Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea – A Tale of Two Shallies

Atelier Shallie is the third game in the ‘Dusk Trilogy’ of Atelier games. In Atelier Ayesha, we got the first hints that things were not right in the world. Nio, Ayesha’s sister, disappeared and there were signs that all was not well. In Escha & Logy we saw an automaton desperately trying to do anything she can to try to save the world – even if it comes at the cost of humanity. Problems were getting significantly worse as there were massive swaths of lands that seemed essentially dead, lands you saw at certain points but never really explored.

And now, in Atelier Shallie, we see people beginning to suffer as the problems spread… Stellard, this game’s base of operations, is reliant upon an alchemical water purification device that seems to be on the verge of breaking down. Lugion Village is currently in dire straits due to drought and, in an attempt to understand what is happening, has sent their chieftain’s daughter Shallistera to Stellard to try to investigate the cause of it all. In Stellard, a young alchemist named Shallotte is living in the poor part of town doing odd jobs to try to get by while secretly dreaming of having the chance to be someone someday.

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Shallies and Company

As you may have guessed, both Shallistera and Shallote have the nickname ‘Shallie’ and are the two protagonists of this entry in the series. You can choose to play as either, and you get to see a different side of the story based off of who you pick. Of course, the other’s events still happen. This leads to occasional moments where you’ll see the aftermath of those events and get hints as to what the other Shallie was doing. It works quite well, and has definitely left me interested enough that I want to go through and play this again to see those other events.

For my first play, I picked Shallotte – a young, energetic green-haired girl who just wants to make something of herself. Growing up in a poor part of town, she wants to provide for her mother and try to someday do something big to make a name for herself. Shallistera, the second protagonist, offers an interesting other side of the coin. She’s the chieftain’s daughter and oft-praised but doesn’t believe she deserves it as she hasn’t done anything herself, and she wants to change that – do something for herself and become someone deserving of the position and respect she has.

Shallotte’s story is a pretty standard heroine from humble beginnings tale. In fact, you can’t get more humble than hers… the first mission she gets is to clean up trash around town. Over the first half of the game, you gradually see her starting to build confidence in herself. Hers is one of the best character progressions in the series. In fact, in general this finale of the trilogy has had relatively strong development on several of the characters – even a few returning characters like Wilbell showed surprising growth. But despite that, the characters are still not anything special.

Shallie & Shallie

Darkness and Light

The Dusk trilogy has had a very interesting dichotomy. The character stories are always cheery coming of age stories typically with happy endings. The world paints a completely different picture… it is, quite simply, dying. There is something really spectacular about watching these normal life stories amid these signs of peril: drought, creatures that previously weren’t aggressive becoming so, and a massive, dangerous desert known as the Dusk Sea growing steadily.

And as the story progresses, it becomes less about the characters and more about this poor dying world. And that is where things start to get really interesting… and we continue to build on the theme of the previous two entries. This rediscovered, new-old art of alchemy may hold the secret not only to the solution to these problems, but also their surprising cause. This final entry does a great job of both wrapping up the series-long story but also of containing a standalone story that will satisfy on its own.

The Recipe for Success

The crafting is so incredibly satisfying. I can spend several minutes debating a single item, a single decision, a single crafting ability. The system gives you complete control and complete freedom. When making an item, everything matters: the specific components you use, the order you use, the specific techniques you use… everything contributes to the final product.

As I’ve said time and time again: this series is crafting done right. Every game they manage to refine the system a little bit… and every time I wonder how they’re going to improve it. The changes are always subtle but they always lead to a better system… one of the big improvements they made this time was the new UI which presents everything in a much cleaner and more readable fashion than in previous entries.

Alchemy Interface

Take Your Time and Smell the Flowers

This is the first game in the Atelier series to not feature some form of time restriction, and it suffered for it. What I found happening a lot, since there was nothing to remind me that I had to move on with the game, was that I simply didn’t progress. I would wander, meander, roam, and otherwise just waste time. It was fun, because the game is very well made… but it felt like I was never getting anywhere. The comforting boundaries of a time limit had been removed, and I was just left to wander gathering endless quantities of resources I didn’t need. It was weird, but I really missed having guidelines there.

Additionally, I also found that I ended up drastically overleveled until I forced myself to just pass up on all of the gathering/killing side tasks and just skip ahead as fast as possible… but because of the way leveling is handled, it is surprisingly easy to find yourself drastically overleveled. You see, most of your experience comes from what are called ‘life tasks’ which are basically quests that the game gives you automatically when you hit various milestones.

If you kill 10 enemies, you might open up a task to kill 5 enemies in a specific region, which may open up a task to create a specific type of item, which could then lead to a task to gather resources in a different region. These tasks give you bonus experience and sometimes quite a lot of it. I had one fight early on where I gained 5 levels thanks to completing one of these tasks. Their seemingly endless progression just leads you to spend more time idling though. It’s a vicious cycle. One that would’ve been remedied by the addition of a time limit.

Explosive Victory

I’m not sure if they were just running out of ideas or if they simply had bad ideas… but the combat items didn’t feel nearly as satisfying in Atelier Shallie as in previous entries. Outside of series staples like the Dimension Bomb, the items created by the alchemists just felt uninspired this time around. I mean, the strongest item Shallotte could create was a garbage can. One of Shallistera’s best items didn’t even really have an animation.

The abilities feel similarly uninspired. For example, Wilbell – as much as I loved her character and style – was all swords. Every ability she had except one or two revolved around her spawning various numbers of swords and using them to slash enemies. Not that it wasn’t cool, but it was overdone. A lot of characters had this sort of problem. Fortunately, the ultimate abilities still had amazing animations… it was just the rest of the abilities that felt mediocre.

Wilbell

I like swords

That being said, the combat was still good. It still featured the same exciting array of delayed effects, special abilities, and strategy. They’ve even taken to heart my previous complaint that the normal enemies simply didn’t allow you to explore the combat by adding a harder difficulty that dramatically increases the health of enemies. In the early levels it is a bit less noticeable but when you get to the last few chapters every fight becomes like a miniboss. This might sound slow, but by then you really have access to all of the fancy stuff that makes the combat so exciting.

Final Thoughts

I won’t go too far into it, since it’s expected by now… but this game’s soundtrack and art style are gorgeous. The music is incredibly suitable, calming, and charming. The artwork, while fairly simplistic, features the same soft colour palette and amazing background vistas… and it’s just what Atelier is known for. And it’s just as good here as it has ever been.

The ending is a bit unsatisfying, even if it does a good job of wrapping up the series. This is another case of just something you expect with the series. The endings are simple, plain, and feel very logical… but they just leave you kind of feeling unfulfilled.

Overall

Atelier Shallie is a fantastic continuation to the series and a great way to wrap up the Dusk trilogy. It features the series’ staples in good form with an art style that is second to none, a soundtrack that is just too perfect and the best crafting the series has ever seen. Unfortunately, them abandoning one of the series’ key features – a time limit – left the game with a lack of direction. Between that and a lack of creativity in the characters’ abilities and items, this doesn’t quite stand up as the best of the series, but it is still a fantastic entry and a game I enjoyed thoroughly.

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