Hanashirube (Flower Marks) by Mutsumi Nomiyama
As your hand slipped out of my grasp,
A sweet, nostalgic wind blew past me
I’m being led to a small, freshly-bloomed flower bed
I begin walking…
I’ll go to that faraway place
I’ll go to where you’re waiting
Our promise begins
I’d wanted to write this for yesterday, but no matter. Today’s Under Your Radar is Atelier Ayesha ~The Alchemist of Dusk~ (Atelier Ayesha ~Alchemist of the Land of Dusk~ in Japan). It is the 14th game of the Atelier series, and the first title of the Dusk sub-series, which was followed-up by Atelier Escha & Logy ~Alchemists of the Dusk Sky~ and the upcoming Atelier Shallie ~Alchemists of the Dusk Sea~.
It was also the first game of the series to be localized since Tecmo-Koei bought out developer GUST. As such, Tecmo-Koei USA and Tecmo-Koei Europe took over publishing in the West at the last minute using a localization NIS America had already mostly completed… but excluded the Japanese voice track for the first and only time in the series.
Atelier Ayesha is currently available on PS3 and was ported to the Vita in Japan. This review is going up now because this game is on discount on PSN this week. I’ve already covered the two other titles in the series in that sale, but if you’re unaware, Atelier is a series about item crafting. Everything is merely for the sake of item crafting, including combat when it’s not for the sake of story progression.
This time, in a world with little livable land remaining, we follow the story of Ayesha Altugle, a young but (somehow, despite being placed literally in the middle of nowhere with no towns nearby) successful apothecary who makes medicine via alchemy (even though she doesn’t know she is until a traveler points it out). A few years before the plot kicks off, her younger sister Nio goes missing while gathering herbs for Ayesha and is presumed dead. One day, when visiting her grave, what appears to be a magic hologram of Nio appears in the middle of a small field of flowers surrounding said grave, and a travelling alchemist on the run from the law by the name of Heathgriff informs Ayesha that, with alchemy, her sister can be saved. But he won’t tell Ayesha how to do it – she must figure it out for herself.
With this knowledge in hand, Ayesha closes up shop and decides to go on a journey. So she packs most of her belongings onto her cow… pig… thing? (it says “oink moo”, I shit you not) and sets off. This is an immediately interesting start to the story, but Ayesha very quickly ends up setting herself up for the rest of the game across three different locations in addition to her home, one of which is central to most events of the game, as you will need to return there to advance most plot and character events. So much for a journey.
Keithgriff wasn’t kidding when he told Ayesha to figure things out for herself. The game also takes that stance on mechanical end of things. For most of the game, you’re completely blind, trying to figure out what you need to do to save Nio, but with no indication of what you need to do until Ayesha eventually figures it out. In the meantime, you’re just told to do whatever, which, in my case, involved synthesizing every alchemy recipe at least once. I hit the maximum level the game allows for alchemy quite early, as a result. That said, unless you have a dictionary or otherwise work with swords and the like in real life, you’ll have no idea how to upgrade your equipment, as the game never explains it to you.
The combat is a simple evolution on the Arland combat system. Just like before, you have two other characters and an alchemist, who’s the only one allowed to use any items. When attacked, you can have characters defending you. When attacking, you can have characters supporting you.
The differences here are that, firstly, you’re not limited to defending the alchemist this time, and the alchemist herself can defend someone else. Secondly, characters may support attacks from any other character. Thirdly, either of the aforementioned actions affect your positioning, which is important to manage for the use of items and to avoid having everyone get hit by a single enemy attack. This makes for a battle system that’s shallow enough to not take too much time for incidental combat, but more than deep enough to have satisfying tougher fights.
As far as the combat is similar to Arland, however, the alchemy is not nearly as much. It is far more involved, although control is initially taken away from you to the point that it gets annoying. That said, you can’t pass down traits like before (or it took so late into the game to get the ability that I don’t recall being able to, either-or). How do you get traits, then? Simple. You fill up several element bars within specific ranges for certain abilities to be unlocked. You have a few abilities to allow you to mess with parts of the synthesis, but most of the elemental power comes from the ingredients selected. This version of alchemy would be perfected in its follow-up, but it was pretty bare-bones here.
As usual, the game has a variety of endings. To get any other than the bad ending, you must first rescue Nio before your three years are up. Unlike the latter two Arland games, you don’t get any bonus time, so your time leftover in those 3 years after saving Nio is all you have to meet the remaining ending requirements. (You also, sadly, have to save Nio before the barrel line is allowed to show up.) Endings this time range from incidental things like hanging out with your friends to life-changing decisions such as leaving the area semi-permanently to go on a journey for a very long time.
The true ending, Sage’s Hermitage, has Ayesha regarded as a saint even though she honestly doesn’t even consider herself to be anyone amazing. However, Sage’s Hermitage isn’t the canon ending, according to Atelier Escha & Logy. Willbel’s ending, The Witch and the Alchemist, where Wilbell makes a contract with a powerful wind spirit and reports to her grandmother with Ayesha in tow, is. This can be inferred from how the events of that ending are the only ones mentioned in Escha & Logy. I’ll be honest, Keithgriff’s ending, Search for the Truth, which has Ayesha leave on a long journey with Keithgriff and Nio to see if she did the right thing, appears to be the canon ending at first, but Escha & Logy requires Wilbell’s presence, and she’s notably absent among those leaving on a journey in that ending.
What is especially nice here that wasn’t in the Arland games is that you can meet the requirements of several endings at once and you get your choice of them at the end of the game, unlike the Arland titles, where you have to save late in the game with a save file perfectly set-up to adjust to meet the requirements for the ending you wanted (which doesn’t even always work in all of those games for all their endings, mind you).
For the new game plus this time, the usual money, equipment and adventuring equipment carry over, but Ayesha’s alchemy skills will also do so. Additionally, you can choose to start the game 11 in-game days in, at the point where Ayesha reaches Vierzeburg on 4/11 year 1. Such a useful new game plus is convenient for a second playthrough for the purpose of getting 100%, as one tends to do with Atelier games – play though normally once, then min-max the heck out of the second playthrough.
Atelier Ayesha is a fun Atelier game, but the deliberate lack of direction given to the player is such that I would not recommend it as one’s first title in the series. It is fine as a second one, however. I just don’t appreciate how the game fakes you out about how Ayesha’s going on a grand journey only to settle down in a big city about one hour of play later.