Talking animals, talking swords and foes that bleed numbers…
Reviewed on the Xbox 360 by Mark Dicks
Ooh my my The Pendant of Beauty: +1 Regeneration, +60 Attack, +40 Defence and +8 Luck. Equipping this item became the final perk that solidified my verdict of Dust: An Elysian Tail. As little green 1s sprung out of thin air around my fluffy eared protagonist, I submitted to another daffy grin. Yet another pleasant surprise that made the dislike pile seem even further off in the untraceable distance. Yes. XBLA’s Summer of Arcade 2012 has wrapped up its celebrations with something rather terrific here…
Soundtrack duties aside, all other content creation of Dust: AET has been handled by Humble Hearts. Or in other words, through the heartfelt graft by a one-man band that is Dean Dodrill. Winning Microsoft’s 2009 Dream.Build.Play Challenge Dean was given the resources he needed to expand from his artistic foundations. Ultimately, he could now build the kind of game he wanted to play: a side-scrolling action-RPG bound in an animal world of fantastical anthropomorphic charm.
Thrust into the boots of bushytailed amnesiac Dust you’re awoken by The Blade of Ahrah an all-knowing talking sword. Then not long after joined by the comic relief guardian of Ahrah, Fidget the ‘Nimbat’ (a flying fox thingamajig). With that, your quest of discovery begins in control of this unlikely triad. So it isn’t the most original introduction, an awaking hero to-be who doesn’t know whom or what his purpose is. However, it was the interactions between these three leads that soon led me forget about this narrative mishap.
Dust: An Elysian Tail is very much a game about the chemistry of its furry cast. Hopefully we can all agree here, as a player an element of bond and caring is integral to the overall role-playing experience. Dust, Fidget, Ahrah and the rest of the supporting role meet ups add to the game’s success. When each character does their skit whether it’s part of a side quest and or the main plot you’re gifted with aptly written, thoughtful, witty and vivacious voice acting. I really wasn’t expecting this much characterisation to feature from every bunny, bear and ‘Moonblood’ included!
The ten hour plus narrative voyage ahead is enjoyable for sure, but it was when the experience poked fun at its gameyness I just couldn’t get enough of it. Amongst the verbal intervals and item management there are times where it breaks that video game fourth wall. For instance when Fidget sums up a demise of a less fortunate enemy with: “He really should of saved first!”, and when you find your inventory clogging up with ‘Mysterious Wall Chickens’ you realise you’re playing something that is very aware of its RPG heritage. Needless to say I lapped the lot of it up!
The majority of your adventure adheres to the Metroidvania format. A 2D open world made up of themed locales that become more expansive and loot worthy gauged on your growing skill set. As well as the usual suspects of lite puzzle platforming action Dust’s combat capabilities rely on the company he keeps. Ahrah is a serrated chunk of destruction who is controlled through a combination of two buttons. Hacking, slashing and parrying aside the most notable attack and what I believe to be the trademark of the game is the ‘Dust Storm’. Holding down Y will result in Dust whisking up Ahrah into a furious helicopter slice (albeit limited mind you!). Combine this with good ol’ Fidget and her repertoire of elemental projectiles and you have a screen that becomes congested with admirable chaos. Imbedded amongst this chaos though is a very satisfying combo system. Constantly stringing together escalating attacks I found echoing similarities to the gratifying fix of sustaining a high-score multiplier. It’s all relative though as the longer the hit chain the bigger the XP reward. The combat crux is learning to avoid those two dreaded words… “Chain Broken!” In all, from the exploration to combat everything feels effortlessly top notch!
There’s plenty of looting to be done with a blacksmith to craft the spoils with. Shady restocking tent shops, levelling up, skill gems to assign, left and right-handed rings to equip, you know all the RPG staples we’ve come to take for granted. It’s all there to be tinkered with in the inventory menu, and of course don’t fret, Dust also owns bottomless magical plunder pockets to cater for all of it. There’s a hearty dollop of side quests that tease and toy with classic mechanics and yet again are full of quite surprising depth. Basically, the content that can be found here puts a good few recently released retail games to shame!
Dust: AET stylistically isn’t afraid of what it is, embracing its anime tone no holds barred. Mr. Dodrill has crafted a wonderful hand drawn world of intrigue and complexity complete with varying weather patterns. I was truly blown away by what one man could do when given the time and backing. When the animated action clicks into visual and audio overdrive, there’s just something so pleasing to the senses juggling foes that gush numeric stats and burst into a folly of currency and trinkets! The sound team have also done a wonderful job here with a classy orchestrated score, combo stabs, and as mentioned earlier noteworthy voice work.
Apart from some of the underwhelming boss battles I thoroughly enjoyed everything about my first playthrough of Dust: An Elysian Tail. I know I’ve missed out on a fair amount of the side quests and have every intention of firing up a second outing. Okay, so bug-eyed anthropomorphic rabbits aren’t everyone’s scene. I can also see why that might end up being a hindrance towards many folks’ appreciation of Dust’s world. Animal anime has its niche I agree, but why should that hold back an excellent result from a dedicated auteur? What we have here is another downloadable title that’s a unity of surprises, an expectation trumper if you will. It’s robust, rewarding, entertaining, replayable and stylistically pleasing, well… everything a video game should be really.