Capsule Review: Dust: An Elysian Tail

A 2D action RPG Metroidvania that feels like it’s set in an animated movie, because it basically is. Play as the amnesiac Dust exploring varied environments and fighting monsters to find answers and help people out along the way.

While not everyone likes the art style (which is somewhere between Vanillaware and The Secret of NIMH) I found it beautiful. The smooth-flowing animation is even more impressive due to it holding up perfectly during the game’s very fluid combo-based combat. HyperDuck Soundworks provides a beautiful soundtrack and the voice acting is always at least passable and features a couple of standout performances, particularly that of main character Dust. The story and its delivery are solid, with some likable characters and intriguing mysteries that have good payoffs.

Combat is the game’s mechanical core. It’s fast and smooth, based on chaining a wide but manageable array of abilities together to avoid taking damage and get high hit combos. It’s possible to get wiped out fast if you’re careless, but you’ll generally be fine as long as you’re paying attention and better hit combos are rewarded with bonus experience, meaning there’s a large competence zone and mastery is satisfying. Platforming challenges don’t feel nearly as polished as combat, with neither the rich visuals nor Dust’s abilities supporting the precision required in some portions in the second half of the game - it’s frustrating to fail a jumping challenge because it wasn’t totally clear which pixels were background and which were hazard or exactly how your dodge would arc through the air.

In fact, many non-combat systems feel tacked on if you look too closely. They work fine, but are layered on top of the game’s core without changing it or fully integrating with it, such that you could lift them out entirely and the game wouldn’t feel like it was missing anything. This is perhaps most obvious with the additional abilities you get throughout the game - they aren’t contextualized within the game’s world. You just find an “ability orb” somewhere and now you can do something new like slide through low openings or cling to vines and the characters don’t remark on it at all. Additionally, these don’t much change the way you interact with the game world - mostly you just go back to the places with the obvious previously-insurmountable barriers and overcome them in the obvious way. Similarly, there are twenty sidequests to undertake, but most don’t feed into or build on the main story, instead introducing characters who have no other significance to the game and sometimes feel quite out of place.

The storytelling around the core plot is handled well, however, and systems that are connected to the combat - such as leveling and gear-crafting - are better integrated. You have partial freedom in how to improve your stats and the choice does make a difference, and the economy has an interesting system where once you find materials as enemy drops and sell them to a merchant more can be purchased, which gates the most powerful recipes behind the most powerful enemies but never requires farming materials. You will still need to repeat a lot of combat, however, due to required backtracking and limited fast-travel.

Dust is a gorgeous game with an engaging story and fluid combat, wrapped in a handful of other systems and content that are often poorly integrated but which rarely detract from the experience.

I Stopped Playing When: I finished the game with full map completion and secret collection and all side quests complete. I did not bother four-starring the challenge rooms.

Docprof's Rating:

Three Stars: Good. I liked the game enough to finish it (or just play it a bunch, for games that don't end). I recommend it to most genre fans.

You can get it or learn more here.