gather some other materials at other places to make better/different medicine. Much, much later in the game she also talks about how it's bad to just gather at one place the whole time, since things won't grow back so fast and all. 

She contradicts herself quite a few times, like in one of Regina's early scenes you learn that they've known each other for a long time and Ayesha considers her a close friend. In another scene, she meets two characters who've been friends since their teenage years and then she goes all: "Ohhhh, I wish I had a childhood friend as well."

Huh? Isn't that what Regina is? And Ernie? I mean, if you're 17 and have know them for a few years then it pretty much means you've met them while you were a child, hence them being your childhood friends.... RIGHT?

And oh, how oblivious she is to romance. It's exhausting.

I started liking most characters fairly well after a while and I even liked Ayesha in most scenes, she's not dumb or annoying and in some of the endings she's really fun and/or cool. But most of the game she just doesn't seem like she's really trying to change anything and nothing about her character really gets explained. And she's just not as fun as Meruru or as adorable as Totori. She does have her moments tho and she's not a bad character... she just doesn't seem to be a good heroine. 

I ended up liking the non-party members like Kyle, Marietta & Tanya far more than most of the playable characters... Except for Keith, because he's simply badass and awesome.


All in all Ayesha is a very good game and might be the best entry point for newcomers, as it doesn't really punish you for exploring as much as you want, but rather encourages you to do so. It lets you get the good endings without having to plan out every single in-game day, you can even platinum the thing in one go. And since the Dusk series starts off with an entirely new universe and there are no returning characters it's absolutely not required to know the other games. 

Be aware tho, that unlike ALL other Atelier games, this one does not have a Japanese voice track, but instead just a PARTIAL English dub. It's a pretty good dub tho (for NISA standards, who still localized the game, despite Tecmo-Koei being the publisher now) and it sounds A LOT like the Japanese dub. Ayesha sounds basically the same in both languages. Which goes for almost all characters and I've got to admit, that they did a superb job with the casting. The lack of voices in about half of the scenes is a bummer tho. 

Still, it's a great game, it's a beautiful game, it's a fun game. 

And it's not just a game for girls. :)


  1. Awesome, well-written (and lengthy with details) article. The not getting the Japanese voice track - I know that was an issue for a lot of people. It won't particularly bother me. Sadly, I still haven't gotten through the others yet. I need to, because the series has always been interesting to me. Glad you are enjoying it!

  2. I have to admit, that GameFAQs description really appeals to me and makes me want to play either this game or another game in the same series. Anyway, great review--thanks for sharing it :)

  3. Skip out on Rorona tho. That game is one hell of a mean bitch. There is no way to see a good ending if you don't follow a guide step-by-step. Seriously. It's VERY strict about the time limits, the battle system is the worst out of the series, the graphics are pretty meh compared to the 3 other 3D games.... and you don't really need the knowledge to enjoy Totori and Meruru.

    I actually started with Meruru, because the gameplay in the other too was too strict for me... now I'm playing Totori+ on the Vita and boy, you do need to take care of what you do, where you go and who you take a long with you. Wasting time is an absolute no-go. But both games are pretty awesome.

    To me, gameplay-wise the order of awesomeness goes like this:

    Meruru > Ayesha > Annie > Totori > Rorona. Character-wise Meruru is the best. It got all the great characters from the previous Arland games (STERK!) plus Meruru & Rufus.... oh, Rufus.. <3

    I'd really recommend starting with Ayesha tho, it's definitely the most streamlined and polished of their Atelier games, it's a good way to get used to the management-aspect without feeling pressured. :)

    The no-dual-audio thing wouldn't have bothered me as much if they'd have added a FULL English dub this time, it's just so cheap to take out the full Japanese dub and only put in a partial English dub while all other games had both. And if they take out the full dub and save licensing costs and all, then they could have done a full English dub, right? (But NISA mentioned that this happened because of bad communication between them and KT, KT forgot to mention that they'll take out the JP dub and NISA thought they just need to do a partial dub since they thought he JP dub would be there as well...)

  4. As I said to Chalgyr just now, I'd recommend starting with Ayesha.

    Or Annie on the DS, since you've got no PS3 yet and all... Annie is a bit strict when it comes to time, but totally manageable, the characters aren't as fleshed out as in the 3D titles, but they are plenty of fun and I love the adorable 2D style. :)

  5. Oh, yes, I've been considering picking up Annie for some time now. I really like the art style of that one :) I also like the art style of some of the earlier Atelier games -- like Marie for the PlayStation -- although I think it's going to be a good while before I know enough Japanese to stumble through that one!

  6. Eternal Sonata kenne ich natuerlich, als selbsternanntes Chopin-Fangirl, habs bisher aber leider nie zuende spielen koennen, da mein Ex damals die PS3 (mitsamt allen Spielen) behalten hat, als ich auszog und jetzt guck ich halt immer, dass ichs mal irgendwo guenstig fuer unter 20 Euro erwische, das erweist sich aber als schwieriger als erwartet bisher. orz

    Falls du Ayesha tatsaechlich mal spielen solltest, sag bescheid wie's dir gefallen hat! :)

  7. Ha, ein Chopin-Fangirl. Das kann ich vollkommen verstehen. :) Ich werde auf meinem Blog berichten, sobald ich Atelier Ayesha gekauft und angespielt habe.

    Danke für deinen Kommentar auf meinem Blog. Ich werde dir folgen, nur weiß ich grad nicht wie - http://www.moonprincess.com/galleries/data/media/31/bscap0071.jpg