At first glance, Dust: An Elysian Tail might look like another anime-style game featuring a cast of furry characters, but appearances can be deceiving, especially when you realize the game was brought to life largely by the singular efforts of experienced animator Dean Dodrill. Once you play it, you’ll realize Dust is quite successful in its execution, shattering stereotypes and surpassing expectations.

Developed by: Humble Hearts
Published by: Microsoft Studios
Genre: Action-RPG
Platform: Xbox 360
What works: Great cast of characters, fun combat system
What doesn’t work: Erratic save points, some annoying voice over
[rating:4/5]

The game focuses on a warrior named Dust, who has lost his memories and can’t remember who or what he is. He encounters a sword named Ahrah and its guardian, Fidget. Along with these two, Dust embarks on an adventure to find out his purpose for existing. This story has been told multiple times before, but its charming narrative creates a world that pulls you in right from the start. Each location is beautifully drawn, with great music that accompanies each setting. The characters, with a majority of them being anthropomorphic animals, are also fleshed out well, and the voice casting is also a plus, even though some sound more annoying than others. Emotions, angry or happy, become known to the player when a character speaks, and the game’s theme of identity is delivered effectively through cut-scenes and conversations.

Equally impressive is the game’s combat system. While battles essentially involve button-mashing, the game also allows the player to customize Dust with different armors and accessories that power him up. Dust can also perform special techniques to fight off the never-ending army of monsters. He can blindly swing Ahrah or use special button combinations that will have varying effects, such as lifting an opponent high in the air to unleash an aerial combo or slam them to the ground. Fidget is also a part of Dust’s arsenal and can use multiple projectiles that will allow Dust to combo off of, filling the screen with devastating elements that will shred the enemies.

Defeating enemies nets experience points, but getting a higher chain in combat will give you bonus experience that will vary depending on the number of hits in the combo. However, if you are hit any time the chain is in effect, you will lose all bonus experience you acquired in the chain. This can be hard to keep track off in the later levels, where multiple objects are on the screen and you can’t locate Dust, meaning you’re at the mercy of losing bonus experience to level up. As mentioned before, you could simply button-mash your way through some battles, but the game rewards you with more experience if you are mindful of your attacks and resources.

Your map shows you the location of your next objective and any treasures that are lying around, along with the locations of save points and merchants that you have come across. Some levels will require you to backtrack to move on with the story, but this isn’t a burden as it allows you to explore new areas and discover many secrets hidden throughout its world. With each screen you come across becoming a mystery, it’s best to be prepared at any moment so you won’t lose your progress, especially when a battle starts and you need to defeat all enemies on-screen, whether it’s one or 20, to move on.

Merchants that are scattered across the world and they allow you to stock on food whenever you come across them, provided you have the coin. You can also use the merchants to buy any materials you need to craft new items. Save points can heal, but depending on the difficulty you choose, they will either fill your HP to a certain amount or simply allow you to save. However, the save points are erratic, and depending on the difficulty you choose, they will either fill up your HP or just allow you to save. Being mindful of how much food you have on hand to heal is important especially when you can’t be sure where the next save point will be.

Akin to Metroidvania games, Dust can also learn new abilities and find treasure if the player looks hard enough and uses Dust’s arsenal to uncover them, further extending the game’s lifespan well past the ending credits. While its story may have been brought to life before and it does have some irritable moments, Dust: An Elysian Tail is a fantastic game that should be played by anyone wanting a solid action-RPG experience this summer.

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