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REVIEW | Beautiful Storytelling Makes “Dust” One Of The Year’s Best

By
Posted on September 10, 2012 AT 12:54pm

It has taken Humble Hearts (AKA Dean Dodrill) over three years to make Dust: An Elysian Tail. How amazing it is that the video game work of roughly one man (and a couple others to help with voice acting, soundtrack, and scriptwriting) is more enjoyable than most games that take an army of developers and writers to create.

Dust follows a noble but amnesiac warrior as he takes upon the task to bring peace to the world of Falana. With his new trusty (and talking) sword — known as the Blade of Ahrah — and its winged cat-bat guardian Fidget, Dust is set out to rid the war-tortured plains of General Gaius and his non-remorseful army. As the game progresses Dust begins to remember who he is, and how the combined rights and wrongs of his past has made him what he is today. What he soon discovers fills him with guilt, but at the same time he discovers that the wrongdoings of his past will lead him to victory in the quest for tranquility.

Throughout the game Dust will be able to learn new maneuvers, collect upgrades that will help him in his battles, along with foods and medicines that will aid in keeping him healthy for battle. Near the start of the game Dust learns a couple of heavy attacks (both of which involve a swinging technique with Ahrah), but if used for too long it can cause him damage. Fidget has her own powers, which can also be upgraded when defeating some of the boss battles you’ll come across. Combining Fidget’s attack and your heavy sword-swinging maneuvers will lead to a powerful move that will have loads of effects against the enemies around you.

Controlling the game is easy for the most part. Dust‘s hack-n-slash motif will come of as simple for many gamers, with a very minimal amount of combos to remember. On occasions you’ll come across some bigger opponents that will need to be taken down with a counter maneuver at first, which will take a bit to get the timing right. The one bad thing I noticed with the controls is how sensitive the control stick is when moving left or right. On many occasions I found myself trying to stop myself from moving too close to an enemy’s projectiles, only to find myself inching towards the enemy fire, costing me HP and forcing me to use food items I had hoped to use for boss battles.

Dodrill’s hand-drawn visuals make Dust: An Elysian Tail look like a beautifully-animated film. At times the artwork reminds me of a painted version of Trine 2, while on other occasions the Oscar-nominated film The Secret of Kells comes to mind. Dodrill’s hard work has paid off in this department, and my fingers are crossed that a full-fledged animated film/series can be brought to the table with this game’s influence. (Dodrill has been hard at work on an Elysian Tail film that takes place in the game’s universe for almost a decade, so let’s hope that it comes out in the near-future.)

Dust: An Elysian Tail shares some characteristics with another great side-scrolling title: Muramasa: The Demon Blade. Both have action RPG elements, an animated look, and both feature protagonists with dark pasts and memory issues. Although there are similarities between the two games, the one thing that makes both these titles stand out on their own are their tone.

While Muramasa was practically seriously through-and-through, Dust has a smart blend of drama and comedy. One moment you are mourning the loss of a character who you tried saving, and in the next you are laughing it up when you watch a snooty Frenchman breaking out in hives after you secretly threw his clothes in poison ivy. Then there is the comradery between Dust and Fidget, who will spout lines at one another that will leave you in stitches.

Fidget herself is probably the greatest video game sidekick since Mario first came across a green dinosaur named Yoshi. At first you are led to believe that she’s going to be like another annoying Navi, only in the blink of an eye she turns out to be the best character out of everyone in the game. She’s sarcastic, hilarious, fourth-wall breaking, and above all lovable. It’s no wonder why the Dust official Facebook page is filled with people begging for a Fidget plushie. (Make it talk, and you’ll get yourself a buyer out of this reviewer!)

The overall story in Dust is perhaps one of the year’s best. As mentioned there is a good blend of drama and comedy mixed in, but how the story is built around is something that just about every gamer should experience. The protagonists are both very likable and relatable, and the story’s climax will have you craving for more.

Dust: An Elysian Tail will take you roughly ten hours to complete, which is not bad for the 1200 MSP price point. There are various side-quests you can take on to boost up your level points, which would be very wise to do in order to prep yourself for the final boss battle. There is no multiplayer/co-op, but when the game is this good on its own there really is no need for it.

PROS:

  • Fantastic storytelling
  • Spectacular visuals
  • Easy to play, good RPG elements
  • Fidget

CONS:

  • Control stick can be sensitive at times
  • Non-Xbox owners out of luck

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Dust: An Elysian Tail is up there with FEZ as one of this year’s best downloadable titles of 2012. With a great story, beautiful imagery, simplistic gameplay, and one of the best sidekicks you can ask for, Humble Hearts’ first foray into gaming is exactly how to get yourself noticed in this business. Pray that this isn’t the last we see of the world Falana, as it’s too wondrous of a place for just one game to hold.

FINAL GRADE: 10 (out of ten)

Review copy provided by Shirley Kim

Evan Bourgault is an accomplished music, anime, and video game critic. His passion for discovering new bands, developers and Japanese pop culture began in his college radio days and continues on today. Evan joined the ElectricSistaHood team in 2008 where he is a contributing editor and co-host of one of the network's weekly podcasts. Follow Evan on Twitter at twitter.com/King_Baby_Duck


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