Since we’re moving on to Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk later this week, it is, of course, time to appreciate its wonderful protagonist.
The Dusk trilogy of games in the Atelier series has a markedly different feel and atmosphere to the colourful exuberance of the Arland games that immediately precede it. It’s an altogether more melancholy, pensive affair, as this time around we’re looking at a world in which all is most certainly not well.
Thankfully the world of Dusk being on the road to possible ruin doesn’t stop it from featuring some of the most beautiful girls in all of Gust’s history — with one of the most striking examples being our new lead Ayesha. Let’s take a closer look.
Part of the change in vibe for the Dusk trilogy is due to the change in lead artist; while Mel Kishida was in charge of Arland, the Dusk series’ distinctive style is the work of one “Hidari” — apparently so-named because he draws with his left hand. Prior to the Dusk trilogy, Hidari was primarily known as a light novel illustrator, though he has also contributed to a number of other video games and anime over the years, too.
Hidari’s distinctive style — at least so far as it’s seen in the Dusk games — features highly expressive, boldly defined characters with elaborate outfits, coupled with a somewhat dirty, grainy look that gives the whole thing a somewhat aged, decayed feel to it. This isn’t to say it’s unpleasant to look at; rather, it provides a sort of nostalgic air to it all; looking at the art for the Dusk games feels like looking at old photographs that have been stored in an attic for many years.
Ayesha herself is a pretty good example of Hidari’s design philosophy. She’s a character absolutely packed with detail, and one who rewards those willing to contemplate her in her entirety and consider what each part of her design might “mean” or at least represent. Most notably, she’s the personification of one of Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk’s main recurring visual motifs: the idea of nature enduring even in a world that appears to be on the road to certain ruin, typically represented by the growth of flowers in unexpected places.
The easiest way in which this is seen is Ayesha’s basic dress shape, which is clearly designed to resemble a blooming flower in the way it flows out from her hips, and how it features a distinctively “petal-like” design around its hem. This fits with Ayesha’s personal narrative, too; she is very much a flower blooming in an unexpected place in that she is shown to be living in the middle of nowhere as the narrative begins — yet through her work as an apothecary, she brings hope and joy to many people around her, even those she has never met.
It goes further than that, though. Overlaid on the flower-like skirt of her dress is a flowing, lacy layer that sweeps out behind her, culminating in something that looks distinctly like a pair of fairy wings. This gives her a somewhat otherworldly quality; a sense that she’s somehow extraordinary — and a sense that she’s something you don’t see all that often. This is also very much in keeping with her narrative arc over the course of Atelier Ayesha: not only are her talents as an alchemist extremely unusual in the day and age in which the game unfolds, but her general willingness to help everyone out — even as she’s dealing with her own pretty significant emotional, personal trauma — makes her a bit of a dying breed.
And it goes even further than that. Hang out in an environment where Ayesha has a well-defined shadow beneath her, make her run in the right direction and you’ll notice something sure to bring a smile to your face: the fact that more than anything, the shadow of her running looks like a butterfly in flight; a splash of colour in a sea of green, perhaps a symbol of hope.
The amount of care and attention that has been poured into Ayesha’s design is just one of many reasons that many fans of Atelier in the HD age tend to gravitate towards the Dusk trilogy titles as their favourite installments. It shows that this is a character and a world that both Hidari and the whole team at Gust really care about — despite the fact that it is very much a world represented as being on its last legs — and is further proof, if proof were needed at this point, that having a distinctive art style will pretty much always trump “realism” for a lot of people.
And thankfully, not only is Ayesha beautiful to look at from a design perspective, she’s also a thoroughly likeable character, too. While she has some of the trademark lack of self-confidence that many Atelier protagonists have exhibited over the years, she’s also someone who knows what she’s capable of, and that she’s doing something that people genuinely value. She treasures the friendships she establishes both through her work and on the journey she takes over the course of the game as a whole, and she comes across as someone whose word you can trust completely and utterly. If she says she’s going to do something, she’s damn well going to do it, come hell or high water.
But remember: amid all that kindness and consideration for others, she has something she very much wants to achieve for herself, too. While it’s easy to get into the role of role-playing Ayesha as the wonderful person she is, don’t forget that she needs a bit of time to herself to accomplish her own goals, too. Because the consequences of failure could potentially be devastating to her.
But more on that another time!
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