Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist Of Twilight Land (officially localized as the Alchemist Of Dusk, but I refuse to call it that because it’s a stupid name) is the latest in the Atelier RPG series developed by Gust, it's worth noting that this game isn't connected to the previous 3 games at all, so if you want to jump in, you can do it here.
Atelier Ayesha tells the story of one of the best named protagonists in video game history, Ayesha Altugle, who runs a small alchemy workshop where she makes medicine, along with her pet…uh…cow…moose…yak…thing, the main gist of the plot is that her sister vanished one day while gathering herbs, but Ayesha spots an apparition of her one day after going under the assumption that she was dead, this motivates her to discover the secret behind her sister’s disappearance so yeah, it’s pretty much Totori, but the main draw of the past 3 games has never been plot, it’s gameplay.
Ayesha brings a plethora of changes, not only to gameplay, but to the overall tone of the game as well, the happy go lucky fluffy worlds with no conflict are gone, replaced with a darker color palate, overall tone, and shift of focus, even the very art of alchemy is given a surprisingly dark background, something that completely came out of left field. The Arland games centered almost entirely on the main character, while Ayesha slightly shifts the focus away from the main character exclusively to building an actual story that unfolds very well, all of this is a very welcome change from the previous games, however the vast majority of the characters, in complete contrast to the environment or story, are completely happy and cheerful, and this makes the whole experience a bit jarring.
Among the changes Ayesha brings is a complete overhaul to the already deep alchemy system, instead of choosing items, throwing them together, and choosing traits, you get a much more daunting alchemy screen, with a stock yard where multiple traits are thrown into, you need to strategically input your items in order to get the traits you want, also there are cost points and various other small things that make the alchemy system more detailed, but at the same time, making it almost sarcastically complicated. The battle system also received some small tweaks, with an emphasis on enemy distance and the ability to move behind enemies and to the sides of them adds a little bit of strategy and solves the long standing problem of you constantly being a sitting duck.
The past 3 atelier games have had game specific gimmicks, Rorona had assignments, Totori had adventure licenses/points, and Meruru had town building, the gimmick in Ayesha is something called memory points, you can get these memory points by doing tons of activities, talking to certain NPCs, exploring environments, gathering items, battling…walking around, seriously they give these points out like candy, there’s no reason whatsoever that you should be struggling to obtain these, these points are used in conjunction with Ayesha’s memory diary. Certain events in the game are written down in this journal, along with special bonuses (for example, viewing a certain event that ends up in the journal might grant you an attack boost, or increase the amount of exp that you get from synthesis) you can then use memory points to unlock further bonuses like a further attack boost or even more exp. my main complaint with thus system is that it lacks direction and feels somewhat like a hassle, Rorona’s assignment system ties into the main narrative, as does the adventure point system in Totori and the town building in Meruru, but this just feels like a glorified side quest with no tie in to the main story, sure you also get a nice little summary of the event, but that doesn't really mean anything at all, the system might be somewhat useful, little things like additional attack and more exp certainly don’t hurt, but the whole system feels like an afterthought and it doesn't really feel like it helps much at all.
Weapon upgrades have gotten a complete makeover as well. There is no forging, at all, instead you you synthesize certain items (alchemy stones for items and dyes for armor) and you can take whatever traits you put onto those items and transfer them over to your armor, you can do this as many times as you want, however stats can only be increased a certain number of times, that number increased based on the quality of the actual piece of weaponry or armor (which you can only get from the game’s first shop, or by beating enemies in certain areas) overall this is a nice change from the previous system, and also mostly eliminates the need to have money in order to upgrade, hopefully this system is the one that remains for previous games.
And of course, the time management system makes it’s unfortunate return, however it’s much more forgiving, what took multiple days in any of the Arland games will only take you one, losing a battle will only cost you one day, and the vast majority of synthesis is done in multiples of 3 and will only cost you around a day, so while I’m still not a huge fan of the time management system, it’s much more forgiving, so I suppose I don’t have as much of a problem with it this time around.
Overall Ayesha is a pretty fantastic game, the major shift in tone may be a bit confusing and off putting at first, but it’s executed very well, the rich cast of characters is always refreshing, and the tweaks that have been done to the various gameplay elements only serve to deepen the experience, for everything Ayesha does wrong, which isn't much, it does another 10 things right. 8/10