I’m not sure what era would serve as the ‘Golden Age’ of indie video games, but there is a strong argument to be made for the late 2000s and early 2010s. That was the time when all of the major consoles started offering digital distribution platforms and selling cheaper games made by smaller development teams. This meant that indie developers now had new options when it came to selling and marketing their games. It also meant that older genres that would’ve normally been relegated to handhelds could get a polished console release. One prime example was the 2D Action-RPG Metroidvania Dust: An Elysian Tale.
The Role you Play
You play as the titular Dust, who wakes up in the middle of a forest with no memory of who he is or where he came from. He is quickly greeted by a flying talking sword named Ahrah. Ahrah offers Dust guidance towards finding the answer to his identity in a nearby village. Despite his memory loss, Dust finds that he has an expert capability of wielding Ahrah and fighting with him. Dust is also joined by Ahrah’s guardian: a flying orange nimbat named Fidget. Fidget has magical abilities that allow her to aid Dust in combat by firing projectiles at enemies.
The plot centers around Dust trying to uncover his origins. As you progress through the game, you will gradually pick up clues to Dust’s true identity. He is told of many atrocities committed by those wearing the same clothes as him. However, Dust has no recollection of such events. He makes it his mission along with Fidget and Ahrah to learn his true identity and redeem any misdeeds done in the past.
The gameplay focuses heavily on hack-and-slash combat, with some platforming and RPG elements thrown in. You’re mostly progressing through levels and slashing through groups of enemies while doing so. You can attack enemies with a combination of weak and strong attacks and/or projectiles from Fidget. As you defeat enemies, you gain experience points and collectibles that you use to build equipment that you can equip to raise your strength, defense or magic.
There are also plenty of side quests to go on. Some of them unlock as you progress through the game, but some of them also unlock in the Metroidvania fashion in which you have to unlock a certain ability or acquire a certain item before you can access the area.
While there are a lot of side quests and extras, most of them overlap with the main quest and don’t require too much deviation. The only time you’ll really have to stray from your main path is when you plan to revisit an area you couldn’t access before because you have a new item or a new ability. With that said, the game is about 12-14 hours long.
Dust’s gameplay is very action-heavy and the classical soundtrack matches with it. While the game ventures through grasslands, mountains, caves, and volcanoes, most of the music is always very high energy with a heavy focus on strings, piano, drums or gothic choir because there is usually a lot of fighting going on. There are also several slower tracks to go with some of the slower, more somber spots in the game and there is a noticeable drop in both tempo and volume, there is usually still that lingering sense of impending dread carried within the melodies.
While he had some help with the writing and the voice acting, Developer Dean Dodrill made this game almost entirely singlehandedly. The game was very much created in his own image and it shows through his background as an animator. There is exceptional animation in the dialog scenes and the animations which shows that a lot of time and passion went into the development process. There are also a lot of little references to other games like Resident Evil 4 and Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest which further proves the lack of inhibition.
One reason it was allowed to be so uninhibited was due to the demo winning Microsoft’s Dream.Build.Play development contest. This resulted in Dust getting a publishing deal with Microsoft and getting a launch window during their Summer of Arcade
The Talking Parts
There is plenty of conversing between characters throughout the entirety of Dust: an Elysian Tail. A lot of the exchanges are between Dust and Fidget, simply providing commentary on events that you encounter. Fidget is also quick to provide her own brand of commentary on any other situation, from the main story to sidequests and just about everything else.
What really enhances all of the dialogue is the voice acting. Just about every character in Dust: An Elysian Tail has fully voiced dialogue and all of their contributions are exceptional.
Z…We’ve Reached the End. Anything Else?
Dust: An Elysian Tail and its world has quite a bit of Korean influence. Developer Dean Dodrill is half-Korean and has interspersed some of his own culture throughout his game. Some usable food items are traditional Korean foods like champong, kimbap and doenjang jjigae. It’s also not hard to miss the Korean letters on the title screen that translate to say Dust.
Dust: An Elysian Tail not only excels in every genre that it fits into, but it improves upon it for an unforgettable experience. It firmly established that 2D games can and should make the most of modern hardware, and helped pave the way for an amazing future. It is. without a doubt, a game changer for RPGs and indie games alike and should be experienced by everyone.
Final Score: 10/10
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