Dust: An Elysian Tail is a two-dimensional side-scrolling action role-playing game developed by Dean Dodrill. Dodrill is the sole developer and has hand-animated and coded the game by himself, with HyperDuck Music Studios contributing the music. The game itself is a tie-in to Elysian Tail, an animated feature also being worked on by Dodrill. Previously Dust was being made as an Xbox Live Indie Game after winning Dream.Build.Play 2009, an annual contest held by Microsoft to highlight quality independent games, however on July 7th, 2010, Dodrill announced that Microsoft will be publishing it as an official Xbox Live Arcade title. Very little was heard about Dust for the next two years, until it was announced in June 2012 that the game was going to be part of the 2012 Xbox Live Summer of Arcade promotion. Additionally, at a PAX East 2013 panel, creators Dean Dodrill and Alex Kain announced that the game would see a release on Steam within the next few months.
The game was finally released on August 15, 2012 for 1200 Microsoft Points (the equivalent of $15.00 USD), and quickly garnered critical acclaim from numerous publications, including top scores from Electronic Gaming Monthly, Official Xbox Magazine, Games Radar, and Game Informer. The game has been praised for its art style, simplistic yet addicting gameplay, and its large world, with frequent comparisons to the "Metroidvania" style.
At its core, Dust: An Elysian Tail is a hack-and-slash game. Its protagonist, Dust, is able to perform combos using his talking sword of Ahrah and his sidekick Fidget (who is a "nimbat," a flying creature similar to a mongoose or a ferret, and an oft-parodied aspect in some portions of the game). Dust is able to acquire more abilities as the game progresses, opening up combat to longer and more complex combos. One early such acquisition is the Dust Storm, a special attack that allows Dust to spin his sword quickly, hitting enemies dozens of times in the span of a few seconds.
The combo system of Dust's combat is also part of the role-playing aspect of the game. Longer combos yields higher experience point bonuses, and thus, more frequent level ups for Dust. These experience bonuses disappear if Dust is hit by an enemy attack, however, so maintaining a bonus is increasingly difficult as combat progresses. Leveling up grants Dust a Skill Gem, which can be placed in one of four attributes: Health, Attack, Defense, and Fidget (which also upgrades the Dust Storm ability).
In addition to all of Dust's combat abilities, Fidget can also play a role in the game's battles. She can fire small projectiles at enemies, damaging them slightly. However, when used in conjunction with the Dust Storm ability, Fidget's small projectiles are multiplied exponentially, and can deal greater damage and even produce more projectiles.
Every one of these special actions (Fidget's abilities, Dust's special abilities such as dashing, Dust Storm, etc) expend amounts of Dust's Energy Meter. When empty, attempting to use the Dust Storm can even damage Dust slightly. The meter automatically refills slowly over time, but can also be more quickly refilled by attacking enemies and building up a combo.
Challenge Arenas are special areas hidden throughout the game's world. In these arenas, players must traverse a course under a time limit, avoiding obstacles and traps, fighting enemies, and breaking certain markers to boost point totals. At the end of the course, the player is given a score and (based on their performance) potentially an item. Each Challenge Arena can be scored up to four stars, with a three star score unlocking that arena's item. This is also serves as the game's leaderboard.
Quests, Exploration, and Interaction
Beyond combat, there are several other things to find in the world of Falana. Dust can interact with non-player characters, many of whom may have side quests for Dust to fulfill (gaining experience and items). These non-player characters typically appear in the game's many towns, and many of them unlock new areas to explore. Exploration is fairly non-linear, but differs from the typical Metroidvania style in that traversing from one area to another requires an intermediary visit to a world map instead of direct connection.
Once in one of these areas, there are several treasure chests to collect, locked and hidden away. Every chest requires a key to unlock it (as well as a quick unlocking "minigame"), and typically provide Dust with money, crafting materials, healing items, and blueprints. These blueprints make new equipment available at blacksmiths, where Dust can use crafting materials to create new weapons, rings, pendants, augments, or armor.
Crafting materials can be obtained in a few other ways beyond opening chests. Enemies frequently drop crafting materials, which differ based on location and enemy. Shops stock crafting materials as well, but only stock materials which have previously been sold by the player (requiring the player to sell at least one of a certain material before that material will be stocked in a store). This is carried over between every shop, so selling materials at one shop will also activate that material in another shop.
In addition to the regular chests hidden around the world, there are twelve cages which require four keys to unlock (and a slightly more difficult unlocking minigame). Each of these twelve cages hold a character from another indie game, including Meat Boy, The Kid, and The Maw. After unlocking a cage, the character (referred to in-game as "Friends") is sent to the Sanctuary, a location accesible via the world map where all of the obtained friends are stored.
The game opens with the protagonist waking up in the middle of a forest to a talking sword. The sword (who introduces himself as the Blade of Ahrah) explains that his name is Dust, and that he summoned the sword. The two are joined by Fidget, a small flying fox-like creature, and the guardian of the aforementioned sword, and the three of them decide to set out on a quest to discover what is Dust's true identity.
The trio set off for the nearest town of Aurora, where they find that the town is being overrun by monsters. The mayor of the town (Mayor Bram) asks Dust for his help, and he abides, defeating Fuse, a crazed monster who razed a nearby village. Fuse has a brief moment of lucidity before his death and reveals himself as one of a race of creatures known as Moonbloods, creatures who are victims of a genocide perpetrated by a mysterious character known as General Gaius. Fuse also tells Dust that he played a role in the genocide at some point.
Mayor Bram instructs Dust to speak to a woman in Aurora named Ginger, who may have more knowledge of the Moonbloods. She is revealed to be part of a group of Moonblood sympathizers, a group that was recently found and killed by General Gaius' men. Ginger tells Dust that she is headed to some mountains in the north, as water has stopped flowing in the town of Aurora for some mysterious reason.
Dust manages to restart the flow of water by traveling beneath the town and defeating a deity in control of the water flow, who says that General Gaius' troops are marching in the north. Concerned for Ginger's safety, Dust heads north to meet up with her, and there he finds Ginger and Elder Gray Eyes, as well as the truth of his identity. Gray Eyes reveals that Dust was created by the Moonbloods from two persons who perished simultaneously: Jin (Ginger's brother) and Cassius (a powerful assassin working with Gaius). These two were complete opposites, one purely evil and one completely innocent and good, combined together into what the Moonbloods call "Sen-Mithrarin."
The group head to the Moonblood base in a northern volcano named Everdawn Basin, where Dust assists the Moonbloods in fighting back Gaius' troops. Reaching the peak, Dust fights General Gaius in a lengthy struggle. Eventually, Gaius is hanging from an outcrop over a pool of lava, where he tells Dust that Cassius is no longer part of him, then flings himself into the lava. Dust, severely injured from the preceding fight, collapses as Fidget begs him to wake up.
The game ends as Elder Gray Eyes is giving a speech to the Moonbloods, telling them that through Dust's sacrifice they are able to live in a better world. However, as the cutscene draws to a close, a flash of light as the Blade of Ahrah flies off insinuates that Dust may very well still be alive.
The sounds and music for Dust: An Elysian Tail was composed by HyperDuck SoundWorks (Chris Geehan and Dan Byrne-McCullough) with additional music from Alex Brandon. The original soundtrack was released on 1st October 2012.
1. Alex Brandon - Falana (02:08)
2. The Land of Remembrance (01:26)
3. Alex Brandon - Aurora (02:24)
4. Cirromon Caverns (06:11)
5. The Cirelian Trials (03:39)
6. The Glade (05:50)
7. Short Fuse (02:27)
8. Abadis Forest (04:18)
9. The Sorrowing Meadows (04:26)
10. No Rest for the Wicked (01:19)
11. Deities (03:13)
12. Alex Brandon - Beneath Hollow Grounds (03:54)
13. The Blackmoor Mountains (06:48)
14. Twin Souls (05:18)
15. Everdawn Basin (06:21)
16. Al ex Brandon - Last Sanctum (02:08)
17. Heavy Bones (03:05)
18. I am Dust (00:59)
19. Let's End This (02:34)
20. Ascension (01:26)
21. Sacrifice (02:19)
22. Legend of the Mithrarin (01:00)
23. Gone Home (Journey's End) (02:50)
24. Trailer (02:08)
25. Trailer Logo (00:13)
26. Glick 16 (04:43)
27. Vintage Cirromon Caverns (04:04)
28. Vintage Abadis Forest (03:45)
29. Vintage Sorrowing Meadows (03:11)
30. Vintage Glade (03:01)
31. Vintage Blackmoor Mountains (03:36)
32. Time (00:41)
33. Save Point Ambience (01:08)
34. Warp Gate Ambience (00:59)
35. Haunted Mansion Ambience (02:12)
36. Cirelian Trials Ambience (00:53)
37. Stone Gate Ambience (00:39)