Mysteries are everywhere – in the realm of literature, movies, music – but the mystery of Summer of Arcade is even better. Sometimes games turn up disappointing or more typical than what we expected but still immensely playable. But every once in a while there’s a great gem to be had. And then there’s Dust: An Elysian Tail, the mystery indie title hearkening to an 8-bit style of play infused with modern action RPG elements and seemingly developed by one man alone. You can’t help but feel that Dust channels Atlus’s stellar Odin’s Sphere, released in 2007 for Playstation 2. Humble Hearts employ different routes and roots for an animated action-adventure. Smidges of Kung Fu Panda, Rayman, Metroid and anime adorn the game, but Dust very much carries its own identity.
You play as Dust, a man with no memory of who he is. Suddenly, a mysterious blade named Ahrah beckons to his side, with its guardian nimbat Fidget tagging along. It may appear as a typical cast of clichés but the treatment is quite fresh. Fidget is annoying, but she’s adorably sarcastic and biting in her fears and flights. Dust is the socially awkward yet courageous hero but you can sense the inner conflict between being who he is and who he previously was. Ahrah is the wise, all-speaking mentor but there’s obviously more than meets the eye.
Note to casting directors: If your actor’s delivery and expressions convey character so well that one willingly sits through cut-scenes and conversations, you’re doing things right. The dialogue is similarly wonderful, full of humour, drama and a helping heaping of fourth-wall breaking comments. Lip-synching isn’t totally up to snuff half the time, but that’s a small nuisance.
It’s not just Dust’s voice acting that deserves props. The music is, in a word, excellent. It captures the grand sweeping epic scale, but on a more personalized level. Certainly it assists in giving battles their proper ambience – it changes accordingly, from enemies suddenly approaching triggering a high tempo to the relative calm and peace of an open field or the calm foreboding theme as you traverse underground caverns. Combine this with the visuals, which are a clean mix of 2D and 3D. It’s also animated lovingly, especially when battles devolve into screen-traversing antics.
Yes, not screen-filling, screen-traversing. Dust functions as a 2D side-scrolling, action-RPG. You can pull off combo attacks with X, launch enemies into the air with Y, and special combinations of both allow for downward slashes, throws, and more. Things really hit up when you unlock Dust Storm, an ability that allows you swing your blade in a circular motion while remaining stationary.
This, combined with Fidget’s magic and the latter Aerial Dust Storm, make for insane highlight reels of multi-hit combos. You could launch a few enemies into the air, follow up with an Aerial Dust Storm and Fidget’s projectiles (which multiply as they come in contact with the Dust Storm), and reach a higher level wherein you do battle with another set of enemies. Just when it may seem to get repetitive, you’ll be introduced to Dodges, Parries and different types of magic. Parries especially become essential when taking on larger foes. The combat may seem intimidating but the responsive controls make it easy and fun.
There’s so much more to say about the sense of exploration that has you going out of your way to collect keys, “Friends” (that offer free stat boosts), treasure chests and take up Arena challenges. Somehow, Dust manages to bridge the gap between frantic action and in-depth adventuring – your constant tirades around the screen won’t unlock secrets any faster and the items gained don’t render your foes too much weaker. The developer also took care to separate the over-world map into distinct areas that can be accessed quickly via teleporters. Nonetheless, each region feels large and packed with a good number of secrets.
Can a case be made against Dust? The action can get a little repetitive at times but there’s always a new upgrade, story twist or humorous conversation around the corner. Quite frankly it’s hard to make any negative points about the game. It’s fun, addictive, visually appealing and services a nice long playthrough even without the secrets. Genres like 2D side-scrolling action RPGs may seem like a niche, but Dust rises above that to provide a stellar story and adventure that will appeal to all. If you’re looking for the current top pick of this Summer of Arcade, look no further than Dust: An Elysian Tail.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
Awesome visuals, sublime music, addictive gameplay, strong adventure elements, longevity - what more do you need?
Tad bit repetitive. Lip syncing off at some places.
It's the current highlight of the Summer of Arcade, plain and simple.