Rorona to Ryza: An Atelier Retrospective Part 4: Atelier Ayesha

This is part 4 of a retrospective, if you would like to read the previous parts click here

Welcome to Part 4 of Rorona to Ryza: An Atelier Retrospective. Atelier Meruru capped off the cast of the Arland trilogy, having the whole cast together for a nice final journey. Atelier in the past has had recurring casts of characters before moving on, and so that happened to Arland as well. The Arland Trilogy is over, and we have reached the dawn of Atelier Dusk.

Atelier Ayesha was released in 2012, a year after Atelier Meruru. This is when I hopped onto the Atelier train, and Ayesha was my first Atelier game. Ibought it on a pure whim my last year of middle school. I fell in love with it and Atelier as a whole overnight.

Starting off, let’s go over the gameplay, which is one of the biggest changes as Atelier Ayesha introduces new aspects to the alchemy system. Instead of ingredients just having quality and traits to focus on when making items, there is now a new element to pay attention to, or rather elements, with the four alchemical elements of fire, water, wind, and earth. However for all intents and purposes they can just be thought of as red, blue, green, and yellow.

When putting an ingredient into synthesis you are also putting in its element. Every ingredient has at least a little bit of 1 element, many have more than 1, and others may even have some of all 4. When putting the ingredients in, there will be gauges to show how much of each element is in. Putting enough of elements into a synthesized item will give it natural traits, each item having its own traits for the elements. Sometimes you’ll even want to avoid putting in too much of certain elements into items as you synthesize them to avoid a negative trait.

The new element system adds an entire layer to alchemy, as while you need to think about the elements and the items natural traits, you’ll still need to think about ingredient traits and quality as you did before. If you’re a player who puts a lot of dedication into alchemy you’ll find yourself making items that have both the traits and elements you want just to use as ingredients for other items to get everything you wanted.

Another part of the alchemy system that has been completely revamped is how weapons worked. Previously you would need to make metal which would then be used to make weapons at the blacksmith. In Ayesha, metals and the blacksmith have been scrapped completely as weapon and armor crafting have been scrapped, period. Instead enemies will drop weapons and armor your characters can use like an ordinary RPG. Don’t be fooled by this, just because an enemy has dropped a weapon doesn’t mean it will be useful. Instead you will need to craft stones and sprays that can be used to slightly upgrade and give traits to items and weapons.

This new weapon system is the only part of Ayesha’s alchemy that I think was a misstep. While crafting stones and sprays is an interesting concept, I find it to be too random with what traits it will give weapons for my taste.

Combat has also been enhanced. A new factor has been introduced to the turned based battles, movement and position on the battlefield. Characters have the option to move on their turns to a different sector of the battlefield, with there being 3 sectors total. Both the party and enemies can attack anyone, no matter where they are on the battlefield, but some enemy and player attacks will effect an entire area at once, so having your characters positioned away from each other is optimal. However things aren’t that simple, if you have one character support guard another, they will move to that character’s position. There’s also healing or support items that effect an area at a time, so having characters close to each other can be equally as valuable.

In addition to attacks that can hit an entire area at once, the positions of your characters can lead to another new part of battle: Back attacks. If an enemy is facing away from the character whose turn it currently is they can target that enemy from behind and do more damage than usual.

While the RPG combat in the Arland Trilogy felt like an afterthought in between gathering and slice of life scenes, the combat in Ayesha and beyond leads to many fun enemy encounters that fully take advantage of the weapons and items you have crafted.

An image of the combat

The structure of the game is in line with Atelier Totori’s concept. Exploring one area will open the path to another area and so on and so on. Just like Totori there is no one hub town, but multiple places where you can do alchemy and have events with your party members. However I think the way Ayesha does it is much better than Totori. While with Totori the world would often feel overwhelming with how it opened up in many directions and paths without much direction on where you would want to go, Ayesha always lets you know where your current goal is at any time and it’s more about the journey getting there.

The world of Atelier Ayesha feels very different from that of the Arland Trilogy. While the world of the Arland Trilogy felt very much like a slice of life anime with its bright colors, goofy monsters like punis, and how everything revolved around one town, the world of Ayesha and the Dusk trilogy feel more grounded in reality with more subdued colors and landscapes and Ayesha visiting several towns and meeting new people along the way. The game doesn’t even reuse enemies from the Arland trilogy, adding to the feel that this is a new world.

I love the world of the Atelier Dusk trilogy, it is a land that seems to have so much history as you go through it, but you only get to learn a little about it. Seeing sights like a canyon that used to be an ocean, an abandoned library facility the size of a castle, or an island made of salt and getting a brief narration about these place’s existence and the occasional flyer about them makes this world feel so intriguing.

Every area also gives you narration explaining the place

And what would a world be without the characters who reside in it? I love the cast of Atelier Ayesha so much. From the mysterious Keithgriff who feels like he went through his own JRPG journey earlier in his life, the whimsical witch Willbell and her silliness, to the honorable hunter Juris. The entire cast of Atelier Ayesha is full of characters I love hearing from and every scene with them is pure joy. Ayesha herself is closer to Totori than Rorona in terms of personality. While Rorona and Meruru were very hyper and clumsy people, Ayesha and Totori tend to be more cool minded individuals with occasional bits of clumsiness. Unlike Totori who would still have moments that reminded the audience of how young she was, Ayesha doesn’t. Ayesha comes off as the most mature Atelier protagonist, both emotionally and age wise. Being the only Atelier protagonist in this retrospective who is old enough to drink by the end of her game she is the oldest

Ayesha, Juris, and Linca are my favorite JRPG party ever

Getting endings works the way it did throughout the whole Arland Trilogy. Seeing events with your party members after increasing friendship with them and then choosing your ending at the end, provided you accomplished your main story goal of course. Said goal is a much bigger feat than in the Arland trilogy. Throughout the Arland Trilogy there weren’t huge stakes, the Atelier shutting down in Rorona being the largest one, and that worked. The Arland trilogy didn’t need stakes to drive the plot, as they were just about having a good time with the cast.

Ayesha however has stakes. When the game starts, Ayesha believes her sister is dead, and an encounter with Keithgriff makes her aware her sister is alive, for now. She has exactly 3 years to find out where her sister is or she’ll die. These emotional stakes are what drive the plot and although you’ll still be having fun with the game’s cast in that time limit, those stakes are always hanging in the back of your mind.

I can’t talk about Atelier Ayesha without speaking of the final boss, so consider this an official spoiler warning. If you don’t want to read ahead just know that Atelier Ayesha is what I consider my favorite Atelier game, however I wouldn’t call it the definitive Atelier experience. What is the definitive Atelier experience? Well return next week for Atelier Escha and Logy and I’ll tell you. Without further ado, spoiler time

Harry Olson is here to keep you away from spoilers

At the end of your journey to save Ayesha’s sister, Nio, you come to an alchemical garden. This is for all intents and purposes the equivalent to a normal JRPG dungeon, however the music doesn’t convey what you would expect. This isn’t a triumphant song or a menacing song, it’s calming, comforting even. The name of the track is Guidance.

Guidance, something you never had before. Not just throughout Atelier Ayesha where Keithgriff is constantly telling you that you cannot rely on others to help you with alchemy, but for the entire Atelier series. The whole series is about making everything yourself, exploring the world on your own. Mentors in the series could hardly be described as such being either lazy or unwilling to teach you anything. Keithgriff is the mentor character of this game, and he only joins the party right before this area. Guidance is a comfort, but not one given to you at the start, but something you earned after doing everything you could on your own.

Then you fight the final boss, Yggdrasil, an alchemical beast created in the days long past to help the world. On an ordinary playthrough this creature is hardly explained to you at all, only by doing Keithgriff’s events do you get some insight on it. It’s attacks will occasionally distort the screen, making the attack names themselves hard to read. Ayesha doesn’t fully understand what this thing is, and neither do you. You aren’t supposed to. The final boss theme MARIA exemplifies this, the song may have lyrics but they aren’t understandable, they’re only onomatopoeia. The extra menu game says the lyrics have meaning, and I believe that meaning is to further show you how you and this creature cannot hope to understand each other.

The entire final area looks incredibly strange and hard to comprehend

When the boss is defeated, Ayesha questions Keithgriff about what it was. To which Keithgriff says he has his own hypotheses but all Ayesha needs to know is that alchemy has done all kinds of things in the past. Like everything else you must draw your own conclusions as to what this was and what you have done. Like an alchemist you must create your own way.

And that’s Atelier Ayesha, my favorite game in the Atelier franchise. Like I said before the spoilers, while this is my favorite Atelier game, I don’t think it’s the definitive Atelier experience. For that, come back next week as we talk about the 2nd game in the Dusk Trilogy: Atelier Escha and Logy.

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