Review: Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea (PS3)

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Title: Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (7.8 GB)
Release Date: March 10, 2015
Publisher: Tecmo KOEI America
Developer: Gust Co., Ltd.
Original MSRP: $49.99
ESRB Rating:
Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea is also available on PlayStation Vita.
The PlayStation 3 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Atelier Shallie follows two young alchemists, Shallistera and Shallotte, who both go by the nickname Shallie. Shallistera is the daughter of the chief of her clan. Her clan’s water sources are slowly drying up due to a phenomenon known as the Dusk so she sets off to a town called Stellard, which has abundant water, to study the Dusk. Shallistera is a native of Stellard who runs an atelier with her mother and is trying to scrape by and make ends meet after her father passes away.

Similar to the last game in the series, Atelier Escha & Logy, Atelier Shallie begins by letting the player choose their protagonist. The first few chapters of the game are very focused on that protagonist with only background shots of the other. Midway through the game they meet and become fast friends bringing the story together.

Atelier Shallie falls in the Dusk series of Atelier games, taking place after Atelier Ayesha and the aforementioned Atelier Escha & Logy. A few characters from those games show up in some capacity in Shallie, although the story is completely self-contained. The biggest thing that gets carried over from those games is the world. I mentioned it in my Atelier Ayesha review, but the world building in this sub-series is excellent and it all comes to a head in Shallie with Shallistera’s entire quest being related to a lot of what the previous games were trying to show.

Atelier Shallie Screenshot 2015-03-12 20-24-11Atelier Shallie Screenshot 2015-03-12 21-10-39

Of course it’s still an Atelier game so the tone is very upbeat. The story itself takes a back seat to the day-to-day lives of the characters and most of the cutscenes in the game are fun or silly looks at the characters interacting rather than directly relating to the story. I’ve always enjoyed this aspect of the series and Shallie is still a good example of it. The main story on the other hand starts out a little weak but does manage to become interesting before petering out in an ending that I felt lacked the oomph of a proper resolution.

… there’s no calendar in the corner ticking off days …
Gameplay:
Most of the mainstays of the Atelier series are present in Atelier Shallie. The alchemy system, one of the biggest things the series is known for, is pretty good in this game. It has a lot of similarities to the alchemy system in Atelier Escha & Logy but ends up being its own beast. The gist is still the same: add in several ingredients per recipe and use a few alchemy skills to enhance those ingredients. The alchemy skills are pretty different this time around though and the skills are tacked on to ingredients rather than being added in sequence with the ingredients.

The alchemy is very robust and fun to explore after the first few chapters of the game. Early on, when Shallie’s alchemy level is low and the ingredients aren’t as high quality, the alchemy can seem a bit limited but as the game progresses the system opens up to allow for a lot of customization. By the end of the game there are a lot of options for making the party’s equipment and search equipment (items that are used in battle such as bombs or healing potions).

Atelier Shallie Screenshot 2015-03-15 09-32-30Atelier Shallie Screenshot 2015-03-15 10-21-02

Much like the alchemy, Atelier Shallie features a battle system that is similar to its predecessor but with a lot of changes. Battles are still turn based with the usual array of options such as attacking, defending, or using skills or items (but as usual only the alchemist characters can use items). Although only three characters are involved in battle at a single time, there are three backup characters who can be called in for assistance mid-battle. There’s also a new mechanic called Burst. Attacking enemies fills up a Burst meter and once full, allied characters do extra damage and can be called in for assist attacks in sequence, leading a strong finishing attack called Variable Strike. Late in the game characters also unlock their Ultimate attacks which are charged up by using assist attacks while in Burst mode.

The battle system in Shallie is pretty interesting. At first I was a little disappointed that items/bombs didn’t seem to be as impactful as in previous games. Battles are less dependent on having killer synthesized attack/healing items which makes the battles and alchemy seem more disconnected than in previous games. That said, the new Burst system is fun and interesting in its own way and I felt that a lot more effort went into making each party member feel different in this game. For example, one character has an attack that does more damage if more “time cards” are active. Characters who create time cards, recurring effects that are slotted into the turn order, can combo off with this character. Other characters have similar little quirks that make them more interesting and lead to some fun battle interactions to be exploited. These actually can make the battles tie back into the alchemy as items can help boost interactions or raise a specific stat that makes a character unique.

Atelier Shallie Screenshot 2015-03-13 18-54-35Atelier Shallie Screenshot 2015-03-14 15-30-54

Previous games in the Atelier series on PlayStation 3 were known for their time management systems so I was a little surprised when I found out that Atelier Shallie doesn’t have one, at least not in the same way. The basic gameflow ends up running similar to the other games even if there’s no calendar in the corner ticking off days. At the beginning of each chapter, Shallie will get a series of Life Tasks. The first few in the chapter are the story tasks and completing them usually advances the story. After a few of these story tasks are completed, the list of Life Tasks will open up for “free time” as I started to think of it.

… The game feels a little more streamlined …
During free time, Shallie gets a bunch of optional Life Tasks which give bonuses for completion, such as experience points or stat boosts. There are still “main” Life Tasks and completing these fills up a meter on the screen. Once full, the free time ends and whenever Shallie returns home the game will ask the player if they want to advance to the next chapter. Theoretically, the player could continue doing whatever they want instead of advancing to the next chapter, however all of the optional Life Tasks disappear once the main ones are done and don’t reappear until the next free time. So while the game doesn’t technically have a calendar system, actively pursuing Life Tasks, optional or otherwise, is still mostly limited, at least up until the final chapter.

The one upside to the lack of a calendar is that the combat was made tougher than in previous games. I started the game on the Hard difficulty and for the first few areas I found myself returning to town to heal a lot more frequently than in other games. In addition to healing, returning to town also replenishes usable items (Search Equipment) and there’s no longer a time factor discouraging it so players can return to town easily. Some of the bosses also presented a challenge, especially the optional ones near the end of the game. There are Normal and Easy difficulties as well for players who don’t want the added challenge.

Atelier Shallie Screenshot 2015-03-14 15-43-29Atelier Shallie Screenshot 2015-03-11 21-37-23

Visuals:
The graphics in Atelier Shallie are pretty serviceable for a JRPG and don’t seem like a huge step up from the previous game. Nothing in the game looks like it is pushing the limits of the PS3 but the look is alright overall. Character models have the most attention as they try to capture character designer Hidari’s designs and manage to do a respectable job at it. Monsters have a similar amount of care but are also frequently palette swapped. The game also pulls a lot of enemies from the previous games in the Dusk series.

Environments, as always, seem to be the low point. Look too closely at them and the somewhat low quality textures and poly-count can be apparent. Still, the game manages to blend everything well enough and the overall art direction is good. The best part of the visuals are the over-the-top battle animations. It wouldn’t be a JRPG without them. The new combat systems allow for some silly attacks and they’ve packed in some variations of each. For example, the ultimate moves are slightly different if they’re going to kill the opponent. That said, the ability to skip the animations after having seen them a bunch of times would be nice.

Atelier Shallie Screenshot 2015-03-14 13-43-18Atelier Shallie Screenshot 2015-03-15 21-21-16

Audio:
The music in Atelier Shallie doesn’t disappoint. The soundtrack is well composed with some good variety and some great individual tracks. Several boss theme songs come to mind as being interesting but even the less memorable tracks are still worth a listen. As with some of the other games in the series, individual songs can be changed through the Save menu to any of the other tracks in the game. The game also includes a few remixes and songs from previous entries in the series.

The voice tracks are also pretty typical for the series as of late. The game includes both the full Japanese voices and a partial English dub. For the most part I didn’t have any issues with either track except for one character, Katla, who sounded a little shrill and annoying in the Japanese voice track. I overall preferred the Japanese voices mainly because everything is voiced compared to the English track which leaves some scenes silent. That said, it might be worth it to start the game with the English because there’s an anime cutscene near the start of the game that’s not subtitled for some reason.

Atelier Shallie Screenshot 2015-03-14 15-48-54Atelier Shallie Screenshot 2015-03-13 21-35-19

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single player only.

Conclusion:
My biggest complaint came with the ending of the story. On its own the story wraps up too quickly to feel like a proper resolution and does a hand-wave over a few of the things that seemed like they would have been issues. As an ending to the Dusk trilogy, it also lacks resolution although a few of the recurring characters do get a nice sendoff. Still, the story is more about the characters than anything and in that respect Atelier Shallie shines just fine.

Overall I thought Atelier Shallie had some decent gameplay systems. The game feels a little more streamlined to welcome newcomers compared to previous games in the series thanks in part to not needing to manage time. The combat is very accessible as well and the alchemy is pretty deep but doesn’t completely throw the player off the deep end to begin with.

Even with these concessions, a fan of the series like myself, should find a lot to love in the continuation of the Dusk world and especially in playing around with the new alchemy system. I’d easily recommend Atelier Shallie to series veterans and JRPG fans who may not have tried the series before. The latter may miss out on some of the references to previous games but it should be an enjoyable journey regardless.

Score:
8.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Elgato Game Capture HD Pro screen capture feature.

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Written by Andy Richardson

Andy Richardson

A longtime PlayStation fan who enjoys JRPGs and rhythm games when he’s not tweeting about his parrot.

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