When I first started Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea, I thought I’d done something wrong. You see, since the game lets you choose your heroine I was under the assumption that it would be the first thing you do like older games such as Star Ocean: Second Story. When Atelier Shallie started immediately with me playing as Shallistera, it awoke my inner worrywart. Surely enough, though, it all turned out to be a simple prologue where you get to play as both Shallistera then Shallotte and afterwards are taken to a character select screen.
My tiny heart attack aside, this was a nice way to let the player know both characters before you get to choose, as well as a way to ease them into some of the more basic game-play elements and set up the grander overall story—although, some indication that it was a prologue, such as a title card, would have been appreciated.
So, after playing the prologue whom did I choose? For me, it all came down to the hair, so it was Shallotte all the way. She has green hair. Can you even compete with that? It’s green and it’s hair—end of story, there’s nothing more to say here.
On a more serious note, I also decided to start with the green-haired Shallotte because I was able to relate more to her prologue. Shallotte starts out struggling with finding work and trying to figure out what she even wants out of life. She came across as someone who dreams about having a dream. Compared to Shallistera’s introduction of being a princess on a mission to save her people, Shallotte seemed more relatable, and more interesting, at least in my opinion. (Hey, I’m not a princess on a mission here.) I should note that I don’t hate Shallistera—I just had to pick one and decided to started with Shallotte.
What stuck out the most in my time with Atelier Shallie was the overall sense of innocence the beginning of the game has. There was an obvious threat, that being all the water drying up, but from the perspective of Shallotte it never felt too imminent. The game really allows you to take your time, and get to gradually know your characters and their town, as well as explore the local lands. Now, slice-of-life elements have always had their place in Atelier for better or for worse, which is part of the series’ charm, and while playing Shallie I felt that it handles this process very well. It never sacrificed the overall narrative for it either, like some of the other games have.
What really helped solidify the more relaxing innocent kind of feeling I got while playing was the way Gust designed the game, and the best example of this is the life task system. The life task system replaces time limits from the previous game, and is a way to instead keep track of objectives and goals. These can range in type and can be personalized depending on how you play the game. Some task can be randomly completed without you even knowing beforehand that they were ever a task to begin with—these are usually small things like jumping 50 times—while other tasks are more direct such as completing missions for the local guild. Difficulty often ranges, and covers pretty much everything you can do in the game: alchemy, fighting, chores around the town, or otherwise. The system is nice to look at and represents all your tasks as thought bubbles and you can take a closer look at their descriptions by bringing up a silhouette of your head.
This all helps to make even the smallest tasks like simple fetch quests feel very fulfilling. Quick button mapping such as pressing Start and being able to warp to anywhere in the town hub or back to the world map while in the dungeon also helps to make sure nothing overstays its welcome. It’s a very nice change of pace from the past few Atelier entries that work on a time limit, and really makes the game progress at a much more relaxed pace. Eventually, once you have completed enough tasks and unlocked the right story mission you can move on to the next chapter of the game.
Besides the life task system, however, Atelier Shallie is a Gust game through and through. So I’ve pretty much run out of things to talk about that haven’t already been said a million times before. Atelier Shallie follows all the same beats that all their past games have, and that includes both the positives and negatives. I suppose a quick round up of all the “ Gust essentials” will suffice.
Okay, let’s get this list moving. We’ll cover the bad first:
- The 3D engine is still awkward and floaty as heck. Gust has yet to really get 3D movement down even this far into development of PS3 games. Sometimes, characters even literally float or stand on invisible ledges high above the ground.
- The framerate can occasionally drop and become quite choppy. This becomes rather frustrating at certain times since dungeon designs are usually far too small, or just very basic. Nothing like choppy movement in less than stellar corridors.
- Then there are the QA problems that seem to have haunted the series even back when NIS America handled it, and yes, there are quite a few of them here. From off the top of my head I recall:
- Occasional dialogues where the text goes out of the text-box.
- An occasional typo or grammatical error popping up every now and again (however it is noticeably much improved since Arno Surge).
- Sadly, the game launched with a game-breaking bug that Koei-Tecmo had to patch later.
And now, the good:
- Great soundtrack that really gives the game a lot of personality. Gust soundtracks are usually fantastic, and Shallie continues this tradition. The game even lets you select the song you want to listen to in the menu and includes songs from past Atelier games.
- A fun creative battle system that is easy to pick up and learn but offers substance and some good strategic options as you progress through the game.
- A colorful and pretty world to look at. Maps may be on the small side, but what you do get looks great, and the bright color palette is easy on the eyes and inviting. Character models are equally charming and all have a good range of emotions.
Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea can be a very relaxing game to play. The difficulty never felt too hard, and it is pretty easy to make progress through the story, in fact, I was surprised at times how fast I was leveling up and getting through the game. Overall, I had a pretty laid back experience while playing the game, and although not perfect, I think long term fans of the series will definitely enjoy the game. I really appreciated its more innocent tone and fun battles.