By David Fernandes / March 18th, 2015
|Title||Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea
|Release Date||March 10, 2015 – North America, March 13, 2015 – Europe|
|Age Rating||ESRB – E10+|
In March of 2013, nearly a year after the Japanese release of Atelier Escha & Logy, Gust announced a project codenamed A16; which would eventually be named Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea. It would later release in mid-July of that same year, and instead of jumping into next gen right away, they decided to release it on the PlayStation 3. Now the game has finally been released in the West. As the third entry in the Dusk series, how well does Gust continue the ever-long franchise with its 16th title?
Atelier Shallie begins six years after the events of Escha & Logy, with the Dusk phenomena still a threat with no means to stop it. Our first protagonist, Shallistera, is from a place being affected by a drought. As future head of her village, she, along with two other companions, decides to travel to the oasis city of Stellard across the Dusk Sea. However, the sea has dried up and is now nothing but a desert. In Stellard, the group tries to find a solution to their problem, only to discover that the city is facing its own water crisis, with water sources drying up and no foreseeable way to remedy the situation. Stellard is also the hometown of our second protagonist, Shallotte. Native to the poorest districts of the city, with little-to-no respect from the city’s other inhabitants, Shallotte wants to strike it big with a giant job for her mother and herself. Thus, the two girls that share the same nickname – Shallie – while having distinct backgrounds and personalities that set them apart, set off to accomplish their own goals, though through different means.
The plot starts off strong, giving a strong initial impression of a desperate situation of one town acting like a beacon of hope with its citizens coping in an ever-decaying world. This is only helped by the superb soundtrack enhancing the game’s tone, atmosphere and visual style with very soothing, melodic and, at times, appropriate upbeat positive tunes. Despite being a not-so-positive situation, the music matches the characters’ ever so full-of-life and positive demeanors, even as a Doomsday scenario approaches. Unfortunately, this doesn’t last long as both protagonists join hand-in-hand and set off to a distant land across the Dusk Sea where the plot becomes muddy. Pacing issues soon become apparent and little gets accomplished.
Not to sound gauche, but I would even go so far as to to call it downright filler, making for a weaker second half, which, sadly, the game never quite recovers from. This is due to one returning character, who we haven’t seen since Ayesha, who comes back to literally fix the crisis, or, at the very least, push everyone in the only right direction. This, in turn, makes nearly everything up to that point seem moot, later making for an anticlimactic climax with the lack of good buildup.
The supporting cast, though well designed by the ever-amazing Hidari, were generally weak. They usually either didn’t amount to much with the game’s plot or weren’t fleshed out enough. Returning characters, with their overarching character arcs, were not used to their full potential or, being an already strongly-developed character, didn’t have that nice payoff character ending. The game, of course, has characters’ events set up around town, which become more available as you progress or achieve higher friendship levels with each party member. Only this time, even more events occur while traveling with your party on the game’s overworld map. It depresses me that such an awaited answer and explanation behind things like artificial beings were so haphazardly pasted in at the last minute for a certain important character that has been with us since the beginning. While they were enjoyable, I just wished half the characters — let alone party members — were as interesting as previous games’ casts.
The two main leads don’t exactly fare that much better. Shallistera has the more straightforward approach, stemming from being more serious and is the one with the more logical goal in mind from the very beginning. This gives the sign that she would be the obvious choice to run the game through first. But, outside of her sincerity and cuteness, which comes from her pampered upbringing, she’s a dull lead character, even when she starts to become a stronger person. Shallotte isn’t any better — starting off stronger thanks to her genki personality, only for her development to shine by the end game — she’s still just another natural-born airhead. I wouldn’t call them terrible, but they are, to me, the weakest leads in the Dusk series.
As with any Atelier title, the addicting Alchemy system takes center stage. You will be using up a number of hours at your Atelier. You still gather materials, synthesize materials to create more materials to develop a number of bombs, magic tools, medicinal items and more with the process of making said item stronger in the process to add or gain effects and properties while still maintaining good quality. As you level up, you’ll gain access to higher-level alchemy items — most requiring the use of books sold at shops — and unlock more and more skills to add to your arsenal. This will allow you to improve upon already-made items, including imbuing to make better equipment.
Besides cleaning up and simplifying most of the menus to to streamline the experience, not much has changed as Gust have carried most of the new additions from the last two games, though they did alter and improve on some features, like the way attributes work. Instead of being based on value, any item that has a given attribute will allow you to use any skill provided from that attribute, provided that it can fit in the slots of the items you are using in synthesis. Also included is a new chain mechanic which can give items radically new features. For example, oil, which only has the fire attribute, can achieve any other attribute as long as the right skill was added, along with getting a high enough chain count. With this, it’s an alternative way of getting the highest potential out of items with enough planning put into it, instead of the constant hassle of passing along proprieties from item to item.
The dual-character system got a major improvement, not simply because some character endings are exclusive to one or the other to increase replay value, but the first half of the game, plus a certain chapter later on, is completely different depending if whether you’re playing as Shallistera or Shallotte. The back half of the game is more like Escha & Logy, with characters sharing scenes together, but focusing on the the chosen lead’s perspective and inner dialogue. And, a series first, Atelier Shallie has no time management whatsoever, letting you enjoy the game at your own pace. This coincides with the new Life Task system to progress through the game. Besides main objectives, Life Tasks also act as the game’s side quests. Simpler tasks are unlocked by doing… well… what you normally do, by using alchemy, searching for materials in areas, fighting and more. The more trivial and remedial tasks you take the time to do, the more Life Tasks you unlock, which will benefit you in the long run.
This acts as a method of rewarding players by giving players a plethora of bonuses from each Life Task completed, allowing them to gain a number of benefits like stat increase or experience points for synthesizing and/or character levels. My only gripe is that, once you fill up the end-chapter quota, the game really pushes you to go to the next chapter by not allowing you to see the tasks aside from the main one, thus making you miss out on the bonuses until the next chapter to once again fill up the quota to progress. So, it kind of defeats the purpose of taking it easy as you have to go out of your way to avoid the main quest’s objectives, which is pretty difficult at times. For example, this may cause you to avoid undergoing requests from Raoul or searching for materials in certain regions on the map.
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