Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk – Alchemy in a Fading World

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Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk is, as we’ve already established, something of a step in a different direction for the series.

Over the course of the series, Gust has always drawn a hard line underneath each of the main “sets” of games before moving on to the next; the narrative of the setting isn’t necessarily wrapped up conclusively (which leaves things open for titles like Atelier Lulua to revisit past series) but there’s usually a significant reinvention of, at the very least, overall aesthetic and mechanical components.

One of the most obvious places where we see this is in the heart of the series: the alchemy component. So let’s take a closer look at exactly how Atelier Ayesha handles this side of things!

Up until this point in the Atelier series, we’ve seen a variety of different approaches to alchemy. In the three Atelier Iris games, the process was a relatively straightforward case of bunging things in a pot and hoping for the best; in Mana Khemia, a timing-based minigame allowed us to directly manipulate the exact effect of a final item; throughout the original Arland trilogy, we saw an emphasis on passing down quality levels and traits from item to item; and in Atelier Lulua, we saw a focus on manipulating the elemental levels of items in order to create various complementary (or conflicting!) effects.

Atelier Ayesha’s alchemy system is one of the biggest reinventions that we’ve seen in the series so far. It’s a highly interactive system that rewards experimentation, and it carries a strong degree of influence from tabletop gaming, particularly card games.  While it may initially appear baffling — particularly if you’re coming straight off the Arland games — the game takes care to keep things accessible while gradually drip-feeding you new ways of engaging with it more deeply as you progress.

A big part of why Atelier Ayesha’s alchemy might initially appear baffling is because in the early stages of the game, it runs completely on autopilot, but still shows you all the steps in the process. You’re presented with a screen full of information, none of which has been explained to you, and things seem to happen completely at random. This is actually a deliberate choice on the part of Gust; it reflects the fact that, as we join the story, Ayesha is an experienced apothecary who has accidentally been making use of alchemy as part of her process for quite some time now.

While up until this point she had successfully been able to make effective medicine by just throwing things into a cauldron, it’s not until she discovers what alchemy actually is that she starts paying attention to exactly how she does things. And that is reflected by the increasing amount of control you’re allowed to take over the process; as Ayesha develops in experience and confidence, she’s able to use more advanced alchemy techniques, which in turn allows you, the player, to accomplish a variety of different things.

The basic flow of Atelier Ayesha’s alchemy starts as it always does in an Atelier game: picking a recipe that Ayesha knows, then selecting the appropriate ingredients to use. As in previous games, recipes will either call for a specific item or simply a particular type of item; the latter is where you tend to get the opportunity to be a bit creative with how your recipe ends up.

Initially, you can get by with just randomly picking things that will work for the recipe; that will result in a functional item, but it almost certainly won’t maximise its potential unless you got particularly lucky with your selections. In order to take your alchemy skills to the next level, you’ll need to pay attention to both the quality and elemental attributes of each item you add to the mix.

While you’re selecting your ingredients for a recipe, you’ll see a series of bar charts that show the effect that ingredient will have on both the overall quality level, plus its fire, water, wind and earth attributes. Quality is fairly self-explanatory — the higher the better — while the elemental attributes are best thought of in similar terms to the “effect” bars in the original Arland trilogy. In other words, manipulating the elemental attributes to particular ranges causes various effects to be added to the item. Each element can potentially have several possible effects, clearly marked on their gauges with notches, so you know what you need to aim for, but these are consistent from item to item. Adding more fire power to an attack item pretty much always increases its potency, for example.

At its core, it’s a similar idea to the elemental system found in Atelier Lulua, albeit without that game’s ability for elements to cancel one another out in certain recipes. But there are a number of other mechanics you’ll need to bear in mind in order to succeed here.

The first, and probably most important, is a resource known as “CP”, or “Cost Points”. Ayesha has a stock of these points equal to twice her level plus any bonuses she has acquired through various events in the game, and they represent her ability to work with complex or challenging ingredients. Each ingredient has a CP value that is expended from Ayesha’s stock when she adds it to the cauldron; while running out of CP will not prevent her adding the ingredient to the recipe, it will prevent said ingredient from adding any of its attributes or traits to the mix.

Attributes we’ve already covered above; traits allow you to manipulate these further. Each ingredient item can have up to two traits, and these are added to a “Stock Yard” in the middle of the interface if Ayesha has enough CP for the ingredient. Once in the Stock Yard, the trait will continue to have a passive influence on the rest of the crafting process; to return to the card game analogy above, it’s like playing a card with an ongoing effect that remains on the table until particular conditions — in this case, completing the recipe — are met. With this in mind, the order in which you add ingredients to the pot becomes important, because traits can manipulate the elemental attributes of subsequent ingredients in both positive and negative ways, and can even affect Ayesha’s CP expenditure for the rest of the session.

Thankfully, it’s impossible to mess things up before you finalise the recipe, because at any point you can step back a “turn” and try things differently. If you discover a trait is having an unintended and undesirable effect, you can simply step back and add that ingredient later — or even replace it with something else altogether. Alternatively, you can make use of one of Ayesha’s alchemy skills to counterbalance its effect — or perhaps enhance it further.

Ayesha learns alchemy skills by increasing her alchemy level. Each skill costs CP to perform, just like adding an ingredient, and can affect the process in several ways. One of the most useful is the ability to use a particular ingredient more than once — if you have the CP to spare, this is a great way of buffing up those elemental attribute levels by duplicating the effect of a powerful item, and can often make the difference between an item that is pretty good and really good.

There’s one final piece of the puzzle on top of all this, and that is the ability to add properties to an item. This is achieved through a meter on the alchemy interface that fills up according to the CP costs of the items Ayesha adds to the mix. The more “complex” the item, the more the property value will increase; at various milestones, the property meter will “level up” and unlock a property that will be attached to the final item. This is another means of adding additional effects over and above an item’s basic function besides making use of the elemental attributes, and provides further variance in the final output of each synthesis session.

Adding properties becomes especially important when crafting dyes and whetstones with which to customise the party’s weapons and armour. In Atelier Ayesha, there’s a fairly limited selection of equipment available for all the playable characters, so your most substantial increases in combat power are through a combination of levelling up and upgrading your existing items. A basic whetstone or dye will simply reveal any effects that may have been hidden on an item of equipment; a well-crafted whetstone or dye, meanwhile, can have a significant impact on the user’s attack and defence power, elemental resistances and skill power, so it’s essential to get to grips with this system, especially towards the end of the game and if you’re going for certain character-specific endings.

Atelier Ayesha’s alchemy mechanics are probably among the most complex in the series as a whole, but they’re fundamentally satisfying once you get your head around them. Much like a good card game, there are a variety of interesting “synergies” to discover between ingredients, skills, elemental attributes and properties, and there’s a joyful feeling of discovery as you experiment with different ways of doing things to see if there really is a way to build a better bomb.

As Ayesha learns, you learn. And by the time you think you’re good and ready to take a crack at saving her sister, there’ll be little she won’t be able to achieve using the mysterious power of alchemy.

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