Gust’s newest game in its “Atelier” series, Atelier Shallie, has just been released, but was their latest in the series a successful synthesis?
The Gust Corporation has been making games in their “Atelier” series since 1997 (although it came to the rest of the world a bit later), and has enjoyed quite a bit of success throughout the years. The relatively light-hearted, alchemy-centered JRPG series still continues to live on to this very day and has very recently seen the release of “Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea“, its third and final installment and final chapter of the “Dusk” trilogy. As one might expect, hopes are high for fans of the Atelier series and the pressure is on for Gust Corporation to deliver yet another recipe for success. The question is, does Atelier Shallie shine like a piece of freshly-synthesized armor, or is it as underwhelming as a novice alchemist’s first attempt at trying a new recipe?
Atelier Shallie, as aforementioned, is the newest installment of the Gust Corporation’s long-running Atelier series. Set in a world where lakes, ponds, oceans, and rivers are all mysteriously draining and leaving behind nothing but dry blue-colored desert-like areas, a young princess named Shallie has, on her father’s behalf, dedicated herself to restoring her village’s water source. She, in addition to her companions, have traveled the foreboding desert to Stellard, an oasis-like city, in hopes of finding an answer.
Or, wait… that’s not right. I’m sorry about that, let me take another shot at it.
The story starts with a young girl named Shallie getting ready for the day. After checking her supplies and bidding her mother farewell, Shallie makes a trip to the Cooperative Union building; a place for those interested in making money can accept requests varying from hunting to housework in return for a reward. Being young and quite inexperienced, Shallie is yet again assigned to clean various parts of Stellard, the city in which she resides. As she cleans, Shallie beings to realize that she wants to be noticed but just isn’t sure about how she should approach it.
Maybe that isn’t right either, nothing seems to be matching up. How could one person have all of that going on all at once? Oh, that’s right! There are TWO characters named Shallie.
Although a bit confusing at first, the game soon makes sense of everything. The village princess is actually named Shallistera, and the city girl Shallotte. With both of those names being a bit long, the two girls have each independently adopted the nickname Shallie. On top of that, as you may have guessed, the game forces you to pick one Shallie or the other as the main character after each girl’s introductory chapter. This can be a bit of an overwhelming choice for even veterans of the series to make, as the game forces you to make an incredibly impacting decision with next to no information in regards to the game. Although both paths do intersect one another, many aspects of the game differ greatly such as storyline progression, when, where, and how party members are acquired, the importance of locations, and events. Though its fair to say that either choice is solid one may favor certain things that, if given more information, would cause a player to confidently pick between Shallistera and Shallotte.
Regardless of what path is chosen, the gameplay is very welcoming and generally not overly-complicated. Those familiar with this series will be happy to know that Alchemy, perhaps the most important element in any Atelier game, makes its return and is just as addicting as it’s ever been. For those who are unaware, almost everything (aside from basic ingredients), is created through players synthesizing items together in order to make something new and, hopefully, better. Synthesis can be initiated as players like, requiring only that the main character can go to and interact with their alchemy pot which is located in their respective living quarters. It is absolutely vital that players get a firm grasp on this mechanic, as it is necessary to story and combat alike. Fortunately, the mechanics of Alchemy have always been relatively easy to understand, essentially only requiring that you have the listed ingredients. Items can, however, contain different qualities and characteristics depending on how they were made. Though it may sound complicated, the game has plenty of information ok the subject in order to prevent one from feeling lost or confused. Another type of alchemy, imbuing, also makes an appearance in the game but is incredibly similar to normal synthesis.
The combat mechanics of Atelier Shallie have also remained very familiar, and are quite easy to understand as well. Fighting takes place in a traditional turn-based style. Actions taken by characters, in addition to their Speed stat, determine when they will move next as opposed to having everyone have a turn before another is taken. The familiar Burst and Break features also make a triumphant return and are once again very essential to victory during battles.
Atelier Shallie also contains a unique “Life Task” system, seemingly in place of the normal time constraints of past installments of the series. Between major storyline events, players are challenged to perform Life tasks. Ranging anywhere from jumping 50 times to exploring parts of the land, these tasks are based on (either) Shallie’s thought process at the time. Though a unique idea, the Life Task system seems to be a little bit bugged. The game does correctly keep track of everything that the player has done, but seems to fill up the corresponding task meter randomly. You will eventually be rewarded for completing a Life Task, but seemingly only when the game feels like it.
Aesthetically speaking, the game is very well-done. Though a PlayStation 3 game, Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea has the graphical prowess to match those on its more advanced sibling the PlayStation 4. Everything is entirely smooth and has minimal clipping as to not ruin the immersion of the gameplay experience and does a wonderful job of creating even the murkiest of places into graphically lush environments. Character models are also beautifully rendered, quite detailed, and flow very well. The lip-syncing can get a little mismatched relatively frequently, but rarely so bad as to become noticeable.
The soundtrack of Shallie is incredibly beautiful and diverse and carries out the same feel as always. Heavy boss themes, mysterious environment songs, and whimsical pipe and flute-based melodies all make a return and are just as strong as they have always been. The introductory song, Rusty Sky, is overwhelmingly beautiful and quite possibly the best one to date. Players are also given the chance to customize backgrounds music by replacing the music of Atelier Shallie by hand-picking songs from other Gust games for various situations (map themes, boss fight themes, etc). The voice-acting is done quite well also, save a few specific characters. Fortunately, players are generally spared from listening to so-so VAs for too long and the main characters are usually very pleasing to listen to.
Atelier Shallie does have a few trip-ups here and there, and some of them are a bit obvious. Despite any of these minor flaws, the game as a whole is done incredibly well and is a truly enjoyable gaming experience. Being a JRPG, Atelier Shallie; Alchemists of the Dusk Sea isn’t for everyone. However, for JRPG fans, those who enjoy a fun challenge, or those of you after a good story, it’s most definitely worth playing. It looks like the Dusk Corporation has yet again concocted a recipe for success with Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea.
Final Verdict: 4 / 5
Available on: Playstation 3 ; Publisher: KOEI TECMO America; Developer: Gust Corporation ; Players: 1; Released: March 10, 2015 ; ESRB: E10+ for Everyone ; MSRP: $49.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea provided by the game’s publisher, KOEI TECMO America.