Dust: An Elysian Tale is an Action RPG developed by Humble Hearts (a one man team) and published by Microsoft for XBLA. The game features a stunning Disney-like art style and is full of pop culture references and has some Metroidvania style elements.
The game begins with you waking up in a woods, with no memory of your past or who you are. Disorientated you get up and are greeted by a magical talking sword and its small flying protector. They introduce themselves as Ahrah, an Elysian sword and Fidget, a Nimbat. No one really knows what’s going on except for Ahrah; who is less than forthcoming to explain what’s going on. You do take up the moniker of Dust, and then set off to a nearby village in search of answers.
The tutorials bring some clarity to the rather interesting and (at first) confusing combat. Elements are added bit by bit, allowing you to grasp the basics before you enter into the more difficult combat situations. The game heavily relies on combos, dodging and combining Fidgets projectiles with your own attacks. Combos last until you are either hit or stop hitting enemies for a second or two and while it’s normally just a number that appears at the side; in Dust it gives you increased experience, so long as the combo is broken by timing out instead of you getting hit.
There isn’t a huge variation in button combinations that can be performed but the beauty is that whether or not you mistime a button combination your combat prowess is generally not effected. You still hit creatures and keep your combo racking up but you aren’t penalised for your mistakes. Fidgets attacks are integral to combat; while her attacks are weak at best, you can combine them with your own to form Dust Combos. Dust combos fill the screen with a much more advanced version of Fidgets attacks, hitting many enemies, many times over; exponentially increasing your combo multiplier.
Attacks can be parried, and some of the stronger monsters will need to be parried in order to stun them. This opens them to higher damages and is the only way of hurting some enemies. Dodging is another mechanic that needs to be managed efficiently; as Fidgets projectiles and dodges are linked to the same pool of energy. While the energy does replenish itself over time; the best way is to use normal attacks to gain it much quicker. It keeps a good balance between using powerful screen-filling attacks and the meatier face to face melee attacks, by using this system.
Levelling up occurs at a frequent pace if you can manage the higher level combos but is a little slower if you can’t. There isn’t really a grinding element to levelling but if you don’t distribute your points evenly to begin with (ie. All in health for the first few levels), you could face a more difficult game ahead. Each stat does rapidly increase per skill point used; so you will almost instantly notice the benefits each time you level up early on. Later on, items take this position but the levelling is designed so that you don’t completely neglect any one element for too long. Each stat is capped to a level until a minimum requirement is fulfilled in all other stats. It makes things more manageable; and for those that don’t like to deal with this sort of thing, you can have auto-levelling to distribute points for you.
You travel through each level in the same way as any side scrolling game; though each area holds many secrets, with some only accessible after a certain skill is learnt or item found. Like other Metroidvania games the maps contain only information on where you can go, as opposed to giving a full view of the levels structure in detail. It makes exploring much more interesting and a handy legend gives information as to where secrets, merchants and save points are; so you never feel that you are lost or looking for something that doesn’t exist.
Outside of combat and exploring, you are also able to craft items for you to equip. You will collect various materials from monsters and on occasion you will find blueprints. While you can find completed items, they are few and far between in comparison to blueprints. To begin with you will have to travel to a certain area in order to craft items and will have to personally deal with the blacksmiths at the forge. Though to save you the journey they will help you find an item that allows you to do this from anywhere in the world; meaning you can upgrade your items at any point in the game. It does cost a fair amount of money if you don’t have the materials to hand though. Shop prices are steep and money is better spent on health items; which are very expensive.
The story is interesting and involving; giving you some entertaining side quests and a wonderful world to explore, fill with a variety of characters. The story does slow down due to some pacing issues mid game and the main villain doesn’t really present himself to be as evil as his actions define him. How the story intertwines with the film (Elysian Tail) by the developer has yet to be seen; though it is definitely something to get hyped up for.
Presentation and Audio
Stunning Disneyesque visuals will leave you with your jaw dropping on numerous occasions. Your first big battle, full of Dust Combos and towering monstrosities will leave you simply astounded. The music is a beautiful compliment to the game and is performed by HyperDuck SoundWorks. The voice acting is top-notch; though some people will find some of the voices annoying. The game does have a colour-blind option that indicates the colour of a gate but adds nothing to compromise the visual style.
The combat flows well, has a fair amount of variation and is fun. The lack of combos is never really an issue but could be expanded on slightly. Bosses are maybe a little too fragile and the pacing weakens mid-game. There is never a time where “there is nothing to do” and you are given good direction consistently in what needs to be done.
The game is fantastic. There is very little wrong with the game and calling it out on anything at all, really feels like nit-picking. It is the jewel in the Summer of Arcade’s crown, as it is by far the best of this year’s line-up. While the game is satisfying to complete; you will probably want more. It lasts upwards of 10 hours but while the time spent with is enthralling; you will want more because you’ll want to explore the world some more.
Taking your first steps is a little daunting as the combat can be a little confusing at first. Once you get over this initial barrier, it becomes much more intuitive to learn each ability thereafter. Though many of the latter abilities become more about platforming, they can be added into the combat to add new depths to your combos. Once you can reach a 200 hit combo with ease; that’s when you know you’ve achieved mastery over the combat system. Hitting 1000 or more gives a real sense of achievement and it is a spectacle in itself to view for the first time.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.