The saying “saving the best for last” is an appropriate one to use when describing this year’s Summer of Arcade promotion. Dust: An Elysian Tail was a title that flew under my radar until our initial report. Boy, am I glad I didn’t let it slip by! This one man passion project proves to not only be the most polished XBLA game of the season, but also one of the more engrossing downloadable titles I have ever played.
You play as Dust, an amnesiac warrior who wakes up in a forest with no recollection of his memory. Along comes Ahrah, a talking sword, and its guardian Fidget. After some hilarious banter, you all agree to join forces and head towards a village to the east in order to find clues on Dust’s mysterious identity. What follows is five chapters that will take you through zombie infested haunted mansions, snowy mountains plagued by avalanches, and dark caverns inhabited by friendly hillbillies!
One thing that will immediately jump out at you is how gorgeous Dust: An Elysian Tail looks. The quality makes it easy to forget that this was all done in 3 1/2 years by a single person. Colors pop out in the friendly town of Aurora and the animations are fluid whether it’s Dust himself or any one of the lively minor characters.
This level of detail in the animation is made clear when in dialogue scenes. For example, Fidget will go through a wide range of emotions like shivering in fear or turning her nose up at you all while flapping her wings to stay afloat. It’s literally like something out of a Don Bluth film! Voice acting is surprisingly top-notch here as well which does an excellent job breathing life into each character. Fidget, in particular, has some hilarious lines and comedic moments all throughout the game.
Being an action RPG, you will hack and slash countless enemies and level up. Fidget can be used to shoot projectiles which are then able to be harnessed using Dust’s spinning sword attack (hold Y). Items can be bought or even crafted to boost your skills in order to make you more powerful, harder to kill, and even make Fidget’s attacks deal extra damage. Improving Fidget to a certain point is a sure fire way to plow through legions of enemies with ease.
Combos can be executed on the ground or even in the air. The variety of options presented to lay waste to your enemies makes combat really fun especially when trying to complete the 1,000 hit combo quest (hilariously titled “C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER!”).
Make no mistake, Dust: An Elysian Tail is a blast to play but it also knows how to get you emotionally. There’s a surprising amount of humor that gamers are bound to pick up on such as when the merchant initially greets you as “stranger”. As mentioned earlier, Fidget provides a lot of hilarious moments as the genuinely funny comedic relief as you progress on your journey.
There’s also a few heart-wrenching moments that I won’t spoil here. I will mention, however, that you really end up feeling for Dust while trying to figure out who he is and his frustration sets in. The story does a real nice job poking you with hints here and there before finally dropping the bomb and setting the final act in furious motion. It truly makes for an epic fantasy!
There are a couple of knocks that are worth mentioning. Boss fights, although well integrated into the plot, are rather easy and susceptible to spamming attacks. You will also find yourself carrying handfuls of blueprints for outdated weapons by the time you find the blacksmith who can craft them. These are minor and rather nitpicky complaints at best honestly and doesn’t detract from the sheer joy that the game offers.
Dust: An Elysian Tail offers an engrossing story, lovable characters, and plenty of side quests to live up to its $15 price. This is a near-perfect title and must-buy for any XBLA collection. I’m already hoping and anticipating for potential sequels since there is plenty to explore in this fleshed out world.
Dust: An Elysian Tail receives 4 1/2 Death Rays out of 5.