Shadow of Death's Dust: An Elysian Tail Review
- The Hand Drawn & Animated Art Style is Gorgeous
Well, this game has been in development since 2009, and has gone through one major overhaul in that time. It has been a long journey, mainly due to the fact that the developer (Humble Hearts) is by and large is one man, Dean Dodrill. He did the graphics and gameplay of the game, and the audio was done by other people (Hyperduck Studios handled the music).
I found out about it 2+ years ago, before it had gone through that major revision and was very intrigued. So, has it been worth the wait?
Very much so.
Dust - This is the one you play as. Dust woke up with no memory of who he is, what has happened in his past. He is a powerful warrior though. What was he before he was Dust?
Fidget - An orange Nimbat, and the current guardian of Ahrah. She flies alongside Dust on his journey to uncover his past and fight oppression. She can cast one of several magic projectiles (she starts with one, but learns others laster). By themselves they don't do much, but combined with the Dust Storm skill turns it into a powerful area of effect weapon. She usually has a quip ready for any given situation.
Ahrah - A sentient sword at least centuries old. He came to Dust the moment we meet him and serves a sort of guiding force for our amnesiac protagonist.
Ginger - A mysterious girl who survived the massacre of the rest of her family. What is her connection to Dust?
General Gaius - The leader of an army seeking out to destroy Moonbloods, members of an ancient race. Does he know Dust?
Another thing to mention is that most of the characters in the game are furry, bipedal mammals. Aside from that, characters behave much like you expect people to act and react.
The story is a little lackluster; Amnesiac protagonist sets off on a journey to discover his past and is accompanied by a sidekick and wise old man. Except the sidekick is a flying furball that often breaks the 4th wall, and the old man is the sword she was supposed to be guarding.
Indeed, while the story in general is rather serious (it covers a race war, prejudices, and death), if tired (an army of evil is trying to wipe out a race called Moonblood), there is plenty of humor to be had as well, and the usual sources are either Dust or more often Fidget.
That said, it's a fairly well thought out story which ties together well enough in the end, so if not too bothered by a somewhat common premise and generally predictable plot then it's just fine.
There are also a number of sidequests to be had as well. Most peaceful areas will have several.
I won't say more because it might spoil things.
The combat is both simple (for the most part) and fun. The A button is jump, X controls the standard sword swing, Y controls the Dust Storm skill (whirling blade) when held as well as being used in combos, and B controls Fidget's magical projectiles which are selected with RB. LB activates the selected healing item.
Basic combat exists of combinations of X and Y button presses. For example, using repeated X's in sequence you can unleash a flurry of sword strikes, whereas in the air you can use X, X, followed by Y to throw an enemy to the ground. While on the ground X followed by Y will result in an attack which knocks most enemies into the air, which can in turn be followed up by other combinations. Holding X while facing an enemy that is attempting to melee attack will cause you to parry their attack, which can daze them. This is an essential technique in some cases and useful in others.
The Dust Storm is unleashed whenever you hold the Y button. When on the ground it results a stationary Dust whirling the blade. In the air Dust will become a vortex that can fly around in the air attacking foes with his blade whirling around his body. Be warned, using Dust Storm too much in a short period of time will result in Dust turning red, and ultimately hurting himself. Dust Storm is not powerful unto itself, but rather it is useful in juggling maneuvers and in combination with Fidget's Projectile Attack.
Fidget's Magical Projectile attacks (fired with B, and Selected with RB) are not very potent on their own, but when combined with the Dust Storm ability they become area of effect and chain damage weapons. Indeed, without this technique the game is much harder in general, and nigh impossible in some cases. Using Magic Projectiles will consume your Special Meter, which can be replenished by regular combat and defeating enemies. Running out of Special is usually not much of an issue, even if you use it regularly in combat.
The longer you go without breaking off the attack (by either being hit, or going too long without striking a foe) the higher your combo counter will go. The higher the combo counter, the greater the bonus EXP reward you will receive.
It's a pity that in spite of the variation in combat abilities, you can get through 99% of the game just by spamming Magic projectiles and Dust Storm (on ground and aerial). Sometimes you'll have to mix in regular combat to recharge your Special Meter, but by and large, even on Tough Difficulty, you don't need much else.
The game is, in a word: Beautiful. Colors are vibrant, the different regions of the world are distinct from each other, and the large sized portraits of characters are nice. However, I do notice (on Fidget in particular) that the large portraits of characters, which are animated, can have some noticeable aliasing. Whether it is because of the original art source being lower resolution than they should have been, or due to scaling (720p game on a 1080p TV) I'm not sure.
NPCs can look rather mannequin-like in their movements at times. This mainly noticeable when you're conversing with one and see their smaller form in the background
Combat is also very fluid. The world is hand animated by the designer, programmer, and animator as mentioned in the overview. It's rather amazing that one man did that by himself.
Magic animations are also fairly good and distinct from one another.
There are a couple of short 2D animated sequences and they're done well enough, even if they aren't as vibrantly animated as the world is in general.
I admit, aside from the battle themes, and SFX being very present, the music doesn't leave too much of an impression. I think this is more to do with having the background music actually be background music rather than it being mediocre, and of course the amount of combat in the game and the associated SFX drowns it out somewhat. What I do remember of the music is that it is quite nice. I would like a better chance to appreciate the soundtrack properly, as I'm sure it is good.
The voice work, which is present with each character and every line of dialogue is fairly well done and varied. I personally find Fidget's voice slightly annoying (even though I like the character) but apt, Aharah's voice is suitably slightly mysterious, and Dust's generally subdued and slightly gravelly voice also suits him.
The menu is fairly standard, consisting of a Statistics, Inventory, Map, Journal, and Materials panels.
Statistics is where you distribute Gems which are earned when you level and are applied to certain stats. The stats you can enhance are Health (increases max HP, Attack (increases basic attack damage), Defense (increases your resistance to attacks), and Fidget (which boosts magic projectile damage). The maximum level is 60, at which point all boostable base stats will be maxed out. There is also a "Luck" stat, which affects loot/gold drops and criticals.
Inventory is where you choose which healing item is equipped, your Armor, Attack Augment, two Rings, a pendant, and your key items. The rings and pendants have the most varied effects, but generally increase various stats. They can have special effects like increases various drop rates.
Map is straightforward. It reveals all the sections you know of in the region you're in. It will point out whether a section has a merchant, save point, or treasure in it somewhere. It will also indicate what available paths a section on the map has. To clarify, sections are short portions of a region, and are separated by a loading screen. Each time you leave a section enemies are respawned in it (discounting story related exceptions).
Journal consists of a list of quests (active and completed), as well as notes that you can find scattered around the world. Notes sometimes contain hints.
Materials lists the type and amount of materials you have, as well as which materials you have cataloged with the merchants. Cataloged materials will be replenished at the merchant from time to time, saving you the trouble of having to track them down from the enemies that drop them. Some materials are very uncommon so this is highly useful since materials are used in the creation of new items from blueprints you can find in some treasure chests and dropped from certain enemies.
You can find Keys scattered throughout the world and they are used to unlock treasure chests as well as freeing trapped 'Friends' from cages. Chests usually hold foods you can use to heal yourself, and often have either a blueprint or a piece of equipment. Very rarely do they also drop keys. When you free a 'Friend' trapped in a cage you gain a +5% bonus to your health and can meet freed friends at a special location.
The Merchants in the world (well, there are only three, basically, but the main one is secretive and appears throughout the world for your convenience when traveling). sell foods, teleport crystals (which can be used at any save point to teleport to the world map once), revival crystals (which will save you from death once), materials, a finite amount of keys, and various equipment.
In the end, all the various elements in Dust: An Elysian Tail come together to form a very enjoyable game. It's not faultless, but it's one of the most fun and attractive games I've played in the last few years.
I give this a 9/10
Here is to hoping for a PC release!