While it was not a perfect JRPG, I felt that Atelier Escha & Logy represented a smart new direction for Gust’s Atelier franchise to go on. Granted they loved individual character events so much that it was a challenge not to be caught up with a handful of events every time you returned to town, and the overarching storyline failed to embrace the journey that Corseit’s R&D Department undertook to a very obvious destination. However, the option to have both a male and female protagonist was a very smart idea (Even if Logy was in my opinion a much more enjoyable character to play with than Escha). Even more impressive was that after five game’s using the “Rorona” style of in-game time progression, the development team had finally managed to delegate an appropriate amount of time required for the player to undertake everything offered without too much chaos or time spent doing absolutely nothing.
Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea features many of the improvements made in Atelier Escha & Logy, while also featuring many changes compared to it and Atelier Ayesha. While it serves as a fitting conclusion to the Dusk trilogy, albeit with room for a fourth instalment should Gust decide they do not want to construct a world from the ground up with A17, the experience overall felt slightly underwhelming compared to its predecessors and suffered from an inexcusable launch day bug.
Similar to Escha & Logy, Atelier Shallie features two female protagonists who go by the nickname Shallie. The first heroine is 16-year-old Shallistera, the daughter of the chief of a ship clan who has traveled to the distant oasis city of Stellard in search of a way to stem the water supply issues in her home town. The second heroine is 18-year-old Shallotte Elminus, who runs the Atelier formerly run by her late father despite only being a novice. With no direction in her life, Shallotte works to make ends meet and wishes to find her dreams. The remaining character cast is constructed with returning playable (Eg. Wilbell Voll-Ersleid and Keithgriff Hazeldine) and non-playable (Solle Grumman and Katla Larchica) characters, in addition to a wealth of new playable and non-playable personalities. While some may be left disappointed about the minor appearances or lack thereof of certain characters from past games, the character roster is decent.
Rather than having both Shallie’s join forces immediately after the game begins, the first four or so chapters will see you following your chosen Shallie and their individual party members as they go about their tasks. Although this does restrict the characters you have to work from the beginning of the game and determines which characters will receive more character development over others, it does offer more incentive to play Atelier Shallie a second time around. While you do get a different experience depending on if you choose Shallistera or Shallotte, the same core storyline events occur with no significant alterations.
The storyline itself comes down to a similar pattern of Event –> Complete Life Tasks –> Go to Next Chapter –> Repeat, a system which is has been designed to facilitate the removal of Rorona’s time system without having players rush through the game. The periods of time where you are left to complete life tasks that pop up are fairly dull to say the least, especially if you don’t have any character-specific events to pass the time with. That being said, the storyline is pretty good, drawing the trilogy to an appropriate close even if it comes with little fanfare.
The visual style between each game in the Atelier Dusk trilogy hasn’t been too significant, providing high quality character designs for the main and secondary characters, with each character standing out for their own reasons and none going down the path of looking particularly generic. Given Atelier Shallie’s world represents one that is struggling with water resources, the forests and other lush environments from past games have been replaced by areas more barren and desolate than before. One of the nicer additions is a 360 degree camera, allowing you to not be stuck with set camera angles when wandering a field or town. This also allows considerably larger areas to explore and hunt in, with no need to worry about blind spots which an enemy could be hiding in.
As with most Atelier games, this instalment offers a solid compilation of songs for use in all occasions, including: battles, cutscenes, time in the Atelier and boss battles. However, while my reviews do not generally take into account any DLC content – I would recommend checking out the music DLC released for the title once released. While you are given access to a small compilation of tracks from previous Gust games out of the box, a few bucks will unlock you a wealth of tracks to mix and match for almost every situation in-game.
While they seem to have dubbed a slightly higher percentage of the game than both Ayesha and Escha & Logy, Atelier Shallie’s English dub still comes short in terms of sheer content compared to the original Japanese voice recordings. While the English dub is of a solid quality and hats off to Tecmo Koei for that… I would strongly recommend going with the Japanese dub which is a more complete dub.
The battle system of Atelier Shallie gives an impression of being a mixture of Meruru, Ayesha and Escha & Logy. No longer are you able to circle around or behind enemies, with opposing parties standing in a line opposite one another. This turn based system will once again see your party of three front and three back party members taking turns switching in-and-out of battle whilst using an array of standard attacks, skills and items to take down the mobs which stand in their way. By attacking enemies, your parties burst gauge incrementally increases, and when it reaches 100%+ automatically grants all members a temporary boost in damage-dealing capacity. Many of the large boss battles can come down to boosting the gauge and then spamming your skills, making it a slightly imbalanced system. There are other features introduced to the Burst system that are introduced throughout the game, meaning that it isn’t an idea that has simply been thought up, implemented and then forgotten about.
One of the flaws with this battle system is that even on the highest difficulty (Which comes with considerable perks), earning experience is a very slow and tedious process. Instead, the main way you will find yourself obtaining combat experience points is through completing “Life Tasks”. These tasks, which you may find yourself not paying much attention to until completing them, grant significant bundles of experience points which can see you jumping a level or two in the latter stages of the game. Therefore, there are times when you will be left wondering if it is even worth spending five minutes defeating a challenging enemy which grants you a single or double digit sum of experience, when a single life task can grant a four digit sum of EXP.
The levelling system is complemented by a Growth System which kicks in once your character reaches Level 40. Every time your character gains a level above 40, they acquire an additional point which the player can put into boosting their abilities even further. Of course, saying this is not really necessary at this time as accessing the Growth menu for any character simply crashes the game. I can understand random bugs popping up rarely in a video game if it is spontaneous or challenging to replicate. But in a title which has been released to market, you don’t expect a core gameplay feature to simply not work – or from the menu’s appearance at crash, not even be localized. More playtesting was evidently needed prior to launching Atelier Shallie. As of this post going live several days after Atelier Shallie’s North American release, the bug has yet to be rectified.
Like all other Atelier games on the PlayStation 3, alchemy/synthesis plays a critical role in quest completion, the effectiveness of Shallie on the battlefield and overall main story completion. The synthesis system in Atelier Shallie has been made easier compared to the one introduced in Atelier Escha & Logy, however shares many of the fundamentals present in previous titles. Synthesis involves Shallie combining two or more items together to create another item with distinct skills. These items are usually of a much better quality than you could buy in-store, with most ingredients acquirable through battles or field collection.
While synthesis initially comes down to simply adding two items together, as the game progresses, additional alchemy skills are unlocked which allow you to fine-tune any item you create to feature special properties or traits. These can be done through altering the order of items added during synthesis, increasing the number of items or uses, adding specific skills and improving attributes (Fire Water, Wind, Earth) which come with unique item-specific properties once they reach a particular level. Each item added has a limited number of skill spots, and it becomes a balancing act to determine which skills go best with the spots available. Sometimes you can spend several minutes juggling skills to get one last attribute point required to unlock a new item property – so it rewards those not looking to speed through item creation. Like the battle system, new features and skills are continually introduced as you progress through the game, with the developers not bombarding newcomers with too many features at one time. The creation of equipment, known as imbuing, is also done through an almost identical system to alchemy.
After being a thorn in the side of some players for five instalments now, Gust decided to drop the time management system which limited gameplay to so many in-game days, months and years. If they had removed this feature back when they were developing Atelier Totori then I may have been all for its omission. However, after managing the system quite well with Atelier Escha & Logy and failing to remove many of the systems incorporated into the game to make the time much more manageable (Such as replenishing Search Items each time you head back to Stellard), the game significantly easier. This is because there was little in the way of penalty should a player decide to head back to town each time they ran out of search items or were running slightly low on health. Time management was one of the more frustrating elements of previous Atelier games, yet it added a solid level of strategy when it came to fulfilling obligations without dilly-dallying. Unless they adopt a gameplay style similar to the Atelier Iris game’s in future releases (Which came with a bigger emphasis on its RPG battle system than Alchemy), I wouldn’t mind seeing them revert to time restrictions.
With a fairly significant crash bug present in the game which has yet to be fixed by the publisher post-launch, it is hard to sing too much praise for Atelier Shallie. That being said, the game is another satisfying Atelier release which genuinely makes an effort to provide an experience that is at least somewhat different, albeit easier, than its predecessors. With a Hard Difficulty mode that is barely more challenging than your typical normal mode and gameplay which has seemingly been developed to cater towards newcomers or those after less of a challenge, I must wonder if this was the direction best suited to the final game of the Atelier Dusk trilogy. I would have personally preferred much more of a challenge.