From what I’ve read on the always trustworthy Interwebz, Dust: An Elysian Tail is a polarizing game. Meaning, there’s the people that love it, and the people that hate it. And from what I’ve played, which is maybe an hour and change, enough to have at least opened up the map and availability of a number of side quests, I think it all comes down to whether you are a big enough person on the inside to unabashedly accept a game with cutesy, colorful–and I mean that in two ways–characters that harken back to that era of safe, but satisfying Saturday morning cartoons. Because everything else seems solid, if perhaps a little perfunctory and possibly unnecessary in some areas. We’ll get there, kids.
Welcome to the world of Falana, which is inhabited by any great number of anthropomorphic animals. You get to see the world and its people–if you can say such a thing–through the titular main character Dust as he tries to remember his past. Yup, it’s another main character suffering from short-term memory loss; at least he’s not mute. Anyways, right at the start, Dust finds a sentient sword called the Blade of Ahrah, which will be his main fighting weapon. Ahrah’s original guardian, Fidget, a flying squirrel-fox-thing, also joins the group and is able to toss magical orbs at enemies from afar. I don’t know much more about the story, except there’s monsters and a village and I think the monsters want to kill all the talking furry folks. There’s that and trying to reconnect Dust with his surroundings.
So that’s the story…kind of. Gameplay-wise, Dust: An Elysian Tail is basically a 2D side-scrolling beat-em-up of yore. Think Odin Sphere and Shadow Complex rolled into one. Or if you want something more artsy, maybe Aquaria. Basically, you move left or right across a grid-based map, fighting monsters, building high combo counts, and earning experience points for it all. Oh, and you can also acquire loot in the form of ingredients and materials. Occasionally, at least early on, Dust acquires power-ups that permanently alter how he fights and moves, such as double jumping or being able to combine Fidget’s magic with one of his attacks for more damage. The RPG elements allow Dust to level up and put points into certain stats (health, damage, defense, magic), as well as wear different types of gear and craft new equipment. And that’s more or less everything I’ve seen so far.
Honestly, I don’t have any problem with furries, though I’m finding the story a little slow and predictable at the moment…at least until the other shoe drops in relation to Dust’s past and how he factors into all this genocide. Thankfully, the fighting is a ton of fun, even if it can quickly go wrong or become chaotic and confusing. If you know what you’re doing before you start tapping buttons, you can have total control over an entire group of enemies, much like you can in Guacamelee!, which I do need to get back to soonish. I enjoy knocking enemies up into the air, juggling them for a bit, and then pile-driving them into the earth below, sometimes hitting some other enemies along the way. It’s fun if occasionally mindless.
One aspect to RPGs of all kinds that I’m finding less and less appealing as time goes on is that moment when you arrive in a town, generally your first safe spot, and everyone under the sun has a side quest to give you. For Dust: An Elysian Tail, this happens in Aurora Village, and you can’t help but collect quest after quest as you walk left to right towards the mayor’s house. I think you end up picking up around five or six additional quests before you can move on, and sure, most of them aren’t thinkers, just asking you to collect this or that while out battling monsters, but it felt a little exhausting. I remember feeling the same when arriving at Borderlands 2‘s hub of Sanctuary, as well as stepping foot in every single Skyrim town. Quantity does not always equal quality.
This always gets talked about when I come across something Dust-related to read, so I might as well join in and mention that the game was developed by independent designer Dean Dodrill…and mostly only himself. Sure, there’s voice actors and a bunch of other stuff you might not think about, but Dodrill drew, animated, programmed, test, rebuilt, and so on. I believe it took him around four years to put a cap on his furry game’s head, and that’s one amazing accomplishment, whether the game resonates with you or not. There’s a fantastic piece over at Polygon on his plight, which I suggest y’all check out.
I’m going to keep playing for sure, as the difficulty hasn’t reared its ugly head, and it feels like the kind of game I can just chink away at over the next few weeks. Here’s to finding out what dirty deeds Dust did in his past life.