Now is probably the best time to be a fan of the Atelier series… at least, if you’re not of those who easily suffer from franchise fatigue. The PlayStation 3 releases alone have been on an annual cycle, and the digital only Vita titles have been scrambling to play catch up (with Atelier Ayesha Plus coming out just two months ago). Fortunately, unlike the Hyperdimension Neptunia games, they haven’t been victims of copied and pasted content.
Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea is the third game in the Dusk trilogy and the sixteenth entry into the main franchise. This time, you take on the role of either Shallistera or Shallotte (both of which, as you might have guessed, identify themselves with the nickname Shallie). Unlike Atelier Escha & Logy before it, the two titular characters do not spend the whole game together, rendering a secondary playthrough more meaningful this time around. Both characters have completely different goals as well. The world has not stopped dying from the last two games, and Shallistera is looking for a solution to her village’s drought. Meanwhile, Shallotte is looking for a more meaningful existence than picking up garbage every day. While they both eventually cross paths and work together for a mutual cause, their motivations are much different.
Since there is more at stake in this particular entry, the plot feels more valuable to the experience than its predecessor. Many questions raised are finally answered and a satisfactory conclusion is reached to top it all off. It helps that the two main protagonists are quite likable and make for a nice complementary pair (though I opted towards Shalistera’s story since she was in the more dire situation). The supporting cast does a nice job too, especially those returning from previous games. Some of the newcomers, such as Kortes and Miruca, were a little dull in the characterization though.
Perhaps the biggest change in the pacing comes from the lack of a time limit. Rather than being pitted against the clock to complete an assignment, you can take as much time as you need in order to complete quests or gather materials. This change was a definite plus, as now you can explore the map and tinker with the robust crafting system without fear of running out of time. But there is a catch.
Before, when you finished with whatever tasks you wanted to complete in order to move on, all you had to do was either sleep, make items, or move about the map to force the plot to progress. Atelier Shallie, having dropped the time mechanic, has instead adopted the Tales of Xillia 2 method of gating off content. Instead of flat out paying money, you are forced to complete a set number of menial tasks in between chapters before you will be allowed to move forward. And while it is not bad in the beginning, by the time I hit the halfway mark, I was wishing to have the time clock restored.
Each chapter is treated almost like an episode out of an anime. You are presented with a specific problem and must work to solve it by either talking to NPC’s, crafting an item, or adventuring (among other things). Once the issue is taken care of, you’re asked to do busy work until the next chapter begins. This work is tracked via Life Tasks that are broken down into several categories, with the ones required to move on placed smack dab in the middle. These range from fighting X number of battles, crafting set items, or any number of time wasting activities that you were probably doing anyway up until that point and just weren’t getting credit for. Any activities on the Life Task list not needed to advance are rewarded with experience that only gets doled out once you fight your next battle, oddly enough.
When adventuring, Atelier Shallie has a combat system much like any other JRPG on the market, and it functions quite well. You bring a party of six characters into battle with you at once, three being the primary and the remaining three as the support. Depending on the character, they may have a set of attacks and skills they can utilize, though only the two Shallies can use items. After a move is made, hitting a face button that corresponds with a character in the back row will cause them to launch an attack and move them into the primary party. They can also jump in to withstand a blow meant for another character. Doing consecutive damage on enemies has a couple of benefits, one being that you can cause them to Break, rendering them inactive on their turn. Another is filling up a meter that allows you to Burst. Being in Burst Mode is incredibly useful on account of the increased damage, though you also have the benefit of stringing together multiple assists and launching an Ultimate Attack. There’s a fair amount of depth to the battles, but not so much that it’s overwhelming. And the game does a great job of introducing new mechanics at a fair pace, even way late into the game.
Exploration isn’t all about the battles though. You’ll find gathering points in which to fill up your basket with necessary materials for alchemy. A Field Event Gauge increases after gathering or battling that can be used to discover rare relics or take on a tough enemy. You can even get the drop on monsters by striking them while in the field, giving you first opportunity to act. Let’s not forget the biggest change of all though, and that’s the ability to freely move the camera. Before your viewpoint was fixed based on the area you are in, though now you can use the right analog stick to control your field of vision. The areas you explore have gotten a bit bigger too.
Once you’ve filled your basket up with an assortment of goodies, it’s time to head back to your workshop and craft. Item synthesis is quite involved, though again, the game introduces the mechanics to you slowly as your alchemy level goes up. When you make an item, you’re asked to choose ingredients and based on the properties of the ones used, you may end up with goods that vary wildly in effects and statistics. It’s an incredibly addictive system once you get used to it, and it isn’t long before you get roped into experimenting with the various chains and properties in an attempt to outdo your previous efforts. When you finally meet Miruca, she can imbue weapons and armor for you using the same techniques, as well as dismantle things you want reduced to their base components.
In addition to Life Tasks, many quests can be gathered from the Union in order to earn some spending money. Again, these are your basic fetch quests or monster killing adventures and appear to be randomized. Characters you meet around town may also give you things to do of the same nature and are generally more beneficial not only financially, but for character building purposes.
Late in the game, you’ll be able to assign additional statistics to each of your characters in order to customize them further. Unfortunately, as of this writing, I’m not able to tell you how it works as the feature is completely broken. And when I say broken, I mean cripplingly so. Even choosing the option from the menu will lock up the game and force a hard restart of the PS3. As someone whose job it is to do Q&A, I was shocked to see something like this slip through the cracks. There is a patch for the issue on the way, but the fact that it shipped this way is an incredible disappointment.
The game runs fairly well otherwise. Atelier Shallie is still a bit taxing on the PS3 hardware, but I was impressed that it was even able to run as well as it did, especially now that you can freely alter the camera. The character models and artwork are still very well done, though less impressive now that this is the sixth outing on the console. I’m thinking a PS4 iteration might be in order.
As before, both English and Japanese dialogue can be selected, though the dub is pretty decent. Characters from prior games reprise their roles, and the newcomers like Shallotte, do an enjoyable job. I did notice that there were a number of occasions where the dialogue didn’t match the text, plus there were a few typo’s and misspellings. I really enjoyed the soundtrack though, and the feature that allows you to change the music to that from previous titles makes a return. It also makes for a nice vehicle for DLC, though I could completely justify blowing extra cash to crank up old tunes on a modern game.
If you’ve been following the Atelier games up to this point, then you should know what to expect. The alchemy system is great as always, the combat has gotten some noteworthy improvements, and the characters are likable. The removal of the time limit and adjustable difficulty level makes this very newcomer friendly too, despite all of the filler it heaps onto you just to progress. The game breaking bugs are also quite the shame. Still, it brings a satisfactory conclusion to the Dusk trilogy and my time spent with Atelier Shallie was incredibly enjoyable
Short Attention Span Summary
Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea brings a close to the Dusk trilogy of Atelier games. There’s far more going on plot-wise than the previous title, but it still brings with it all of the enhancements made to the combat and then some. The alchemy system is still enjoyable and now players don’t have to contend with a time limit while they’re out exploring the map and completing quests. However, they do have to put up with a crippling bug that renders late game character customization impossible until a patch is in place, plus chapters that are gated off from each other with pointless busy work. That being said, Atelier Shallie never failed to lure me back in, bringing a satisfying close to a series of tales I’d spent the last couple of years following.