Welcome to Falana, a world where the superior race is anthropomorphic animals. Surely such strange lands would be full of exciting stories, just waiting to be told, right? I’d like to think so at least, and in Dust: An Elysian Tail you’ll get a chance to experience one such first-hand! Dust will gladly take you on an action-packed adventure, aided by a sentient sword known as the Blade of Ahrah and Fidget, its (at times) cheerful guardian. Unfortunately, helping Dust recover the memories of his past soon becomes the least of their worries, as a great evil threatens the land.
In case you haven’t noticed already from the above screenshot, Dust: An Elysian Tail is stunning. Everything from the art style to animation quality just screams ‘eye candy’, so if your system can handle it, crank that sucker all the way up to 1920×1080! Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take it from the top, as there is plenty of ground to cover in this PC version of Dean Dodrill’s XBLA hit.
I know, the cat’s out of the bag: it’s a console port, but then again, who cares? They’re not all pathetic rush-jobs after all, and this one definitely ain’t. I mean, just look at that options menu. On top of the PC-specific performance settings, which there are quite a few of for a 2D game, he even included a colourblind mode; talk about going the extra mile! And since performance is a common issue in ports these days, well, let me put it like this: I experienced no issues whatsoever, on my AMD X2 4000+ (2GHz Dual-Core) with an Nvidia 240 GT. This means that even semi-recent laptops should be able to run it just fine too. But enough technical mumbo jumbo. It’s time to join this trio of adventurers and find out exactly what’s going on in Dust: An Elysian Tail.
At first, the fact that this is a Metroidvania-ish game won’t be blatantly obvious, but you’ll soon stumble upon the first of many genre-typical “how do I go there?” sections, which will only be traversable after acquiring a specific ability – hello backtracking! Oh and guess what? Enemies previously slain will return for another round, the second you re-enter an area. Guess they didn’t learn their lesson the first time… or maybe they get paid per death, who knows?
Fortunately, combat is both fast and incredibly fluid, as you’ll notice when Dust swings that huge sword all over the place, pulling off combos and utilizing various abilities. Even better, if you add Fidget to the equation, you’ll be able to utilize some seriously screen-clearing attacks! You won’t have access to more than a few basic attacks/moves early on though, but as the game progresses and you lay waste to entire armies, causing Dust to level up in the process, you’ll be able to use even more deadly combos/abilities. Do keep an eye on your health though, as it won’t automagically regenerate!
And speaking of beating the living crap out of hordes of enemies, if you’ve got the least bit of experience with 2D action games, you’ll want to play on tough or hardcore, as normal will probably be a walk in the park for ya then. It certainly was for me, so it was a good thing that the difficulty can be at any time: crank it up to have your skills tested or lower it for a leisurely stroll through most battles – your choice.
Now, believe it or not, the fact that enemies respawn is actually beneficial to the player. They’re the only means by which items and coins can be acquired after all, and you’ll need plenty of both for various purposes. No matter how adept your combat skills may be, it would be wise not to underestimate the importance of your equipment, both defensive and offensive. Upgrading these items can be done either by way of crafting, or you could throw coins at shopkeepers instead; just remember to stock up on healing items too, as a dead Dust won’t be of use to anyone.
If all this talk about levelling, respawning enemies and going on a shopping spree has you worried that even a tiny amount of grinding is required, rest assured that is not the case. At least, unless you’re playing on tough or hardcore, at which point you may have to power level a bit to be evenly matched against certain opponents – or maybe you can get with by more skilful play, dodging and proper counterattacks? Skill levels vary greatly from person to person, after all.
Whether or not you feel like grinding, even though experience points, items, and coins are all pretty important to progress, you’ll still be spending a lot of time slicing up enemies of different shapes and sizes. It can get a bit hectic since you’ll often face off against 4-5 opponents at a time, but as long as you keep a cool head and stay focused, you should have no problems landing successive hits, keeping that experience boosting chain going – just don’t get hit, or the bonus will be lost.
But no matter how fun combat is, kicking ass and taking names will only do so much to entertain most. As such, it’s a good thing that both the exploration aspect and story elements in Dust: An Elysian Tail truly shine. Some might find Fidget’s finicky nature and urge to comment on everything a bit annoying, but not me. I found her presence thoroughly entertaining, especially when she decided to break the fourth wall, which was quite a common occurrence! She’s also nowhere near as annoying as Navi from Ocarina of Time, so even if you end up disliking her, remember – it could be much worse.
Those who enjoy roaming the lands in search of fame and fortune will feel right at home in Dust: An Elysian Tail, as there’s plenty to do; even more so after acquiring the ability to power-slide like a rock star, kick up dust to create a storm and… other cool feats. Once you’ve had enough of that and feel like getting back to the story, one glance at the quest log will remind you what’s currently on the agenda. I found this to be quite useful as I often ventured off on my own, taking the road less travelled. Ah, to be young and adventurous.
Along the way you’ll get to meet quite a few people and here’s a shocker: most have a thing that they simply can’t do themselves, instead of resorting to asking for your help! Lazy bums! But seriously, at least their requests are not trivial or boring, even if some are a bit… strange. You’re welcome to ignore their plea for help though, but who knows what might happen if you simply leave them to their misery?
By the time my journey with Dust, Fidget, and Ahrah had come to an end and the credits started rolling, I was left with a strange sensation of accomplishment. According to my save, we had spent close to 10 hours together and what an adventure it had been. From the early hours when no one really knew what was going on and our goal was to get Dust’s memories back, all the way to the grand finale which… oh right, no spoilers!
Instead, I would highly recommend picking up Dust: An Elysian Tail from Steam right now and making the trip through Falana yourself; and while that’s installing, how about reading the post-mortem of the XBLA version while listening to the soundtrack?