Dust: An Elysian Tail Review
Dust: An Elysian Tail is the last game in this years Summer of Arcade promotion on Xbox LIVE. And, if I do say so myself, it is by far the best one. This is a fact that is astounding considering it is an Indie game that was mostly developed by a one person team, Humble Hearts. In fact, outshines many games with much higher budgets and much larger teams.
You play as Dust, an anthropomorphic cat with
insomnia amnesia. After being woken up in the middle of a forest by a talking sword called Ahrah, Dust is joined by Fidget, the flying cat-bat who serves as his constant companion and the games quirky comedic relief, and leaves on a journey to find out who he is and what he is supposed to do. The world of Falana is inhabited by all sorts of anthropomorphic characters like Dust and Fidget, from rabbits to lizards and bears. These characters are being terrorized by the evil General Gaius and Dust, ever the hero, feels the need to put an end to his brutality.
Dust is a throwback to many styles of games from JRPG’s to classic 2D side scrolling adventures like Castlevania. Each area is laid out in a 2D plane and has exits that are either up, down, left, or right, as shown by square areas in the minimap. As you progress in the story the methods that you use to explore these areas become more diverse. In fact, you’ll often be backtracking into previously explored areas to visit places that you weren’t able to access before obtaining your new ability. This is not as cumbersome as it sounds, however, as these areas often yield some sort of prize, whether it be a chest filled with treasure a new challenge arena in which to test your mettle. This mechanic of exploration is where the game really shines. It is wholly enjoyable to explore the regions and, with a little help from Fidget (an icon appears above her head when you enter an area that has a hidden treasure chest), find new chest to open. Chest themselves require keys to open, which can be found scattered around the world or purchased for a hefty sum from the merchant. A few familiar faces are locked away in hidden cages, as well, but I won’t spoil the surprise any further.
Soon after you Dust wakes up in the forest, he’s joined by his two companions for the entirety of the game, Fidget and the mystical sword Ahrah. These two characters are not only the main proponents of the story, but they are also your only tools with which to combat the nefarious monsters that terrorize the land of Falana. After learning a few combo moves with your sword, you’re taught to use Fidgets attack. Fidget is able to throw projectiles out that on their own are nothing short of useless, but coupled with Dust’s “Dust Storm” ability become a force to be reckoned with. Chaining this ability with your regular attacks will see your combo counter soar in to the hundreds and beyond.
Unfortunately, aside from the two button combos, “Dust Storm”, and Fidget’s projectiles there isn’t much else to the combat. In fact, other than a few upgrades that change Fidget’s projectiles properties, there’s nothing else to be learned. So, while the combat early on in the game is a very fun and rewarding experience, you’ll find that later in the game it becomes boring and quite repetitive. Moreover, the tactics you use to fight the varied enemies you’ll come up against won’t change either. Besides the looming giants that have to be stunned with a well-timed parry and the most powerful monsters, the chapter bosses, enemies will fall at your feet from a well slashes of your blade or gust from your whirlwind attack. With that said however, combat is very fluid, allowing it to still be enjoyable.
The challenge arena’s that you’ll find later on in the game offer a well deserved break from the games main story. The basic task is to navigate the areas as quickly as you can while destroying enemies and a special type of lamp found only in the challenge areas. Depending on how quickly you completed the stage, how many monsters you defeated, and how many lamps you managed to find and destroy, you’re awarded a score. Your high score appears on a Leaderboard, so trying for the top spot is a fun distraction. Completing the challenge arena’s also rewards you with special items.
Dust also features one of the best crafting systems I’ve seen in a game. Defeating enemies will often yield materials which can then be crafted into a new item granted you have the dough to spend on it and the blueprint. Blueprints are often given as rewards for completing the many side missions given by the inhabitants of Falana and less often as loot drops from defeating an enemy. Considering the randomness of earning materials, it should be rather difficult to earn the materials needed to craft any particular item, however Dust makes up for this pitfall by offering a unique method of renewing materials. By trading in a new material that you find to a merchant, the item is cataloged in the merchant’s inventory. So, every so often the merchants inventory will be updated and, granted they are cataloged, materials will be restocked and become available to purchase.
Even though Dust carries the same sword throughout the game, there are still many items that you can equip to enhance his abilities, including sword enhancements, rings, necklaces, and armor. These can either be purchased, crafted, or found and can often provide additional abilities like automatic health regeneration. Another way to increase Dust’s abilities is through the leveling system. Slaying monsters and completing quests earns you experience that, when enough is earned, will cause you to level up. You can then assign a single point to one of Dust’s four attributes, Health, Attack, Defense, and Fidget (used to increase the effectiveness of her projectiles).
It goes without saying, but Dust: An Elysian Tail is beautiful. The hand painted backgrounds are lush and entice you to press ever onward. There are no two areas that are alike. Each area is as varied as the enemy types in the game. Dialogue moments play out like an anime show, with Dust and whomever else brought to the forefront of the screen.
The Bottom Line: Dust: An Elysian Tail is an amazing game that offers beautiful vistas, exploration that never gets old, . Unfortunately, it does have a shallow and repetitive combat system that leaves much wanting and a so-so storyline.
Nizulo scores this game 9/10
Dust: An Elysian Tail is now available for download exclusively on the Xbox 360 for 1200 MSPs ($15 USD).
***UPDATE*** I mistakenly said that Dust has insomnia when, in fact, he has amnesia. Correction was made.