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Review

Review: Dust - An Elysian Tail (XBLA)

What is Dust?


The "box art" is quite emotive.
Dust – An Elysian Tail was developed by Humble Hearts studios, mainly by Dean Dodrill, who crafted the game, the characters, and the story. The title won the Microsoft Dream, Play, Build Challenge in 2008, with the prize being a contract to release on Xbox Live Arcade. Now, four years later, it’s here.

The simplest way to describe ‘Dust – An Elysian Tail’ is to call it a 2D side scrolling action RPG. However, the best way to describe it is to say this is one of the stand out releases of the year.

‘Dust – An Elysian Tail’ begins with central character, Dust, waking up in a wood clearing. He has no recollection of who he is, why he’s in the clearing, or what he’s supposed to be doing. More questions are raised by the Blade Of Ahrah, who appears in the clearing and tells Dust that he summoned the blade, though the reasons are unknown. The Blade of Ahrah becomes one of your guides and your weapon. Soon after your second guide arrives in the form of a nimbat named Fidget. Together the three set off on a quest to discover who Dust really is.

The first thing you’ll notice about ‘Dust – An Elysian Tail’ is the art style. The game is hand drawn, and full of a variety of colours and level designs. There were points in the game where areas just had to be admired as they brightened up the screen.  The cutscenes also shine, with the characters taking centre stage on screen while game world sits quietly in the background.

The characters are also hand drawn here, with the expected animation and voice work. Every character you interact with has a unique voice, and not one of them sounds like a weak link. The music and general game sounds are also nicely done. Racking up combos not only looks good, but it sounds good too.

Story wise the game takes the path of a land suffering through the effects of war, which is typical of many RPGs. However, under this overlying theme of war ‘Dust’ tackles major issues such as personal crisis, death and even genocide with a story that isn’t a straight forward good versus evil tale, but instead focuses on the moral grey areas.

The brightly coloured and innocent looking world of ‘Dust- An Elysian Tail’ contrasts heavily with the themes it tackles. This contrast works, and the exploration of these heavy themes is made simple but not taken lightly. Humble Hearts have managed to craft a brilliant story that many games could only dream about; all of this in a package that can still be called child friendly.

The main thrust of the game is the combat, and it is here you will discover that Dust’s guides are much more than that. The Blade of Ahrah is your main weapon, but Fidget also has the power to fire projectiles. Though the attacks can be used independently, the real power comes from combining the attacks and attacking multiple enemies at the same time.


Colourful, isn't it?
As you fight, a combo meter appears in the corner of the screen letting you know how many hits you’re getting in a row. The higher the combo the more experience you receive and the more powerful you become. Combos can rack up quickly, with the 1000 hit mark occasionally being broken.

As for the RPG elements of the game, they’re easy to follow and pick up. As you gain experience you can level up. Each time you level up you earn a gem to  increase stats such as attack, defense, and the power of Fidget’s projectiles. There’s also a crafting system where Dust can collect blueprints and materials to create weapon augments, armour and pendants to improve his stats. The crafting is done by blacksmiths in the game, as long as you have the correct materials.

The enemy and environment design is very well done, with different types of enemies needing different attacks to beat them. Enemies can even damage each other with their attacks.

The environment will also play a part in fights, from plants spitting poison to spikes cropping up at some points. Again the environment doesn’t just hurt you if you end up in the range of a poison plant, but also any enemies who are caught in the poison cloud.

Outside of the main storyline there are quite a few side quests that can be picked up at any time as you decide where in the game world you want to visit. The game also has Challenge Arenas in certain areas. The Challenge Arenas are areas where tasks are set to be completed; the quicker they are completed the better your score.

One arena had a certain number of enemies that had to be killed, while another had an obstacle course that needed to cleared. The Challenge Arenas include leader boards so you can see how your friends have done.

Pros

  • Excellent, hand drawn style.
  • Fully animated and voiced cutscenes that sound great.
  • Relationship between main characters is brilliant.
  • Combat is fun and challenging.

Cons

  • May sometimes feel repetitive.

‘Dust – An Elysian Tail’ deserves attention from both casual and hardcore gamers alike. The game is perfect for a quick gaming session or a longer, more invested session. The characters, the animation and the story are brilliant, and shows the love of the small team behind it. The only real shame here is that the game will pass most people by.

Score: 9/10

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6 Comments
  1. LTG Davey
    andUandU
    Since: Aug 2008

    Cracking review, thanks. Loved the demo and can’t wait to pick this game up next week.

    Comment posted on 17/08/2012 at 14:56.
  2. KeRaSh
    Member
    Since: Nov 2009

    Looks great. I wish this would come out on PS3 or at least the Vita…

    Comment posted on 17/08/2012 at 15:06.
  3. igotmy9milli
    Member
    Since: Apr 2010

    Reminds me of Odin Sphere. Been on my radar for ageeeeeeeees. Will check the demo tonight!

    Comment posted on 17/08/2012 at 15:21.
  4. igotmy9milli
    Member
    Since: Apr 2010

    And how many MS points is it? 1200 I guess?

    Comment posted on 17/08/2012 at 15:22.
  5. baggyg
    Member
    Since: Apr 2009

    Art style is beautiful

    Comment posted on 17/08/2012 at 16:30.
  6. hazelam
    Member
    Since: Feb 2009

    i’d love to try it, but sadly no xbox, not one that works anyway.
    a shame as it sounds like a great game.

    Comment posted on 17/08/2012 at 19:35.

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