Many digital games are simply allusions of moral and social themes humanity faces daily. But few games blend those themes together as well as Dust: An Elysian Tail. It utilizes its storybook art style, action and character progression to create an emotional and thought-provoking atmosphere.

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Initial release date: August 15, 2012
Developer: Humble Hearts
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, iOS, Microsoft Windows, Linux, Mac OS
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I’m immediately impressed with how the game blends its story into the gameplay, not around it. Character progression, abilities and story integration elevate the plot from being a mere tale of discovery. Any time players can cause Dust (the protagonist) to increase in his abilities, non-playable characters take notice, providing context to every action taken!

Within that same context, the game’s art direction captures the action and overall aesthetic. Its painted appeal reminds me of a Disney animation. There are slight light and wind effects from swinging Dust’s blade and clashing of steel and armor. The music firmly nurtures the action with every location explored. I can easily just enjoy watching someone play the game.

I respect the attempt made to address difficult themes—hope, love, joy, sadness, bravery, racism, courage and death. Dust: An Elysian Tail rarely mishandles any of these topics and strings events together, connecting all of its characters in purposeful ways. It gives context to each task Dust performs and dangles hope in front of players’ eyes, hoping prior actions make any positive influence in that war-laden world.

But there is a glaring area of improvement—the stereotypes. They are subtle, yet indirectly weaken Dust’s noble quest. Why can a southern drawl only be found in characters underneath the earth’s surface?  They are presented as less intelligent than their over-world counterparts?

Why does the siblings’ father’s lack of appearance promote Haley to busy herself with work and Matti saunter about cold and detached? Is that relationship broken? Or why push Haley as desperate for an intimate relationship with Dust on first encounter? It’s the lack of depth in the non-playable characters that actually detracts from the potency of the story.

Despite those setbacks, what glues the experience together is the combat. The mechanics are smooth and invigorating. While the combat style is fun to watch, I did find myself wanting even more attack combinations for Dust to perform. It could be argued that the elemental additions from Fidget’s (Dust’s traveling companion) abilities are enough—they certainly assist with the more stubborn opponents.

Dust: An Elysian Tail is a solid gaming experience. I argue that the themes are a bit much for E10+, but I’ll follow that up by challenging players and parents to continue exploration in the Holy Spirit. Anthropomorphic creatures shouldn’t give such themes a spiritual pass.