The Atelier games are one of those must-buy series for me. When a new one arrives on the scene, I know I'm going to get it sooner or later. From the promotional material available, it was obvious that Atelier Ayesha: Alchemist of the Ground of Dusk was going to be something special, and so I chose to get it sooner. While much of it has been "same ol' Atelier," there have been a few surprises along the way.
Let's start with the setting. In a remote, forgotten corner of the world lies the Ground of Dusk. Perhaps not the most effective of translations, but it presents the proper image. This is not a particularly developed area, but it was at one time. Atelier Ayesha has a setting that's quite a bit different from its predecessors in many regards. It's post-apocalyptic. Well technically, it's about a thousand years post-apocalyptic, which has given the local biosphere a chance to recover (in most cases), covering up some of the ruins that dot the landscape. These bizarre examples of architecture possess a strange, almost organic feel at times, like the odd spheroid that holds a beautiful herb garden, or the arc of unknown material that forms the backbone of the first town. Others, like the glassworks or the great library, are recognizable in form and purpose even if their scope is beyond cyclopean.
Very little is known about these ruins. Who built them? For what purpose? Why do monsters seem to defend and repair some but not others? Why do people sometimes disappear inside them?
Now, some Atelier heroines start off knowing the basics of alchemy, and some never heard of it before the start of their personal adventures. Ayesha is the only one I know of who is actually in both situations. She was trained as an apothecary, learned everything from her late grandfather, and at first refuses to believe that she could possibly be something as awesome as the alchemists described in books. A friend finally has to break it to her that normal people can't produce baguettes out of cauldrons.
The alchemy part, always the meat of the Atelier games, has seen some changes, but nothing drastic has occurred. When making an item, five bars in the ingredients' information must be considered. The black bar is an item's overall quality level. The other four are color-coded to the four elements — an interesting throwback to the Salburg games in the series. Each ingredient has varying levels of each color, and the resulting item takes all these values together to determine which attributes occur in the final product. Boosting a particular color past a certain value unlocks new attributes for the item created, instead of relying on the attributes of the ingredient items like in earlier games of the series.
"While much of it has been "same ol' Atelier," there have been a few surprises along the way."
While battles have never been a major part of the series, Ayesha shows some improvement here as well. There's a positioning mechanic in effect, and party members have an additional sort of added attack where they can leap behind enemies to take advantage of them. There is only a handful of party members in this game, and only three of them are available for the first half or so, but they represent a range of character builds with different uses in combat. Battle systems may not be Gust's strongest suit, but this one's a good job all around.
In this game, Ayesha's real progress is measured in memories. Everything seems to increase her stock of memory points — collecting new items, beating new monsters, even just talking with random people can get a point or two. Most memory points come from surveying areas, making new items, and occasionally taking on special monster groups. Important plot points leave such an impression on Ayesha that she just has to record them in her diary. Each memory needs a certain number of points to be inscribed, but after it's written down Ayesha gets bonuses to her ability to make various item types, or sometimes direct stat bonuses.
Other changes are more minor in scope, but they change the feel of the game a lot. For instance, Atelier Ayesha is the first game in the series to dispense with the Puni, the gumdrop-shaped slime that has been a Gust mascot for years. It's not the first to eliminate a central hub for finding employment, but this game does take request system down to the street level, as Ayesha has to locate people in the various towns and see to their wants if she's to have any cash on hand. Just selling items is not going to cut it in this title. For an extra boost of cash, a relic-crazy businessman in the second town organizes a contest every six months where Ayesha can show off an item and possibly win a big cash prize for "most surprising." It's very similar to the auction setup in Atelier Violet, actually (though at least this time I didn't lose out to some kid with a cute frog).
Atelier Ayesha has, at least so far, been going at a steady pace. There hasn't been an overwhelming number of things to do at any given time, and the minimum amount of ingredient gathering needed to fully assess an area has sufficed to keep the heroine well stocked. No insane demands on time or materiel have come up as yet, though finding all the recipe books has proven to be more of a challenge. The scenery has been beautiful and the music flawless. The non-party characters have all had a much larger role than I'd expected, with several funny subplots that sometimes lead back into the main plot of the story. Really, there isn't much more I would ask of an Atelier title. Gust looks to have found a good mix of ingredients in this one.