Atelier Shallie Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea Review
It's funny to think how many years it's been since I picked up my then-new and game-starved PlayStation Vita and downloaded Atelier Totori Plus: Adventurer of Arland on a whim. That game hurled me headlong into a franchise I'd never heard of before, and an Atelier fan was born. Since then, the time management alchemy RPG series has become one of my favorites, especially when played on the Vita. Something about the system's portability and the addictive "just one more thing" structure of the series has kept me coming back for each additional series entry. With Atelier Shallie Plus, we are seeing the end of the Dusk trilogy on the Vita and what a fitting end it is. If you played the original on PS3 a few years ago, there is little reason to replay the game, but for Vita Atelier fans this is the conclusion you've been waiting for.
Atelier Shallie Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea, somewhat like Atelier Escha & Logy Plus, actually features two protagonists. Shallistera, a princess tasked with discovering the reasons behind the incoming Dusk and Shallotte, a series-typical young alchemist, team up to help their towns, their friends and hopefully put an end to the Dusk and the world-crippling drought that has come with it. If you've played an Atelier game before you can probably guess the high points in the story, but seeing as this one
rings to an end the Dusk trilogy, some satisfying conclusions are eventually reached. Better yet, though, is the inclusion of characters from both Atelier Ayesha Plus and Atelier Escha & Logy Plus, all of whom have been fighting the Dusk in their own games. Seeing the entire cast together is a bigger thrill than I thought it would be, and all the characters, old and new, have roles to play in this conclusion. While the Arland trilogy remains my favorite (Rorona, the aforementioned Totori and Meruru), seeing the Dusk trilogy come to an end was hugely rewarding and featured some of the best moments of the entire franchise.
Though I've been giving my reviews a break on the graphics and sound categories, I felt I needed to include a few words on these aspects. The character design, animation and music are all up to the usual high series standard, but Atelier Shallie Plus does suffer from some very uncharacteristic slowdown during some of the larger, more action-packed sequences. It's also tough to ignore some epically long load times, punctuated by sudden screen blackouts as things load up. I don't put much weight behind issues like these, but since it was noticeable to someone who normally doesn't even blink at that kind of thing, it warranted a mention in the review.
On to the happier stuff. The biggest change between Atelier Shallie Plus and, well, every other Atelier game I've played is the elimination of the time limit. If you know the series at all, reading this might come as a shock; these games have traditionally been as much about time management as they have alchemy and JRPG battling. But Atelier Shallie drops the time limit, and surprisingly, it actually works. The result is a much more leisurely pace through the game, and given it's light-hearted tone (despite how gloom and doom the story may sound), it makes for a welcoming and enjoyable experience. There is a "motivation meter" that slowly drops as you screw around and fail to accomplish the major life tasks you are presented with, but by the end of the game this disappears as well, giving you all the time you need to build up friendships and complete the veritable mountain of side-quests available to you. As much as I loved the time crunch of the past games, the absence of it actually spurred me to play more. Before I finished the game, I'd completed a much greater percentage of the available tasks than I'd ever done in any previous title, and I felt like I saw more of the entire experience because of it.
Because little has changed about the game's alchemy and turn-based battles, I'll only briefly mention those. The alchemy system is as complex as ever, and creating new recipes and items might seem trivial on paper, but there is a huge feeling of accomplishment that comes with creating exactly what you want with the properties you need. The fighting is largely the same, but a new "burst" system allows attacks to be chained together, meaning you do more damage more quickly. The series tradition of sometimes slower paced of battles earlier in the game (due to under-powered characters) is gone, replaced by a system that moves quicker, and in some ways, feels more satisfying. Largely, though, both the battles and the alchemy take an "if it ain't broke" approach, so no complaints here.
As with all the past Atelier Plus titles, you get all the content of the PS3 original, plus - get it? - the DLC. This time, you get a few outfits as well as four playable characters, Escha, Logy, Ayesha and Solle. There are also a few optional bosses and some side-quest stuff to tackle as well. It isn't enough to make a whole new playthrough worth it if you played the PS3 version to death, but it is nice for those of us who wait for the Vita versions to have all the content in one convenient place for one price.
While the Arland trilogy remains my favorite, Atelier Shallie Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea finishes out the Dusk trilogy in style. The removal of the traditional time limit actually works, and the series' trademark alchemy and battle gameplay is as strong and as fun as ever. The graphical hiccups and long load times may disappoint a little, but this is a stellar JRPG and the cap to the very memorable Dusk trilogy. For Atelier fans who wait for the Vita versions, this is a no-brainer. For new fans or those who already finished things up on PS3, there may be better choices, but for my money Atelier Shallie Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea was 50 hours of fun I wouldn't trade for all the water in Stellard.
Final Rating: 89% - Alchemists of the Dusk Sea finishes out the Dusk trilogy in style.