Dust: An Elysian Tail (Xbox360)

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Dust has a bit of a problem. Not only does he not remember who he is and where he belongs, but his only guides to the truth are an ancient talking sword called ‘Ahrah’ and its slightly fickle, slightly strange and slightly aggressive guardian, Fidget the Nimbat (a Nimbat is a flying, talking squirrel type animal). Ahrah has promised to help Dust find the truth about himself and the world he finds himself in, however, and so we join him as he embarks upon his quest of self rediscovery.

Dust: An Elysian Tail Screenshot 1

Dust: An Elysian Tail is a 2D side-scrolling RPG that is set in the fantasy world of Falana featuring backdrops that are truly beautiful (I especially like the huge statue of the archer in Archer’s Pass). I like to think of Dust as a ‘lite’ RPG because it has all the components of a major title, but on a much smaller scale. It is, therefore, not necessary to immerse yourself in a convoluted plot that takes hours and hours to play – Dust is just a fun, challenging and rewarding game that I can recommend to any gamer.

Dust has quite a simple plot to start out with but there are enough twists and extensions to the story to keep you interested and entertained throughout the game. First, you need to find out who you are by rescuing the populace of the local village which is under threat by an unknown enemy. Of course, you are very soon joined by Ahrah, the magical sword as well as Fidget, the nimbat. As you make your way to the village you are confronted by various monsters that you need to overcome. The monsters are quite simply designed but there has been a lot of thought put into the enemies you confront and I enjoyed the diversity of the foes both in terms of their appearance and their abilities.

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Like most RPG’s available these days, there are quite a few things that are required of you as the gamer in Dust, the first of which is improving your character. Throughout the game Dust learns new skills and fighting abilities that actually turn him into quite a formidable fighter. There are also opportunities to ‘level up’ and you can increase your fighting ability, your defence ability, your maximum health and Fidget’s ability. Part of the fighting system is the synergy between Dust and Fidget and this can also be improved as time progresses.

Dust has the ability to string together combinations of attacks and deliver very powerful blows to his opponents. I did feel that the fighting system was a bit flawed, however, in that once you are in a combo, you can’t stop. Often I found myself confronted by enemies behind me who were able to attack because I was still in the process of completing a combo against the enemies in front of me.

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The fighting system in Dust is very cool, though, and the different attacks are quite fun to earn, learn and master. You can also string together a chain of hits that earn more experience the higher the chain becomes. In fact, you are rewarded for a 100 hit chain, a 200 hit chain and a 1000 hit chain. I haven’t quite got to 1000 yet but I am getting closer and closer.

In addition to improving your skills and techniques you can also collect items and materials. There are blueprints (other games refer to them as recipes) for creating items, but most of the time the items are quite easy to find or purchase from the shop without going through the hassle of having them made.

When I say hassle, it is, in fact quite easy to craft items in Dust. You win a direct line to a blacksmith and if you have the right materials (which you can purchase at the shop), you can have the items made wherever you are. I thought that was pretty cool because in other RPGs it’s just too much of a schlep finding the right materials and manufacture points to build new items. In fact, I generally just ignore that part of a game.

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Apart from the slight problem with fighting in different directions that I discussed earlier, there are very few other issues with Dust. The monsters are drawn a bit simply but that hardly detracts from the game at all. In fact, I thought the monster variety was very good and confronting new monsters all the time keeps the game exciting.

One thing you have to be careful of is the fact that the monsters respawn if you leave the screen where you encounter them – I’m not quite sure I like this. On the one hand, you do get to fight monsters over and over if you so choose and you get item and loot drops, but on the other hand, you do have to deal with monsters every time you enter a screen. I resolved the problems by simply jumping over the monsters I didn’t want to fight and just ignored them.

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I would highly recommend Dust: An Elysian Tail to any gamer. Even if you aren’t a fan of RP’s, I think you’ll still enjoy this game and, for the price it is being offered for, I think you owe it to yourself to give it a try. Bear in mind though that this is an XBLA title so don’t expect the complexity or level of detail you would expect from the bigger titles in the genre.

The age limit for the game is set at no players older than the age of 10. There is no blood or over the top violence, though, and as such I felt no unease in letting my kids play it. The monsters are unreal enough that attacking them doesn’t feel real either. They also disappear once they are killed so you don’t leave corpses lying around. Normally I am a stickler for age limits but I feel that this game is suitable for youngsters. I know you’ll all make the responsible decision for what is right for your kids.

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(Dust: An Elysian Tail is available on Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) for the very reasonable price of 1200 MS points (about R150) and is surprisingly small given the value it provides. This is yet another title available on the arcade that is making me a huge fan of the facility.)