Thursday, October 4, 2012

Dust: An Elysian Tail - Unlocking Awesome

Nowadays, most gamers expect the biggest and best games to be the product of huge teams working on a tight and fast schedule. Most games aren't the work of one person anymore like they were in the early days of gaming. Dean Dodrill has bucked that trend in impressive fashion with Dust: An Elysian Tail. Dodrill is solely responsible for every piece of the actual gameplay of Dust, while he had assistance with writing, voice acting, and soundtrack duties. Dodrill effectively eliminated the problem of having "too many cooks in the kitchen" by working on this title's gameplay for pretty much the last 3 1/2 years. Did this translate to a good game, though? To put it lightly, this may be one of the best titles I have played this year.

Dust begins with it's titular character unconscious in the woods. He is roused by two voices, that of a nervous little creature named Fidget and the deep haunting voice of a spirit housed within the Sword of Ahrah. The sword informs Dust that he is destined for something great, even though Dust can't remember anything. Dust is immediately attacks by monsters and uses the sword to fight them of, though he doesn't fully understand how he's able to do what he did to fight off the monsters. These first few moments set into motion a story that would prove effective for a manga or a limited run animated series it is so well written, albeit cliched at points. Dust's journey to unlock his past contains a few plot twists that nobody will see coming right away, and that's one of the hallmarks of a good story.

Gameplay wise, Dust is engaging, fun, and gives you a feel reminiscent of two of my favorite Vanillaware titles, Muramasa: The Demon Blade and Odin Sphere. The action flows incredibly well and with enemies respawning when the player goes back to a screen, there is ample opportunity for stat grinding without it feeling as such. controls are tight and responsive, and the "Metroidvania" level design gives everything a seamless feel. The combo system is simple, yet it does have a bit of depth that one may not expect from a downloadable game. The downside of such simplicity is that there is no real penalty for spamming the basic three hit combo throughout the entire game, but stringing together lengthy combos does reward you with achievements and bonus experience. The item building mechanic is possibly the only thing that seems to need tweaking as far as the balance of item appearances is concerned, as one can accumulate ridiculous amounts of one material while never being able to find some. Thankfully shops frequent the landscape and provide a place to dispose of useless items.

Aesthetically speaking, Dust is a gorgeous game. The character animations are fluid to the point that at times it feels like Dodrill channeled Jordan Mechner (of Prince of Persia fame) during the character design process. The character art seems like it jumped out of a top rate anime, and the backgrounds are incredibly bright and colorful. The voice acting is superb and conveys the emotions of the different characters incredibly well, while the game's score builds mood is strong fashion. In a word, this game looks and sounds as fun as it plays.

2012 has been an interesting year in gaming, especially in the realm on downloadable and independent games. With all of the great titles that have appeared on download services this year, it can be a bit of a surprise to some that a game conceived and largely developed by one man could be one of the year's best. What Dean Dodrill achieved with Dust: An Elysian Tail not only put him on the gaming radar for years to come, but it brought back memories of the early 80s and the birth of Activision. Anyone wanting to play an engaging action adventure title with beautiful visuals and a story that will make you feel an array of emotions should play Dust: An Elysian Tail, they won't be disappointed.

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