Shallie & Shallie are back!
Not too long ago, developer Gust Co. Ltd. began going back through their previous Atelier titles and re-releasing them for the PlayStation Vita. Labeled as Plus versions, these variants feature additional content and are re-designed to allow players to carry the goodness of the Atelier series with them on-the-go. Today, we’ll be taking a look at an Atelier title near and dear to my heart; the Atelier Shallie remake, Atelier Shallie Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea. Ready to see how the latest Atelier revamp has turned out?
The story of Atelier Shallie Plus revolves around a girl named Shallie – or at least one of them, anyway. Oh, right, I might have forgotten to mention that there are two different girls named Shallie in this game. What’s that? You’d like to know which Shallie is the main Shallie? Well that depends on you, actually! Atelier Shallie Plus gives you a chance to play as both Shallies during the game’s intro, but quickly forces you to take sides. Regardless of which character you choose, the two protagonists do eventually join forces in order to tackle their problems together; picking one Shallie over the other essentially just determines the goings on of the first few chapters, and how certain events throughout the game are viewed.
Although I did say that Atelier Shallie Plus conjoins the two Shallies’ stories at a certain point within the game, picking the right protagonist is still an important decision to make. Both characters have vastly different origins, which can ultimately end up impacting how you interpret the events throughout the game. Shallistera, the first Shallie that you are introduced to, is a princess who has traveled a great distance in order to save her home, Lugion Village. Having made to the oasis town Stellard, Shallistera begins searching in hopes of finding something to aid her in her quest – but ends up getting more than she bargained for
Shalloette is the second Shallie that you are introduced to. Her story is a bit less dramatic than her princess counterpart, as Shalloette is essentially just down on her luck and wants to find purpose and make money. Yep, those are your two choices – the valiant, determined princess, and happy-go-lucky schemer. And, if I do say so myself, they’re both good ones. Both Shallies do a great job of adding their own unique flavor to the story, and I didn’t find one to be particularly better or worse than the other. Since things join up eventually anyway, it’s all about personal taste – would you rather add a bit of drama, or a bit of whimsy to your game? Either choice is good!
The gameplay of Atelier Shallie Plus focuses on three things; exploration, combat, and alchemy. Rather than traveling throughout the entirety of the in-game world on foot, players are able to select a location from a list presented to them on the overworld map. Each area is essentially a tiny dungeon, with clearly-marked entrances and exits, treasures to find, enemies to fight, and alchemy items to collect. Exploration itself is fun and fairly simple; there aren’t really any puzzles to solve or particularly tricky areas that you need to navigate through. Rather, exploration serves more as a means through which to progress the story and, more importantly, collect those oh-so-sweet alchemy ingredients. Players can also make use of Field Events, allowing them to procure especially rare alchemy ingredients, or spawn hordes of monsters to take on all at once, which is pretty nice. I’ll be completely honest – Atelier Shallie‘s gameplay cycle is pretty obvious, but it’s also a very fun one. Endlessly exploring, collecting, creating, and fighting has the potential to get stale after a while, but Atelier Shallie Plus does a very good job of making sure that that never happens.
While I did say that exploring was fun and simple, I didn’t say that it was easy. As you’re exploring the wonderful-but-also-slowly-dying world around you in search of precious minerals and rare vegetation (and also literal trash), you’re inevitably going to cross paths with an angry rodent, or a mutated beast, or a giant robot – or something – and will have to fight. Atelier Shallie Plus, like all other Atelier games, uses its own form of turn-based combat that places heavy emphasis on timing and chaining attacks. Players are able to see the turn order during battle (designated by the placement of “time cards” on the action bar), and many actions taken by both enemies and allies can speed up or slow down character turns, with some attacks even creating extra time cards. Attacking an enemy in succession enough also causes Bursts to trigger, allowing your characters to deal more damage. It’s also worth noting that every character has a number of special attacks at their disposal – all except for the two Shallies!
Gasp! Why don’t the Shallies get special attacks? Well, that’s simple – they can use alchemy. Rather than being restrained to a set list of special attacks, Shallie and Shallie are allowed to create items through alchemy and equip them in order to bring them into battle. Although it’s a little underwhelming at first, alchemical items can end up being some of the best attacks in the game – so long as you know how to properly synthesize, that is!
Alchemy has always been a very integral part of the Atelier games, and Atelier Shallie Plus certainly is no explanation. Alchemy works, in concept, exactly how you would expect it to – by taking things and turning them into other things – but the process itself is a bit more complicated than that. Alchemy in the Atelier series requires the use of specific materials in order to create items – such as needing a plant, some oil, and some water in order to create the item Healing Salve – which doesn’t sound too confusing until you really start to delve into it. Ingredients have different properties and qualities that can greatly affect how your items turn out. Take the Healing Salve that I mentioned before. Depending on what kinds of oil, plants, and water go into it, you can end up with either a complete dud of a healing items, or a potent healing item that offers extra effects beyond simply healing.
After enough alchemy practice your Shallie will learn alchemy skills, which add yet another layer of highly-beneficial work into the alchemy process, and after that comes synthesis chaining, which can be used to improve synthesized items even further. A lot goes into alchemy, and the advanced alchemy that you get into later on in the game requires a lot of thought if you want your items to be the best that they possibly can be. Alchemy is essentially a unique form of puzzle-solving that involves memorization skills and a little bit of cost-benefit analysis. It’s somewhat challenging confusing at first, but man does it get addicting after you start to get the hang of it.
So we’ve covered a lot, but there’s still one more question that I’m sure most of you are asking – what’s so “plus” about Atelier Shallie Plus? Quite a bit, actually! Although the original PS3 version of Atelier Shallie intended to be the final chapter in the Atelier Dusk trilogy, and the game ended up doing well with both fans and critics alike, there were still those who felt as though the game didn’t have a proper ending. So, in a very cool move on Gust’s part, new chapters were added to Plus. These bonus chapters add new dungeons and enemies, and unite every protagonist from the Dusk trilogy in order to come to a more conclusive and detailed ending.
The revamped Atelier Shallie also adds in bonus chapters for returning characters, which not only helps flesh them out but also invokes a sense of nostalgia – it’s always great to see familiar faces from past games (and get to know more about said faces)! Plus also inherited all DLC from the original Atelier Shallie, meaning that costumes are automatically available, and characters such as Solle and Escha will automatically join your party as you play – no additional payment needed!
Ironically, Atelier Shallie Plus also had a few minuses. The transition from PS3 to Vita seemed to be a difficult one in certain spots, and it shows. Some areas, most notably certain parts of Stellard, suffer from heavy and consistent lag. Seeing as how this doesn’t technically impact the gameplay it could probably overlooked, but it’s still really annoying. Atelier Shallie Plus also suffers form a drop in graphical quality at some points. Characters and “important textures” still look nice, but some of the background textures seem a bit less detailed. Fortunately, the game’s fantastic soundtrack and voice acting weren’t hurt, so I guess that things could have been worse!
Atelier Shallie was a great PS3 game, and Atelier Shallie Plus holds up just as well on the Vita. It does have a few technical hiccups but they are overshadowed by a generous helping of additional content not present within the original game, and its gameplay and story that are both incredibly strong even by today’s standards. Whether you’re new to the Atelier series, or a returning fan, I would highly recommend picking Atelier Shallie Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea up; you won’t regret it!
FINAL VERDICT: 4/5
Available on: Vita (reviewed) ; Publisher: Koei Tecmo ; Developer: Gust Co. Ltd. ; Players: 1 ; Released: January 17, 2017 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP; $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is on a review copy provided to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.