Dust: An Elysian Tail for XBLA
Ok, to enjoy this game you’re going to have to get over one thing. The art style of this game is extremely reminiscent of the ‘furry’ style. For those who haven’t been around this funny old internet as much as I have, ‘furries’ are people who have a sexual attraction to anthropomorphic creatures, usually furry humans with pointy ears and tails and improbably huge breasts. ‘Furries’ are one of the most widely mocked and vilified sub-cultures online, although I find it hard to bring myself to care what they do; it doesn’t affect me what people choose to masturbate to. If you can get past the furry aesthetic, there’s a lot to like about this game, which seems somewhat doomed to fly under the radar as an underrated gem. I was particularly interested in this release due to it having been almost entirely the work of one man, Dean Dodrill. With the exception of voice acting, soundtrack and parts of the script, all of the work was done by Dodrill. I was interested to see whether one person could create a full gameplay experience, and am pleased to report that, by and large, they can.
The game opens with the eponymous Dust awakening in a glade, with no memory of his previous life, a talking sword named Ahrah beside him. The sword tells him to move on, but the sword’s guardian, the tiny flying Fidget, insists on joining him. Dust and his band move around the land, righting wrongs and helping the people, whilst the military campaign of the brutal General Gaius builds in intensity in the background, soon moving to the forefront of the tale.
The plot of Dust: An Elysian Tale is probably the most pleasant surprise in the game. An amnesiac hero, a squeaky voiced side kick, a talking sword, all played out in a land of talking animals? A recipe for utter horror. Instead, we get a plot which has clearly been given much thought, and although it’s not necessarily anything special, I was certainly invested in the characters and their fate. Bolstered by surprisingly good voice acting, the script manages to balance comedy and drama well. Some of the characters Dust encounters on his journey are genuinely hilarious creations, and the more dramatic scenes are handled relatively well. If there is any flaw, it is that the motivations of its villain is rather opaque; I suspect that a sequel is planned, which may shed more light upon this.
Dust: An Elysian Tail is a side scrolling action RPG, with the content split pretty evenly between RPG and action gameplay mechanics. Those expecting serious depth in the mechanics themselves may be somewhat disappointed; the combat is pretty simple and will often devolve into button mashing, but it’s certainly fun enough. There’s a basic crafting system to keep things interesting, although the items you equip have no effect upon Dust’s highly stylised appearance, a gaming pet peeve of mine. The game is quest based, with two main towns acting as hubs. There’s a slight element of Metroidvania to the game, with backtracking and returning to previously visited locations encouraged. However, the rewards rarely match the effort required, so I doubt many players will be scouring the world for every chest as the developer probably hoped. This may read negative, but in reality it’s certainly not bad. It’s very competent, but with few moments where the gameplay surprises you. There are very few moments which are truly bad however, with the lowest points in the game probably being the uninspired and frustrating boss fights, which are usually simple damage sponges rather than exhibiting interesting attack patterns.
The real high point of this game is in its presentation. The animations for Dust are breathtaking, rivalling those in Rayman Origins. The backgrounds have a wonderful, hand drawn feeling to them, making each location feel an absolute joy to explore. If there is any weakness in the presentation, it would be in the character design, which all feels a bit ‘Deviant Art’, but when the world these characters populate is so gorgeous it’s hard to care. The voice acting is, by and large, excellent. I suspect that many of the voice actors were amateurs, which far from taking away from the game, gives the dialogue a pleasant naturalism. The surprising high point is in the voice of Fidgit, your sidekick, who should be incredibly annoying, but is in fact a genuinely funny and charming companion. Sure, this game is pure style over substance, but when the style is this good it’s hard to care.
Dust: An Elysian Tail isn’t for everyone, but it is an incredibly achievement of singular determination. I certainly don’t regret my time with Dust: An Elysian Tail, but I’m not quite sure if I would necessarily recommend it to many others and its current price. When this pops up in the Microsoft’s XBLA sales, don’t hesitate, buy it. Before then, it’s probably worth holding off a while.