Atelier Ayesha features a young apothecary, Ayesha Altugle, who lives alone in a secluded workshop. She used to live there with her grandfather and sister (Nio), but her grandfather has since passed away, and Nio disappeared one day whilen collecting herbs. Ayesha supports herself by selling medicine and is perfectly happy with her life. However when word reaches her that Nio may still be alive, Ayesha drops everything and sets out to find her.
You start the game in Ayesha’s workshop where you are introduced to some of the game’s more prominent themes; scavenging items from glowing hot-spots, and then using them as ingredients in alchemy to make stronger, more useful items. Once you’ve been shown these basics it’s off to the world map to start your adventure to find Nio.
Combat in Atelier Ayesha is a straightforward, turn-based affair. Your team consists of Ayesha and up to two others, and in combat you conveniently surround your enemies before the fight gets under way. An on-screen marker shows who attacks and when, so it’s easy to plan your fight out in advance.
Every party member has three commands as standard; attack, move (to get behind your enemies for a critical hit), or flee. In addition to this Ayesha, and only Ayesha, can use items, while every other character can use skills; attacks that do extra damage but cost MP to use. All characters except Ayesha also unlock special moves when they get to level thirty. Special attacks will wipe out weaker enemies with a single strike, and will do major damage even the strongest enemies.
If you win the fight you get experience and a few items for your trouble. Unlike most other games, having your entire party wiped out in battle doesn’t result in a game over screen, rather you are penalized a few days while you recover. This may not sound like much of a penalty, but in Atelier Ayesha you’re on the clock, given three (in-game) years to find Nio. At the end of the three years the game ends, regardless of where you’re up to in your quest.
On the world map you’ll come across a few towns, and it is here you get the opportunity to relax a little. You can spend your time talking to locals and picking up requests from them. These requests are just a matter of getting them the specific items they crave, either by having them on-hand or making them with alchemy. Merchants will see you goods including alchemy books that have all new recipes for you to make. You can’t mix and match your own ingredients here – you have to follow recipes.
As you explore the town each new area is added to a list that can be accessed with the Start button. By selecting an area from the list you will teleport straight there, which is very handy. Story-related events occur with some frequency in Atelier Ayesha, though their requirements aren’t always obvious. One of the best ways to check for these story-events is to teleport all around town and seeing if any trigger.
Ayesha has a workshop where she can work on her alchemy in each town. The in-game instructions for alchemy are perfunctory, giving you a basic understanding of how it works, but not showing you its awesome potential. Alchemy is a great way to create items to fulfill requests given by locals, and to create super strong healing items. You’ll also get recipes for items that increase your speed on the world map and scavenging items, both of which are great time-savers over the course of the game.
This leads me to one of the two broad issues I have with Atelier Ayesha – the best uses of alchemy are never explained in game, meaning many players will miss out on the deepest and most satisfying aspect of the game. To make the best equipment you need the best properties, but properties aren’t explained in any detail. Properties such as “Skill power +12%” or “HP +25” are self-explanatory, but other properties such as “Red Power” are “Soul Words” are not.
In other cases making the best Nomadic Boots (the item that makes you walk faster) isn’t a case of making the best quality you can, but finding a way to add a specific attribute (Like the Wind). Without at least hinting at this fact during one of the in-game tutorials, I don’t know how the average player is supposed to know about it, or be encouraged enough to keep experimenting.
The last little niggle I had is that combat is generally too simple. Running into enemies from behind when triggering a battle doesn’t give you any in-game advantage, and unless you wander into an area you’re not ready for yet there are very few challenging fights.
In fact combat difficulty only spikes towards the end of the game when you start facing bosses for the first time, and boy does it spike! All of a sudden you go from being overpowered to under-strength, with some fights being basically unwinnable unless you’ve been using alchemy to enhance your equipment.
Aurally the music is simple, with little tunes that repeat over and over throughout the game. They do a great job of conveying the appropriate mood, be it upbeat, mischievous, comical, menacing, or whatever, but you’ll hear them a bit too often for comfort. The voice-acting is as over the top as you’d find in any manga film, which suits these characters well enough. As mentioned earlier there are a few too many conversations about cuteness, hair and weight for my taste, but overall the voice actors do well with the script they’ve been given.
I came into Atelier Ayesha with no expectations, and after a slow start it began to win me over. It’s not especially challenging or complex but it is decent fun. Alchemy is deep enough to keep you busy, but you have to want to experiment with it – the game won’t encourage you to do so. It’s also decidedly Japanese (like many manga films), with plenty of strange conversations and scenarios, some of which will make you laugh, others cringe. If you want a quirky and enjoyable RPG look no further than Atelier Ayesha.
Review By: Dave Warner