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September 2021

Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea

Platform(s): PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Release Date: March 10, 2015 (US), March 13, 2015 (EU)


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PS3 Review - 'Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on April 16, 2015 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Atelier Shallie Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea is the incarnation of community feedback based features of the previous Dusk titles and new systems that combines ease of entry for newcomers, with the choice to advance gameplay for long-time fans.

Buy Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea

Atelier Shallie: Alchemist of the Dusk Sea is the latest in the Dust subfranchise of the Atelier games. It follows two girls, both with the unusual nickname of Shallie. Shallistera ventures to the distant city of Stellard to find a cure for the drought that threatens to wipe out her village. Stellard is also home to Shallotte, a young girl who's struggling to help her mother make the rent by running her own atelier. The two Shallies team up to take on the mystery of the Dusk Sea and the ever-vanishing water. Along the way, they're joined by characters both new and familiar.

Atelier Shallie continues the franchise's trend of combining a grim, postapocalyptic world and lighthearted antics. The characters are genuinely likeable, and problems are handled seriously enough that they won't seem meaningless. Shallie is an all-star get-together of the franchise's characters, including cameos from previous protagonists and major supporting characters. This title is the ending of the trilogy, so it works best if you approach it as such. It's strongly recommended you play Atelier Ayesha and Atelier Escha & Logy first, as Shallie only provides a brief introduction of characters and plot elements. The localization has improved since Escha & Logy, but there is still some awkwardness and inconsistency. Most of the dialogue and characterization is handled well, and there are some annoying bugs, such as text overflow and a (patched) bug that rendered one of the game's systems unusable.

The biggest change from the other games in the series is the removal of a hard time limit. Players can linger as much as they want without fear of wasting time. This may sound uncomfortable to longtime players because the pressure of the time limit was a central part of the design. That pressure is indeed missing from Shallie, but the design doesn't suffer. It's a more relaxing experience, with a greater emphasis on rewarding the player for enjoying alchemy or combat rather than worrying about the time.

Instead of a time limit, you have two new features: life goals and motivation. Life goals are special tasks that are given to you based on how you play the game. In each chapter, you're tasked with finishing a main plot and are given "free time" to complete life goals. They are divided into a few different categories, but each follows the same basic principle: Do something, and you'll obtain a connected life goal. For example, collect a lot of herbs, and you might receive a life goal of creating medicine from the herbs. Kill a lot of one type of enemy, and you'll get the life goal of taking on harder enemies. Completing a life goal earns you rewards (commonly combat or synthesis experience) and more life goals, so this creates an interesting self-reinforcing system.

Every chapter's free time has a meter that fills up as you complete life goals. Once you hit that limit, you lose the ability to continue with life goals and are asked if you want to move on to the next chapter. You aren't obligated to move on, but once you've reached your life goal limit for a chapter, your character's motivation meter starts to drop. This means they gather fewer resources, move slower on the field, and other minor effects. This is a minor penalty, but it encourages you to keep moving forward. New mechanics and items are unlocked by advancing, so it's more sensible to keep moving forward. Once you hit the last chapter of the game, you have a maxed motivation meter and all the time you'd like to do life goals, and you aren't required to move on.

One of the biggest improves to Shallie is the new alchemy system. It takes the best portions of the previous games' alchemy systems and overhauls it to be more accessible. The player collects ingredients while venturing around the world, and after finding recipes, they can create alchemic items with those ingredients. The ingredients determine the quality of the crafted item, its attributes, and its special properties. Venturing further into the game unlocks better items with more properties and complex elements. You have to determine which skills, items and attributes are worth using. Late-game crafting tends to devolve into creating single-element skill chains to create immensely powerful weapons and items.

The new feature in the game is the chain system. As your chosen Shallie levels up, she unlocks skills, which are used in a slightly different way than in previous games. Every item has an element affinity (fire, water, earth and wind) and between zero and four skill slots. If any item in your alchemy concoction has one of the four elements, you can use the skills associated with it. Each skill can be equipped onto an item and takes up one or more slots. The better the item, the more skills you can equip. These skills can do anything from increase item attributes to duplicate items or add special properties that otherwise aren't available. In addition, you can combine skills of the same element to increase their effects.

Atelier Shallie retains the same six-person RPG combat system from Escha & Logy, but there are some minor changes. Players have a party of three characters in the front and three characters in the back. The characters in the front fight while the characters in the back recover, although they can be called in for assist attacks or assist defenses if their assist meter is full. The assist system has been slightly revised, so characters have more varied skills and abilities, and there is more of a focus on using the proper assists at the proper time.

There's also a much heavier emphasis on the Burst mode. Attacking fills up a Burst meter, and when it reaches 100%, the team enters Burst mode, where all attacks inflict more damage and special skills can be used. Characters in the back row can be called upon for multiple consecutive assists, and special Burst assists can be used. Using three assists in a row causes a Variable Strike, which hits all enemies on the field. The act of going into Burst mode lets characters in the back row set field effects that boost your party's capabilities. The Burst meter is also held between battles, so with smart planning, you can obliterate random enemies.

Unfortunately, this makes combat a tad too easy. For a good chunk of the game, almost every enemy or miniboss encounter ends in one or two rounds, with minimal expenditure of resources. It might be disappointing to those who are looking for a hardcore combat challenge, but it makes the alchemy aspect more relaxing. You can swap the game to a new Hardcore difficulty that makes enemies stronger and gives them access to new attacks.

Atelier Shallie retains the same basic engine as the past games, so it hasn't changed much in visuals or performance. The character models and animations are quite nice, but it's difficult to say if they've seen any real improvement. It would be nice to see some more detailed animations during the non-combat segments. The soundtrack is excellent. The Atelier games all have solid music, but Shallie is easily one of the best, with fantastic combat themes and several excellent overworld songs. As with other entries in the series, the voice acting isn't particularly great, but it isn't bad, either.

Some minor flaws aside, Atelier Shallie doesn't break the mold and is an excellent ending to the Dusk trilogy. While the presentation lacks a little polish, it has the most refined and enjoyable version of the core franchise mechanics to date. The lack of a time system may frustrate some longtime fans, but it works in the game's favor and allows for a more relaxing and enjoyable experience. The new alchemy system and the life goals system make it an extremely fun game to play, and it's an excellent choice for casual or hardcore RPG fans.

Score: 8.5/10

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