Dust: An Elysian Tail was released during the 2012 Summer of Arcade as the lone RPG of the bunch. In a summer filled with zombies, shooters and skating, Dust stood out as an artistic action RPG stylized with talking animals and anime drawings.
You may be brought in to Dust: An Elysian Tail by the promise of a well-reviewed side-scrolling action RPG but you will most likely stay for the amazing artwork and music as well as the cute, if not predictable, storyline. Don't misread this, the gameplay is fun and hacking down endless monsters can spell a great time but the artistry is just wonderful and refuses to be ignored.
From grassy plains to underground waterfalls to raging volcanoes, Dust will have you traveling to all sorts of locales and each is lovingly handcrafted with beautiful backdrops and interesting level design. Each locale is also filled to the brim with monsters of all kinds. While most function pretty much identical to the last, their appearances are varied drastically plus the lure of new item drops keeps things fresh and interesting.
Each area also has it's own distinct music and while none has struck me as particularly catchy, the soft piano melodies set the atmosphere for the game perfectly. One aspect of the game that I didn't expect out of an Xbox Live Arcade title was that every line of dialogue is fully voiced. While the voice overs themselves can be hit and miss, they do each lend a greater sense of personality to each character that adds to the overall charm. Even your flying companion, Fidget, who has probably the most obnoxious voice over in all of video game history, gains some endearing charm thanks to the voice over. Most characters are well voiced, however, and Dust is done wonderfully.
The storyline itself isn't enthralling in and of itself but it's not poorly done either. It's simply been done before. Amnesiac main character wakes up to find himself in the middle of a war-torn land where he must save the world and discover who he is in the process. There are some interesting twists and turns on this basic formula but it mostly stays in predictable territory. If you're looking for groundbreaking drama, you won't find it here but the characters are mostly charming, the dialogue is good bordering on passable, and the plot is still satisfying despite it's lack of innovation.
The gameplay is where Dust falters a bit. Don't get me wrong, this is still a great action RPG and it managed to entertain me throughout my playthrough but some will get bored of the repetitive fighting. There are a few basic combos and special moves but most fights will consist of you mashing X to kill everything on the screen. Fortunately, fights are flashy and experience/items are relatively generous so you always feel like you're accomplishing something. Harder difficulties may force smarter play but on the normal difficulty, most battles were simple. Boss fights add a bit of variation but were quite easy on the normal difficulty. They may be more intense on the harder ones but other than the last boss fight, all others were finished in less than five minutes on the first try. They were entertaining and a welcome change of pace from regular monsters but don't be expecting Dark Souls out of these bosses.
Game length was quite decent from a 100% completion play. It took me about 15 hours or so to complete everything that Dust had to offer on the normal difficulty. Achievements have a reasonably high ratio (currently 590 TA for 400 GS) but weren't very difficult to complete at all. Even the supposedly challenging task of gaining four stars on all challenge arenas wasn't all that difficult and I'm far from the best gamer out there. As far as the gameplay goes, while I was about ready to be done with Dust and move on by the end of my 15 hours, I never felt that it overstayed it's welcome, an impressive feat for a game that mostly involves mashing X.
Dust won't be for everyone. Anyone not into anime stylings and storylines may want to look carefully at Dust before buying and the 1200 MSP can be a high price point for some. Still, if you're willing to drop the dough and can appreciate wonderful artwork, Dust will not leave you unsatisfied.
NOTE: As of this review, player has achieved full completion in-game but is missing two achievements, both of which require a second playthrough. This note will be removed and review edited, if this changes and thoughts change over second playthrough. Note that all achievements can be obtained on a single playthrough if difficult setting is picked at start although a save file will need to be used at one decision point.