Released on Windows: May 24th, 2013
Platform(s): Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, Linux, OSX, PS4, iOS
Developer: Humble Hearts
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Genre(s): Action, RPG, Adventure, Beat-‘em-up
Dust: An Elysian Tail is a heavily story-driven game. There are lots of likable characters due to the actual character development. That’s always a treat to see. Especially when it comes to Dust himself. He seems like a decent enough person and comes across as unselfish and a bit reserved. My only issue with him is that he wears that weird had that covers most of his face for almost the whole game.
One of the most impressive things about Dust is his willingness to be a beacon of good, going out of his way to help every single person that he meets. It seems to come naturally to him. Even more impressive than that is the fact that Dust does all of this while having absolutely no idea who he is. Maybe the amnesia is a blessing in disguise after all.
Dust both looks and plays like a decent animated movie or a top-notch Saturday morning cartoon show. The animation is just so smooth and clear. And the musical scores, though not very memorable, are very fitting to the environments and events that occur throughout the story. Speaking of the environments, all of them are just so gosh darn beautiful to look at with their rich colors and ambient weather effects.
Every single cutscene and character interaction is fully voice acted which really brings the story to life and helps the player get invested in what’s happening. Dust does have A LOT of dialogue after all. The entire cast delivers a solid performance that’ll draw you into the world Elysium. Hats off to Lucien Dodge, the actor who provided the voice for out titular character. That was some choice casting right there! Dodge’s voicework makes Dust a more sympathetic character.
This game’s story is actually a bit more complicated than you might think. Everything kicks off with some narration over two shadowy figures having some sort of duel. Then it cuts to Dust waking up in a clearing with total amnesia. The voice of the mystical Blade of Aharah begins calling to Dust, telling him of the journey ahead. Ahrah is closely followed by Fidget, a flying creature called a Nimbat and the sword’s guardian. I still can’t wrap my head around how exactly that works. Just how in the world is such a small, weak, and borderline-adorable creature supposed to protect a sword that can just fly off whenever it wants?!
Anyway, Fidget reluctantly ‘lends’ Ahrah to Dust until he’s finished doing . . .whatever it is he’s supposed to be doing. The three make their way through the Glade to Aurora Village while fighting monsters along the way in hopes they’ll be able to find insights into Dust’s past and identity. Who is Dust anyway? And why must he be the one to wield this mystical talking blade? Well, this is where the complicated part comes into play.
It is soon revealed that there is a violent war between the anthropomorphic animals (or warmbloods) of Elysia lead by General Gaius and the anthropomorphic lizard people called moonbloods. And the moondbloods are losing. Many of their people have been mercilessly slaughtered by the general and his armies as they now find themselves on the verge of extinction. There have been many warmblood casualties as well; any of them caught attempting to aid the other side are killed just as ruthlessly. All seems lost for the moonbloods until . . .
Remember those two shadowy figures that were having that duel in the game’s opening? We eventually find out that they were Cassius, one of Gaius’s elite assassins, and Jin, one of the people who was trying to help the moonbloods. Jin and Cassius simultaneously kill each other and their souls combine to create a being that the moonbloods refer to as the ‘Mithrarin’ or ‘Sen-Mithrarin’, the only being capable of wielding the Blade of Ahrah and saving their dying race. Dust is this being. Doesn’t it just explain so much about his character and abilities? The only thing this doesn’t explain is what Dust will do once he is able to access both sets of memories. It’s probably not hard to guess, though.
You are in for a smooth ride all the way through your adventure thanks to the tight controls. They are highly responsive. Whether you decide to use a keyboard and mouse or a USB controller, Dust and Fidget always handle beautifully. You’ll notice that this game takes inspiration from several different genres of gaming including: action, adventure, RPG, and metroidvania. There’s even a little beat-‘em-up thrown in there for good measure. Yeah. Sometimes, you won’t be able to leave an area if there are too many enemies onscreen. Now back to the big four I just mentioned.
- Adventure – Dust boasts several decently sized, complex areas to explore. And loot. They are filled with interesting characters, quests to go on, and secrets to discover. Also, there’s treasure everywhere for the plundering. So much treasure that I gave up trying to find it all. As much as I enjoyed the journey that is Dust’s gameplay, I eventually got to a point where I was like, “OK. I’ve found enough loot. Let’s go kick General Gaius’ ass and end this thing.”
- Action − Plenty of action to be had here. You’ll be battling against all sorts of creatures from beginning to end. . . plus a few boss fights. Those weren’t as difficult as I thought they were going to be. Anyway, Dust’s combat system is primarily built around stringing together as many combos as possible. The bigger the combo chain, the more bonus points are rewarded and the chain is broken whenever Dust takes damage.
The other integral part of the combat system is a maneuver called the Dust Storm. Dust rapidly spins the Blade of Ahrah which creates a mini-vortex that can strike enemies multiple times. This ability can be combined with Fidget’s puny magic, fire and lightening projectiles to create something quite remarkable.
Now let’s talk about the enemies themselves for a little bit. The mass majority of them are relatively easy to take down, only posing a threat when they gather in large groups. I get the impression that they’re somehow aware of this because you’ll hardly ever see a critter all by its lonesome during the entire game. Other dangers to watch out for beside sheer numbers are burning, poisoning, and silence (this one effects Fidget directly). One enemy in particular needs to be avoided as often as possible: the Necromancers, spectral beings that haunt the Sorrowing Meadows. These bastards summon wave after wave of zombies and cannot be directly attacked. Until you are fairly leveled up, run!
- RPG − Beneath all that actioning and adventuring, Dust is still an RPG at its core. The reasons behind the constant fighting are gaining experience points and leveling up
make Dust stronger. You also gain experience points from turning in quests.
Going up a level is quite the occurrence. First, Dust gets struck by a bolt of blue
energy from the sky, then he gets a skill gem you can use to beef up his HP, attack, defense, or Fidget’s projectiles. Level up whatever stats you like to suit your play
style. Personally, I like to keep everything fairly balanced. One more thing: try
not to shy away from a little (okay, a lot) of strategic grinding. It just may save
you some trouble later on in the game.
Dust even has a crafting system. You meet a blacksmith early on in your playthrough.
She can craft augments for your weapon, armor, and other accessories if you provide her with the right materials . . .and funds. You can get some insanely powerful equipment this way. I had A LOT of trouble with this system until about I was well into the game. The best materials are pretty rare and I never had enough money because I was always spending it on food.
- Metroidvania − Any game in which the player must unlock new abilities to reach
areas that were previously inaccessible is widely considered to be
a Metroidvania-type game. And I’m a sucker for those. There are
four such abilities within the world of Dust and they will help you
reach every nook and cranny of Elysium. Happy hunting.
Overall, Dust: an Elysian Tail is a solid game. The story kept me interested and invested all the way to the end and there was a whole cast of characters I actually cared about. I think it was the combination of writing and voice-acting that did it for me. Specifically, with Dust himself. He was the kind of character you hope finds what they’ve been searching for in the end. Seriously, if someone wanted to convert this property into an animated series I’d watch the crap out of it.
This is the sort of game that both older and younger players alike would definitely enjoy. Older players might get a kick out of the mechanics and children just may like the overall character style. It is a bit on the pricey side. So if anyone else out there wants to give it a go, I suggest waiting for a good sale.