May 30, 2013
Atelier Ayesha starts the lonely apothecary Ayesha, who lives alone in her workshop making a meager living selling medicine to the local travelling merchant following the death of her younger sister, Nio. Unlike the more upbeat tone of the game's predecessors, Atelier Ayesha's world, Dusk, is full of broken ruins and barren stretches of wasteland due to the misuse of alchemy long ago. Things change when she sees a vision of her sister above a garden of glowing flowers when visiting her grave. A traveling alchemist informs Ayesha that her sister isn't dead but is instead “missing”, without giving any more information. Giving her life purpose for the first time in years, Ayesha vows to save Nio.
As can be seen above, for those who played the previous games this is already an improvement over the previous titles in tone and shift. There's still a number of more lighthearted scenes with some quite humorous dialogue, but the overall arching definitely motivates the player to see it through to completion. Atelier Ayesha's eventual conclusion is a nice bookend for the game and there's ten different endings for the player to encounter depending on their choices throughout the game. The new cast of characters debuting in Atelier Ayesha also help to flesh out the story, although Ayesha herself is initially grating as she doesn't grow much of a backbone till later in the game as she becomes more confident.
Like the previous PS3 Atelier games, Ayesha is split into two parts: item synthesis and exploration/combat. The two systems work together as Ayesha has to fight enemies and gather ingredients in order to create items. These items in turn are used to fulfill requests, advance the storyline and help out during combat. One nice touch to the synthesis system is that the player can make things as complicated or uncomplicated as they want, although higher-quality items are more advantageous in battle and help satisfy requests faster.
Unlike the Arland trilogy, however, requests in Ayesha have to be tracked down manually instead of through a unified hub. This is further complicated by the fact that there's no in-game quest log to refer to, so players will end up going back and forth to keep track of requests. Thankfully Ayesha maps a quick travel option to the Start button, but it's still not a worthy substitute to a proper tracking system. Also, oddly enough Ayesha can't craft equipment, instead only be able to strengthen equipment randomly dropped from enemies using whetstones and dyes.
One rather neat system in Ayesha is the memory point system, which occurs when Ayesha jots down in her diary following a major event. If the player spends memory points they can expand these jottings into a full diary entry which provides both a story recap and special bonuses such as increased EXP gain and improved HP/MP regeneration while traveling on the world map. It isn't as expansive as the kingdom expansion system found in Atelier Meruru, but it's a nice tie into the overall narrative and fits the game well.
Like in the Arland trilogy, Ayesha's battles are turn-based with the order determined by the player and enemy's speed stats. Each party member has support actions which can be used to defend weaker members and perform follow-up attacks. Super moves also make their return, which allow players to deal devastating attacks to enemies. New to Ayesha is the ability to position characters on the battlefield, which can be utilized to hit enemies for more damage from the rear or initiate special support actions, just to name a few options. All in all it's basically the same system as the previous titles, so if you were turned off before this won't do much to change your mind.
Graphically, Atelier Ayesha is a mixed bag. The cel-shaded character models from the Arland trilogy are improved upon in Ayesha with a much more color palette that closely matches the original character designs. New to the series is the rendering of the models in real-time during the cutscenes which does a lot to make the world and the characters feel more alive. Sadly the environments themselves are somewhat lacking compared to the models. Many areas feel somewhat low-budget and out of place juxtaposed against the character models.
The soundtrack is one of the game's highlights as it carries on the same high quality found in the Arland trilogy with only a few slightly grating tracks among the list. The English dub is serviceable, being brought down by the script material more than the voices themselves. It's fine if you want the full-on English experience, but most fans will probably wish they could have stuck with the Japanese voices which were oddly removed in Atelier Ayesha.
Atelier Ayesha isn't a step back or a step forward --- it's more like a step sideways. For everything the game does right, there's some other minor thing that's flawed in some fashion. If you are a fan of the series you'll feel right at home, but if you were on the fence or disliked the Arland trilogy there isn't much here to sway you over. There's a lot of good groundwork laid here, though, so hopefully future entries will build on that and get rid of the negatives found in Atelier Ayesha.