Now that last year's journey with the delightful Sophie is behind us, it's a good time to revisit the final chapter of the Atelier series' Dusk trilogy. Atelier Shallie is now available as a portable adventure so let's see how this plus-sized tale holds up.
Before I start the review, I should mention that I own every single PlayStation 3 Atelier game. That is, except for Shallie. So, when I saw that it was coming soon for Vita as a Plus edition, I jumped at the opportunity to play and review it. Therefore, I unfortunately can't fairly compare this version to the original. In other words, this review is written with a fresh perspective from a series fan.
Atelier Shallie follows the stories of Shallistera and Shallotte who are both nicknamed Shallie. Shallistera is on an adventure to help save her town from a drought while Shallotte performs menial jobs with big aspirations in her heart. Soon into the tale, Shallistera crash-lands her ship into Shallotte's hometown. They eventually meet after a few confusing situations where townsfolk say "Shallie" then both of them respond. It's a fantastic way to start a story and thankfully, everything that happens afterwards is nothing short of memorable. You'll meet familiar faces such as Ayesha, Logy, and Escha as well as many more entertaining chums like the adorable Homura. To tie it all together, colourful visuals and a lovely soundtrack full of catchy tunes make the world come alive.
Near the beginning of your journey, you have to decide which of the two Shallies you'd like to play as. Considering they meet up shortly into the story, this decision doesn't change the plot so much that you'll be compelled to play through it again after you see the credits roll. There is New Game Plus, though, so playing as the other girl is always an option. For the record, I mostly played as Shallistera.
Atelier Shallie features streamlined gameplay without any sort of time constraint. You can warp around town and travel to various world locations easily which makes accomplishing tasks feel rewarding as opposed to monotonous. Also, this dynamic allows you to enjoy the campaign at your own pace. If you're the kind of gamer who prefers reading endearing conversations between characters and slowly working through the story while taking on loads of side-quests then you're free to do so. On the other end of the spectrum, if you'd rather just see the plot unfold as quickly as possible then you can easily only accomplish the necessary tasks to move the story along. Either way you look at it: gathering materials, slaying all different kinds of monsters, fulfilling the locals' requests, optimizing your party members, and synthesizing alchemy items are all extremely fun tasks to take on. Speaking of alchemy, the system in place here is quite flexible as it allows you to hone each concoction to your liking with complexities such as property transfers and attribute chains.
I found the combat in Atelier Shallie to be impressively in-depth and constantly evolving. It starts out simply enough with characters attacking and performing skills which uses up MP. However, when your party grows larger than three members then you can have up to three extra folks on stand-by who can then perform Assists. These are either offensive (like chaining attacks) or defensive (by having characters step up to block oncoming blows). Whenever you issue an Assist, that character takes the place of the one that you just used and becomes part of your active party in the process. This constant juggling makes each battle rather exciting.
The main problem that I have with the battle system is the Burst system. Basically, every attack increases the Burst meter and once it reaches 100%, your party becomes substantially stronger. This can take a lot of fun out of combat because outside of Burst mode, your party will likely be pathetic as they slowly chip away at their enemies. As soon as they enter Burst mode and possibly gain access to an Ultimate attack, they get insurmountably more capable. To put it simply, this is just too much of a contrast.
Besides the overpowered Burst mode, I found myself having to repeat tasks throughout the adventure. For example, you reach a point in every chapter where you have to basically wander around and accomplish as much of your to-do list as possible in order to advance the story. Before reaching this point, I often just synthesized a bunch of stuff, turned in a load of quests, and explored the continent. Then, it told me that I had to do all of that again with absolutely no progress being made. Of course, I learned my lesson and only did these kinds of activities during that period but you shouldn't have to hold off. It's counterproductive and annoying.
Finally, the environments are mostly composed of sand-filled areas that get repetitive early on. You'll visit some other locales such as a snow-covered plain, a mysterious castle, the inside of a ghost ship, and a tangled web of vines. However, it just isn't enough to break up the majority of the campaign which consists of generic environments. I guess a drought will have that affect, though.
Complaints aside, Atelier Shallie Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea is a barrel of fun that any fan will love. In the end, its memorable cast of characters and refined gameplay make it a fantastic experience that ties up the Dusk trilogy wonderfully.
- + Enjoyable story, music, and characters
- + Intuitive and satisfying gameplay that allows you to progress at your own pace
- + Assist system makes battles exciting
- - Combat relies too much on the Burst system
- - Having to repeat tasks that you just accomplished is quite tedious
- - Environments could use more variety