After a full week of playing this alchemy game, I decided to do a review.
Personally, before this game came out, I only heard about it via word of mouth from another person who mentioned it would come out March 5. I vaguely remembered this, but the point is that I was a bit peeved on the extreme lack of promotional material on this game. I was only able to get a good sense that this game would be decent from intuition as well as viewing Atelier Ayesha streams on the day 1 release.
I’m not much of a hardcore gamer. I looked at my handed down PS3 and thought it’d be nice to have one solid Japanese RPG game, but only one, since I basically have no PS3 games of my own. At first I was extremely bitter about the partial dub of the release, and it wasn’t until I thought about the business side of things where the decision made more sense due to the March 5 deadline as well as the transition phase from Tecmo Koei’s acquisition. Basically, I generally dislike paying full price on a game, especially when I feel like the game was over-glorified, not worth the hype, or riddled with problems on release, which feels like happens more often nowadays.
I also originally didn’t want to buy Atelier Ayesha because buying it implies that the partial dub and taking out the Japanese audio practice is okay. With Tecmo Koei seemingly making this game fend for itself with little to no promotional material, an incomplete dubbing, and removal of Japanese audio, it’s like a complete slap to the face. If the sales do fine, then it implies they can cut costs by taking out dual audio and having incomplete dubbing. If the sales do terrible, then they can justify killing off the series. I wouldn’t care if the game or series actually sucks, but if it’s actually decent, it’s too bad it suffers from the stigma of what it is before it even gets a chance. There’s nothing in the West that really favors it at all, and it’s certainly not graphically intensive for visuals.
This isn’t the only time I was angry at Tecmo Koei either, as there was a previous game not too long ago where I also completely disagreed with their decisions on features taken out and features implemented. Later I let that go noticing that this is an entire gaming industry trend, promoting preordering, making an awesome trailer, and subsequently potentially sucking while refusing to give out any details of the game until release so that there aren’t early reviews that would sway people away from preordering. However, either this is a current reality that will stick, or several series are going to simply die from this effect from refusal to purchase from these business practices. Since the Atelier series is niche as it already is, this game didn’t have the marketing, the branding, nor the explosive high end intensive graphics that you commonly see in much more popular series.
In the end I still decided to buy the game anyways, because I had a good sense that the mechanics and direction of the game was one I would not have a problem with. It deterred components from previous Atelier games that kept me away from the series, yet integrated enough to catch my interest.
Boy I was satisfied after the purchase. After finishing the game, I definitely felt this is one of those small adventures that’s nice to accommodate something else you have, but not a focal game worth the full $50. The strengths of the game definitely far outweighed the lack of dual audio or the fact that it has partial dub, because I found myself skipping through lines a lot anyways.
I also noticed that this game doesn’t really use any excessive fanservice, or at least an extreme amount by any stretch. If anything, everything was done in moderation. I’d go as far as saying this game is an all-ages game suitable for even a five year old.
Now to the actual review.
The game basically feels more streamlined for a wider audience. If there’s alchemy, the complexity is lower than previous iterations. Despite the lower complications, I personally thought the system was complicated enough where it’s not all that simple. It took a while to realize how to optimize better and how to fully use the functions. The system itself I give a thumbs up to.
The characters aren’t particularly deep, but they’re very simple to follow. They’re fairly interchangeable, and due to side quests, the game actually encourages you to periodically switch between characters to learn more about them and discover more things in the game. This also isn’t problematic, because the number of characters that can join your party is small in count, so it is completely manageable. Ayesha herself is a likable character, and integrates reason too. Compared to previous Atelier games, I felt the characters were physically bigger, reducing the effect of the characters being seemingly too small or childish in any sense. This game also doesn’t have an invincibility complex, so the characters feel a little bit more human, having limits and such.
The game’s premise itself is basically Ayesha searching for her little sister Nio after realizing that when she went missing, she wasn’t dead. Ayesha had been living alone making medicine for a living after her grandfather who taught her some basic alchemy had passed away. The game’s storyline does mention that Ayesha actively has to discover things herself, instead of the game telling you what to do. This is nice in that it allows free exploration and a small bit of thinking. The problematic portion would be that the event triggers seem a bit random and the game doesn’t actually remotely tell you where or what would happen when. However, if there was careful reading on the dialogue, it does at least vaguely specify who or where you want to go next. Unfortunately, this is also very easy to forget. I like this feature because the game itself will reflect if Ayesha forgot to do something, meaning the protagonist of the game is much more reflective of what the user does. I find this rather neat where the content of the dialogue some characters say to Ayesha can be reflected itself in the performance of the user’s gameplay.
The game is also fairly forgiving. For instance, if you fall in combat, you simply lose a day, instead of getting a massive game over. Essentially there’s no inherently bad penalty other than inefficiency of time management. Although the game is subject to a three year limit, I did feel there was plenty enough time to cover both the main quest and all the side quests. It does not feel rushed, even if you completely miss or delay by even a good year, it’s still possible to perform reasonably. Also, it’s still challenging where one can feel bottlenecked, where at times the undiscovered places are too strong to explore, yet there aren’t other active side quests. This limitation also encourages revisiting older locations to trigger other events, making it rather difficult to completely miss something.
As far as the battle system goes, I do like the positioning concept, where you can actively do back attacks, or other team up combinations based on an AC bar. This feels more teamwork oriented as you can literally have nearby allies protect each other, as well as invoke a battle strategy that uses a certain formation. You also naturally heal as you spend days traveling through the map. The characters are specialized, so Ayesha for example has access to using healing items or items that strike the enemy, but doesn’t have access to a skill set a sword user or magician may have. Same applies to other allies and their skill sets. It’s varied enough to be different, but similar enough that any party combination should work as long as you use each character’s strengths accordingly.
Another feature of the battle system is that enemies are clearly visible on the map. The game allows you to press the square button to have Ayesha swing her staff horizontally to initiate combat. This allows a preemptive strike. What I found really interesting is that if your level is significantly higher than the monster, you instantly KO it without entering battle! I don’t believe you get exp (which would be negligible from a much weaker monster anyways), but you do get drops. This is actually really convenient when you need to navigate through already explored territory for something and saves on literal time on a possibly pointless battle.
I believe one of the game’s best features is the music score. The music was fun to listen to, and in the advent you wanted a different selection, you do have the option to change the background music for nearly every segment of the game with music from previous Atelier games.
This game has an interesting feature called the memory system. It’s a system where key events lead Ayesha to learning something she would like to keep in a diary. These notes taken allow extremely nice boosts that either increase Ayesha’s fundamental battle stats, or improve her alchemy by allowing stronger synthesis. This would also encourage more exploration as opposed to trying to generate a high alchemy level early on in the game. Memory points aren’t difficult to get, and the bonuses are solid boosts that are very nice to have. An irony I found with this memory system is that anyone would quickly notice that for some reason Ayesha, the girly alchemist who supposedly is meant to be protected in battle, oddly gets and has more HP than her allies to the point she’s actually viable as a tank, a character that has high HP and good defenses and takes hits better than allies and doesn’t necessarily have the best damage output. Traditionally, the Atelier games have a non-combat correlated female lead striving to be an alchemist. While they do grow and get significantly stronger, they were also intended to be protected by allies, since they’re not combat-correlated, experienced, nor trained for battle. This I found amusing since I tend to dislike using consumable items as you lose the items you use, so I had Ayesha literally only attack and defend most of the game until a strong boss came around and mauls you for not being strong enough.
Apparently I was using an item on all three of my characters that grants more speed and less delay on actions, but it drains your HP every turn. I’ve very rarely encountered an item that gives you bonuses but also a penalty with it.
This game is unfortunately subject to a burn out effect, where its relatively short story can come to a close rather quickly. While replay value exists, there really isn’t much left to do if you managed to finish all the side quests along with the main quest.
Overall I was quite satisfied with the game. I had a specific demand for a Japanese RPG game on the PS3 that I have never remotely played the series of, and Atelier Ayesha satisfies all the functions I expected of it, without being predictable. Not once did I feel bored, and while it was challenging, was not ridiculously convoluted or “grindy” on any aspect. I had a lot of fun doing alchemy, so much that I delayed a lot of quests for a good six months. Sadly, my biggest enjoyment of the game came from the first 20 minutes of playtime where all I did was jump around the workshop as Ayesha, because I never played an RPG this decade that features the ability to actively jump on input.
Ayesha actually opens her mouth when she jumps.
If I had to compare this game to a game I have played before, it actually reminds me more of Princess Maker 4, where the 4th installment of a series was more streamlined than the earlier 3 games. The game is effectively easier to play, but also not riddled with any difficult complexity that makes the experience brutal. And instead of having a protagonist with dis-likable characteristics such as being whiny or impractical for instance, you have one that’s more proactive and open to ideas, without overplaying being too kind nor too naive. And while there is still a time limit, there’s more flexibility in what you can do to get there, and reasonably achieve your goal.
I won’t put a specific score rating, but the general range of 60 to 80 out of 100 I’ve seen is a fairly reasonable assessment. I would say this game favors a player who isn’t looking for something so hardcore, open to a new idea, and looking for something more intuitive rather than the standard things you look in games. Likewise this game is not without its flaws, but I personally was not griped at any aspect enough to recommend against this game. This game happened to fit my criterion nicely and was timely, so for this month I had been particularly in favor of this game. Everyone has different tastes but I definitely recommend having at least a look and have an open mind about it, especially when it went completely under the radar.