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

atelier-shallie-ps3-box-art-smallAtelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea is the latest game in the Atelier series by Gust and Tecmo Koei. Atelier Shallie follows the journey of two alchemists, named Shallie, that are searching for the secrets of the Dusk Sea in order to find a way to stop the droughts that are plaguing the villages of the sea. The games biggest differences in comparison to most in the JRPG genre is that it allows players to choose to follow to story of either Shallistera or Shallotte, the two Shallies that the game is named after, although the plot does converge at some point. It’s definitely an interesting game to follow.

The story in Atelier Shallie starts out as a kind of branch, with the player having to play through the openings of both the Shallies stories before picking the one that they want to follow. Shallistera’s story follows her journey from Lugion village into the city of Stellard in order to find a way to save Lugion from the looming threat to their water supply caused by the mass drought along the Dusk Sea. Meanwhile, Shallotte’s story feels like a much more shallow affair with her wanting to become the very best at completing tasks to make monies. Considering that we preferred Shallistera’s plight of saving the world, which is much more agreeable, we chose to run through the game as Shallistera and so this review reflects her journey the most. The game does merge their stories a couple of chapters in, so outside of the first 2-3 chapters, it’s pretty similar.

Stellard is the games main capital hub, and acts as an anchor for the progression of the games story. In Stellard, players will be able to advance both the main storyline and character storylines through triggering events in the city, as well as advancing through Shallies ‘Life Goals’. The advancement of the story usually comes in the form of in-engine cutscenes that have characters discussing what their best course of action will be in relation to where they are in their investigation against the Dusk.

What makes Atelier Shallie different to most JRPGs that I’ve played, in relation to the story, is that the storyline stuff will always happen at the beginning of a chapter, rather than towards the end. Even more, Boss fights will usually be one of the first things in a chapter that has them. Each chapter will start with this set of storyline missions, and then it will close off with having to complete ‘Life Tasks’ in order to advance to the next chapter. There are 10 chapters in total, which is doubled if you decide to complete the game again with both Shallies.

I actually really enjoyed the story in Atelier Shallie. It takes on a dark kind of premise where Shallistera’s village, where she is the chief, is going to be wiped out from dehydration if she doesn’t soon find a way to end the drought that plagues it. It is then filled with enjoyable characters that are all bright individuals trying to make the most out of the poor circumstance of a world that they’re living in. The game itself has the bright and fun feel to it even though it tackles this dark kind of world and its story. I’ve never actually played any of the previous Atelier games, so I’m not sure how Shallie’s Dusk investigations tie-in with the previous games, but, the investigations of Shallie and her friends is an enjoyable trek into the unknown.

Each of the characters in the game have their own unique personalities and abilities. This also includes the NPC’s of the games world and it’s not just limited to the players party. After doing a bit of research, and after some things are inferred from the game, it’s apparent that there are a few returning characters in this game, although they’re not playable. I think there might be exceptions to this like Keithgriff, but, say, Escha, from Escha and Logy, is not playable at all. I also really enjoyed that the game wasn’t just filled with character interactions that were related to the story. It was fun just listening to some of the moments between characters that are triggered in certain sections of the game.

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The gameplay in Atelier Shallie feels a bit different to the regular JRPG game, or at least from my experience with the genre. Players will be given a certain task to complete as Shallie in order to advance the story in the game at the beginning of each chapter. These missions usually involve heading out onto the world map and moving to an area in order to defeat a monster, find an item or to investigate the area for clues about the Dusk. After completing the main task, Shallie has to complete a set number of ‘Life Goals’ in order to move on into the next chapter of the storyline. This process repeats for most chapters, although there are some exceptions to this, such as the final chapter where it is all storyline content.

I actually thought that this minor switching of progression was refreshing. I’m too used to games that are entirely story-driven, or entirely player-choice driven, and it was nice to be able to do the important stuff first, and then do the minor stuff second. Even more, these ‘Life Tasks’ allow the player to explore all of the games systems, like the alchemy system and the battle system, in order to assist the player at advancing through the next part of the story.

Your typical area in Atelier Shallie will be a small section of the world that is accessible through the world map. These small areas don’t take particularly long to run through and exist mainly to gather ingredients for alchemical combinations and gathering experience by battling monsters. Although, longer areas do exist and the areas do increase in size as the story progresses. Multi-level areas that function similarly to dungeons open up mostly through storyline missions and serve a story purpose. Every area can be revisited to collect alchemical ingredients and to battle monsters.

Much like Gusts previous game we’ve reviewed, Ar NoSurge, the combat system in Atelier Shallie is pretty fluid in feel. Where it differs is that it feels much more like a traditional JRPG combat system but with it’s own quirk that separates it from the competition and also gives it that fast and fluid feel. Even though Shallie is an alchemist, battling enemies does still take a large portion of the games systems, and advancing the story does require the player to be strong enough to take out tougher monsters.

The battle system itself is a pretty simple concept, players choose to attack, defend, use skills or items and etc. from a menu during the turn of a player controlled character in combat. Players and monsters exchange blows in a turn-based format until one side has no party left. What makes Atelier Shallies combat fun is that the player has a party of six characters assembled in a front and rear formation. The characters in the front control the combat turns, while the characters in the back take a more supportive role.

What this means is that players can switch between the front and back characters once their gauge fills up to assist in attack or defensive maneuvers. For example, an attack assist would be triggered when the player presses the button that corresponds with another character during the attack of a front row character. This will cause the selected back row character to jump in with an assist attack for extra damage. During an event called Burst, players can chain multiple assist attacks together, with each one becoming a more special attack in the process. So while the first switch will just be a normal hit, the second will be a spell and the third will be a joint attack between a bunch of characters and a spell attack. Working out when to chain these combos, and even chaining them in general, is what gives the combat system in Atelier Shallie a fun level of depth and fluidity that make it really enjoyable.

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The battle system for me was quite enjoyable because it unlocked more over the course of the game as the characters leveled. This meant that you couldn’t be overwhelmed by the system while the system expanded and became more interesting as the game progressed. I do have to say that there was a bit of confusion with the system though. It seems that every character can use special attacks, which are selectable in the main menu and then a sub menu appears and you choose from a list of which one to execute, except for the Shallies, who use items instead. This was a bit strange, until you realise that none of the other characters can use items themselves. This makes sense because it means that the Shallies, as alchemists, can use items that can be as powerful, if not moreso, as most special attacks.

I quickly found that the best way to take on combat in Atelier Shallie was to strategically place my party to maximise the damage and special abilities placed on enemies during a thing called Burst. This Burst mechanic happens in combat when a special Burst bar hits 100% or more which fills as characters land successful attacks. The remainder of the bar also carries over between fights, adding another layer of complexity and strategy. Anyway, when in Burst, attacks do a lot more damage than they would outside of it.

Another feature of the burst is that it allows players to chain special Burst effects from characters in the back row for every 10% over 100% once its triggered. Some of these effects make the Burst timer last longer, while others can allow characters to attack multiple times in a row, or damage enemies over time or heal and buff the party and etc. Having the right characters in the back for your combat strategy is crucial. A combination of all of these effects, damage buffs and complex strategy in a simple system is why I loved the fight system in Atelier Shallie.

The games audio is pretty nice to listen to with its sweet and charming tones. It’s not Gusts best soundtrack of all time ever, but it’s a soundtrack that suits the game perfectly. I also really enjoyed that you could change the soundtrack by visiting a save menu and replacing the track listings of the game with those of several other included soundtracks. Some of the games that you can switch music between are the previous Atelier games, but also some classic Gust games that look like they’re Japan exclusives. It’s cool to have that kind of choice.

The voice acting in Atelier Shallie is available in both English and Japanese. I actually found both languages to be enjoyable, so after a point I left the games audio on English because it’s my mother tongue. I wouldn’t fault anyone for wanting to listen to the game in Japanese though, as the Japanese dub is just as good.

I really like Atelier Shallies art style, it reminded me of watching an anime series, except I was playing a game. I particularly enjoyed the character art and design in the game. Each character had their own unique look and feel to them and their designs allowed you to take a guess at their personalities at a glance. I also really liked that the designers weren’t afraid to venture into some more bizarre fashions to get their characters to look unique and identifiable. It was really nice. The look and feel of each area was also pretty nice, but some areas did feel like generic villages or grassy areas. But, on saying that, some areas were actually really nice and really interesting to look around inside of. An example of a generic town would be that one desert town that’s literally a desert town, while one of the most interesting levels is this kind of ancient, but technological, temple that’s really awesome.

Overall, I had a lot of fun with Atelier Shallie. It was a pretty good game with a pretty good direction to it that had a story that kept me engaged throughout the entire thing. The battle system was easily the most standout part of the game which was an incredibly fun system that I would want to see in other games. I also couldn’t help but become involved in the plight of Shallie and her village, which is something a good game will want its audience to do (become involved with the plot, that is). I can’t help but recommend Atelier Shallie, even though it is a previous generation game.

Rating: 9/10

Atelier Shallie is developed by GUST and published by Koei Tecmo Europe/ Mindscape here in Australia. This review is based on the PS3 version and was supplied by Mindscape for the purposes of review. You can buy it online on the Playstation Store, or check out your local retailers for a physical copy. We recommend JB Hi-Fi which sells it for ~$69.

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