Dust: An Elysian Tail is an action RPG developed by Humble Hearts. The trio you play as consists of Dust, a warrior with a bout of amnesia, the magical blade (read: talking sword) of Ahrah, and the blade’s guardian, Fidget. The game was released on XBLA last August as part of Microsoft’s “Summer of Arcade” promotion, and was recently released on Steam.
The setting of Dust: An Elysian Tail is the world of Falana, a landscape inhabited with anthropomorphic animals and plenty of villages or forests to satisfy one’s need for adventure. Each level is a 2D side-scrolling platforming adventure, with enough enemies to make this game feel more like Bayonetta than Diablo. At the beginning of the game, you learn that Dust has amnesia, and the rest of the game follows the trio as they try to figure out Dust’s past.
There are some interesting bits of gameplay in Dust: An Elysian Tail. Fidget can shoot projectiles at enemies while Dust’s powerful Dust Storm ability multiplies the amount of projectiles on the screen to a staggering amount. The combos Dust can perform while wielding Ahrah are good-looking and fun to pull off, regardless that this isn’t a new feature in RPGs. Over the course of the game, Dust learns new platforming abilities. Instead of weaving these abilities into the gameplay, it seems these abilities just act as a key to unlock certain puzzles and quests. On the bright side, the animations of the game are fluid and beautiful. The game runs fairly well even on older machines, and the aesthetics of the game leave a lasting impression on the player. The soft, wavy art of the game lies right in line with the soundtrack by HyperDuck SoundWorks, with songs that fit right into place in the levels they represent.
Combined with the sound effects, I’d be very satisfied if those were the only two auditory elements of the game, as the third is not pretty: voice acting. Dust’s voice feels so forced, I sped through cutscenes as much as possible. A majority of the characters seem to exaggerate their emotions quite a bit. I can’t blame all of this on the voice acting though, as the writing isn’t stellar either. The main narrative is a worn-out idea, the jokes are groan-worthy, and the plot points are predictable. This is not a game I can see many people playing for the storyline.
As I mentioned before, though, the gameplay is rock-solid, and is supported by beautiful animations. I can’t think of a recent game that’s had such a sleek, non-invasive HUD. There’s a healthy amount of sidequests in the game to keep you amused, and the arena system (The closest thing Dust: An Elysian Tail has to multiplayer) is competitive and fun. The leveling system is that of any traditional RPG: kill a lot of monsters and put stat points into HP, Attack, Defense, or Fidget’s projectiles. Combining the power of Fidget’s projectiles with Dust Storm is easily the best part of the combat. It makes you feel crazy powerful without making every fight a cakewalk.
For the rest of the attacks, Dust: An Elysian Tail knows how to teach them without confusing the player. Combos are easy to learn, and respond perfectly most of the time. I did have a few cases of the game not responding to my rapid attacks, and I’m pretty sure they weren’t misclicks. But most importantly, these attacks are satisfying, pretty, and effective. It’s the focal point of the game’s combat for a reason.
I’ve never really played an RPG with such polarizing elements. On one hand, there’s a fantastic, smooth combat system that’s satisfying to play, combined with great animations that have a sleek and distinct look. On the other hand, that combat can only carry the game so far, and then when it isn’t backed up by a compelling story, it becomes really hard to trudge through. Dust: An Elysian Tail, strictly from the gameplay, is fantastic and definitely worth playing. Fighting will feel familiar to hack-and-slash players, but the experience is still fun. If you can get past the storyline, you’ll enjoy it.
[review pros=”Combat is fun, Animations and HUD are gorgeous, very expansive” cons=”Voice acting is difficult to bear, weak writing, repetitive” score=61]