Gust's Atelier series outing on the PS3 has advanced quite a bit since the original release of Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland on the PS3 back in 2009. After switching from child-like character designs to more adult-like character designs in the Arland trilogy, Gust kept the character design and meshed it with a unique dusk filtered inspired art style in the Dusk trilogy, of which Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea is the third game in that series.
Atelier Ayesha took the series in a more mature direction. Atelier Escha & Logy allowed players to partake in either the alchemy and item creation aspects the series is known for, but also added the ability for players to have a more "normal" RPG experience through the male character Logy who favored exploration over item creation. Atelier Shallie plays like a merger of the two prior games as both of the two playable characters involve alchemy and it's more of a question of which kind of character you prefer than based off gameplay. Does that work in practice? That answer is yes.
The "Shallie" part of the title comes from the fact that both of the main playable female characters in Atelier Shallie share the same nickname. Shallistera, the future chieftain of a remote tribal village, is in search of a solution to her village's dwindling water supply, as the world's ocean has become known as the "Dusk Sea" due to becoming a dry basin that only welcomes monsters. The other "Shallie", Shallotte, is a trash picker who is aimlessly in search of her dream. After the initial prologue chapter where you are introduced to both girls, you are given the choice of picking one of them to play as full-time for the rest of the game.
While the two girls' stories intersect each other at certain points during the game, the focus on one of them specifically, based off your decision, lets the player learn more about their own inner struggles and motivations. The Atelier series has never been about romance and that stays the course in Atelier Shallie, as the narrative focuses on the world itself and the two female protagonists trying to make their own way in the world. It's one of the charms I've liked about the series as it's unique in a sea of Japanese RPGs who fall on the tired romance trope and don't do anything unique with it.
The Atelier series on the PS3, for better or worse, has been known for one gameplay element in particular: some form of a time limit system. This began to be lessened in importance as the series progressed, but in Atelier Shallie this system has been removed completely. Prior to Atelier Shallie, the game threw out deadlines which required crafting specific items or investigating key areas before a specific date. Atelier Shallie tweaks this by allowing players to complete different types of smaller objectives to fill up a "Life Task" bar to allow progression to the next chapter.
This meshes the alchemy-versus-exploration dynamic present in Atelier Escha & Logy, but without shoehorning characters to a specific gameplay style. This does come with the issue that it makes things a bit too easy as there's not that looming date hanging overhead forcing you to work hard to meet the deadline, but it's somewhat offset by the fact that it allows players to learn more about the characters. I always liked experimenting with the alchemy aspects in previous entries, so having more time to try things out wins out over forced decisions.
The other major change to the Atelier series in Atelier Shallie is the new 360-degree camera control, as the series thus far has had a semi-fixed camera which changed based on the location of the character on the screen. This has the effect of making the areas appear larger and shows off the detailed aesthetics of the environments, but at the same time it highlights the simplistic textures some of the objects in the game employ.
Thankfully the character design retains the highly detailed visuals the series has become known for, walking that fine line between being detailed but not going off the rails in terms of being unrealistic. I personally like the design of protagonist Shallistera who utilized a tribal-like design which one doesn't usually see in a Japanese RPG.
Battles in Atelier Shallie builds off the mechanics found in its predecessor Atelier Escha & Logy. You have your typical turn-based battle systems with three fighters in the front row, but with the twist of having a second back row of three party members, who act as supports for the front row. They can help out the front row member or switch with them, which becomes a useful tactic as the back row member will heal over time the longer they stay in that position. Experience after successful battles is given out in a way that promotes even levelling of each party member, creating the environment for the player to try out different front and back-row combinations. This becomes paramount in the battles as the tougher bosses can and will knock you ten way to Sunday if you treat them as pushovers.
Musically, the score in Atelier Shallie easily one of the highlights of the game. The majority of the musical tracks play off the melancholy nature of the narrative and compliments the dusk-inspired graphical filter the Dusk series employs, with only a small percentage going into the typical modern JRPG "wacky" territory corresponding to characters which fit that mold.
Voice acting-wise, Atelier Shallie is one of the better entries in the series in that regard, especially compared to Atelier Escha & Logy's more emotionless English dub. There's a few outliers, but overall it's a worthwhile option to keep selected if you usually switch immediately to the original Japanese voice option due to past games in the series.
There are a few minor issues to make mention of, some of which are exclusive to the western release of the game. There's some minor bouts of slowdown in heavily trafficked areas which hopefully will be alleviated once the series makes the jump to the PS4. In terms of the Western version of the game, I noticed some typos while playing through the game and some lines which felt more like a quick translation of the original Japanese text rather than being fully localized. Some of these same issues popped up in last year's Ar nosurge, and while this is a late release in the lifespan of the PS3 the game deserved an additional editing pass to match the high gameplay and artistic design levels elsewhere.
Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea is a great send-off for what's likely the last game in the Dusk trilogy based off the length of the Arland trilogy. It takes what worked from its predecessors and improves upon it, but also fixes some of the issues that plagued earlier entries in the series. I'm looking forward to see what the next generations of consoles bring to the series, but until then Atelier Shallie is worth playing for fans of the series and Japanese RPG fans alike.
|Removing the time limit in favor of letting the player naturally progress makes things much more smoother.|
|The new 360-degree camera is a welcome addition over the series's previous fixed camera.|
|The English dub is much better than the last one in Escha & Logy.|
|Patches of slowdown at times when the game is graphically taxed.|
|English localization could have used a second editing pass in a few places.|
|Those who dislike the alchemy portions of the game won't find any differences here from past games in the series.|