Developer(s) – Humble Hearts
Publisher(s) – Microsoft Studios
Designer – Dean Dodrill
PEGI – 7
Dust: An Elysian Tail is a Metroidvania-styled game with elements of exploration, immersing combat, and one of the best video game narratives I’ve seen in the eighth generation so far. Though it is officially classed as a beat ‘em up, it makes more sense to classify it as a hack and slash game, since combat heavily revolves around the use of a sword, which warrants a level of violence surprisingly high for a 7-rated title. But that’s not to say it isn’t bad, by any means.
Graphics – 9/10
The game takes place in a beautifully designed world called Falana. There are peaceful villages, gloomy meadows, icy and fiery mountains, and frighteningly dark caves. The scenery and style of the game are amazing, providing a great deal of variety, and speaking of attention to detail. The artistic style of the game blends elements of Japanese animation with some western animation too. For example, the deers in The Glade are very reminiscent of the classic Disney film Bambi, and most of the more pivotal characters are similar in design and personality to many of the works of Studio Ghibli. Some enemies are palette-swapped, but for the most part, there is also a great level of diversity in enemy design too, presenting different kinds of monsters suited to whichever environment they can be found in.
Gameplay – 8/10
To match the graphics, the gameplay is also extremely enjoyable and immersing. I lieu of Metroidvania tradition, there is also a very decent amount of side quests thrown in for good measure to keep players busy, and providing cause to revisit previous locations to uncover hidden secrets scattered throughout. Although there is a lot of button-mashing involved, typical of most beat ‘em up or hack and slash games, there is also a fair bit of incentive on offer to players for hacking through enemies in the form of leveling up the player characters and finding blueprints for new weapons and armor to take to the blacksmith for forging. But what I like most about how this game has been developed is that there is a very even balance between gameplay and story. In an industry whereby most AAA titles incorporate more story than is perhaps needed in my opinion, it good that Humble Hearts haven’t followed suit.
Controls – 9.5/10
The only minor problem I have with the game’s control scheme is that it can sometimes be awkward to traverse platforms upwards. Some protrusions in levels acting as platforms can be quite subtle, which gives the game a certain charm, but sometimes it can be hard to determine where exactly on a platform the character needs to land to traverse it. But other than this one small issue, there are no others. It’s actually very impressive how the developers have managed the combat and special move mechanics.
Lifespan – 6/10
The biggest problem I have with this game is how short a time it lasts for something so brilliant. On average, it can take about 12 hours to complete the game to 100%, and that left me wanting so much more at the end. I’ve had the same problem with a few games to have been released this year, such as South Park: The Stick of Truth and Child of Light, and it does dismay me that great gaming experience likes these were also made to be particularly fleeting compared to other great games made in the same vein. I’m hoping, however, that this is where the sequel comes in.
Storyline – 9/10
The game’s narrative involves the player character Dust who is awakened by an anthropomorphic sword called the Blade of Ahrah, and its protector, a small flying creature called Fidget. Unsure of who he is, and why he is where he is, Dust, along with Fidget and the sword, resolves to find answers, which takes him on a quest to stop a looming threat to the and of Falana. There are several prominent things that make the story of the game one of the best I’ve experienced for some time; among them being character development. Dust, in particular, is portrayed in a very realistic manner irrespective of many other video game heroes, such as Mario and Link. Over time, the character develops in such wonderful ways, as he is not always completely successful in his endeavors, and comes to accept that the fact that he is not perfect, and can only do his best, and nothing more. The audience will also be made to think for themselves about what kind of person Dust is, and whether or not he will have it in him, in the end, to do what he has set out to do.
Aside from presenting a strong level of violence, there are aspects and themes present in the story, which cover a lot of mature and morose subjects at times, such as corruption, personal morality, death, and disillusionment, making me further question whether this game is actually 100% suitable for it’s appropriated audience. But on the other hand, this isn’t a bad thing, as it can potentially teach children a very valuable lesson. Of course, an integral part of growing up is learning that adults aren’t perfect, and I think this game handles that subject matter extremely well. Even Fidget, a character I found to be annoying at first, does develop into a lot more respectable character; even providing an element of comic relief at times.
Originality – 8/10
Although the gameplay mechanics do have strong influence from the likes of Super Metroid, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and even Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, the game is insanely unique in terms of both visuals and story, and covers a lot of topics that few games do. Few games have also managed to impress me in the same way as this one has, and has artistic merit comparable to only the most imaginative video game titles out there, such as Shadow of the Colossus or Legacy of Kain.
Overall, Dust: An Elysian Tail is one of the best games I’ve played throughout the eighth generation, and it comes highly recommended by me. It can easily immerse players in its enjoyable gameplay, stunning visual style, and extremely deep and imaginative story. Dean Dodrill has highlighted that he has many ideas for how he would develop a sequel to the series, but the first game has served as a very impressive starting point.