Two years ago, Gust released Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea for the Playstation 3, which was supposedly to be the conclusion to the Dusk trilogy. Getting a few complaints from fans aside from the general gameplay, the narrative was the most criticized element as it felt incomplete as well as effacing all the developments made in the prior installments. Vowing to fix this mistake with another entry into series, there is no mistaking that the Playstation Vita title Atelier Shallie Plus is what the team had in mind. With inclusion of new events, bosses, and prominent returning characters, does it manage to succeed where the PS3 title failed?
Title: Atelier Shallie Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea
Developer: Gust Co. Ltd
System: PS Vita
Length: 40-45 hrs
As aforementioned, for those late or new to the series Atelier Shallie Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea is an enhanced version of the PS3 version that launched back in 2015. With the same narrative baseline, it features 2 young alchemist that share a similar nickname and end up coming to together to find a solution to a small town’s draining water dilemma as well as work toward solving their own personal problems. Like most other “Plus” versions, this one comes with all the DLC packed into the cart, but unlike the rest (excluding Atelier Rorona), this one is more of a small tweak as it also includes the alchemist Ayesha and Logy, protagonist of the previous installments making an appearance and actually playing a more larger role than the limited cameo spots they were given. Other than that, most of the events added into this version are as they sound: additions – more or less, placed carefully into the story as they will allow and attempt to follow-up on some of the more murky or unclear points that the Dusk mythos still leaves up to audience interpretation. For the minimal scenes and dialogue added, it still doesn’t fix or adequately expand the world any, but having the protagonist from past entries in one place is still a neat treat and does give the series finality some legs to stand on. If you are new to the series, there is no problem starting here, yet for the characters, references, and other miscellaneous details – it would be highly recommended going back to the beginning of the Dusk franchise, Ayesha or at the very least, next entry in which is Eschalogy.
Besides the addition of new material exclusive to the “Plus” name, all the other content does remain same. Much like its predecessor Eschalogy, the game is split up into chapters with the only difference is that the time limit is removed and you have the freedom to move about and play as you please. Each chapter usually has some short objective to accomplish that will run the gamut between combat and creating items through alchemy, so whatever you do, the game does try to provide some variety in the task you partake in. Once the primary goal for the chapter is cleared, you then have a bit of free time to explore areas for new material, making items/equipment, and partake in more battles to raise your level. Due to how the system is structured, the Life Task system (that also helps you progress forward through the intermission periods) will also limit how much progress you make before the next chapter. So it is rather impossible to hit a certain level or rack up experience in a chapter without moving on. Alchemy has the same limits, but the system of leveling up is a tad more easier to abuse. You will rarely have to worry about one value over the other to the point that it becomes a non-issue, yet the Life Task system is nothing short of generous in preparing you for future endeavors, so it does pay (or at least doesn’t hurt) to experiment with everything possible and not worry about any consequences. There are also varying levels of difficulty that can be switched to on the fly, so if you do find yourself having too much of a lull or spike, it can be changed to fit your needs.
Also like Eschalogy and its last gen days, the other mechanics also are very much as they were. Combat is the same 3 by 3 turn-based affair that has the front line and back line rows supporting each other in order to pull off special techniques to eradicate the opposition along with the occasional bosses or super bosses that go down with any use of an item. And when your gear isn’t making ends meet, you can craft new odd creations through alchemy allowing you to transfer properties of raw material to everything from bombs to armor in order to take on a vast array of foes. Compared to its predecessor, while combat has improved and actually made itself an accessible fixture, item creation does feel like a step down, since most the items in this entry aren’t as good or even weakened in effectiveness compared to Eschalogy despite the added complexity. This could be an attempt to make sure players explore and fully utilize both the characters and usage of items, but most likely (if your not trying or willing to go out the way), you will find yourself making items and sticking to those that promise the greatest level of reliability and effectiveness. Thankfully enough, the DLC characters and those in the main storyline do come with the techniques you will need to do most of the work slaying monsters and only find yourself trying to get the right traits on materials to trivialize most of the challenge higher difficulty settings can bring.
Taking a look back to the past “Plus” titles and those now that are leaning toward cross-development, Shallie Plus is one that hits the breaking point when it comes to performance on the Vita. Seeing how Gust had to rebuild everything from the ground up, the frame rate for this game does get somewhat bogged down when traversing more fuller environments such as towns, yet a little less strained when walking around fields with fewer entities on-screen. Surprisingly, aside from scenes that do have a few performance hiccups, most other aspects run quite smoothly and while it might not be on par with the current titles like Sophie, it is very playable and immediate. Sadly, if you are a PS TV owner or playing using that method, the game will not look as great as it does on a smaller sized experience like the Vita, but will run fine all the same. Speaking of the Vita, I do like that they added all the DLC including costumes and other smaller offerings like the soundtracks from past entries. Not being the biggest fan or type of person to play around with cosmetic stuff, most of the new costumes do suit or look great on some characters (thanks to Hidari’s concept artwork, of course) and always pretty nice to throw on a track from one of the previous titles like Atelier Ayesha. Then again, the base music from this game is great and probably won’t find yourself changing much around.
While Atelier Shallie Plus finds itself to be another nice addition to the “Plus” library and Atelier franchise in general, it is still something of a letdown when it comes to capping off the Dusk trilogy. As the enhanced title does make a few amendments that wasn’t encountered in the 2015 version and ones most people will probably care about (myself included), there does feel like much more work and changes could of have been done to make this more worth the while. Even though I can’t exactly go into specifics and start proposing ideas, Shallie Plus really does feel shy of making itself a solid portable Atelier experience, yet just like how the creators decided to call the Dusk universe a wrap for now, I suppose that Shallie Plus is a title better than any other to call it to a close.
Pros: Removal time limit does offer greater degree of freedom, Plus version does offer a chance for previous protagonist to be present and involved, DLC from the PS3 version is automatically included along with some new cosmetic items, Button placement and maping works out well.
Cons: A few frame rate problems, translation/description of items are fixed, yet there still a few that aren’t exactly right, Life Task system can be helpful, yet seems to be something of hindrance when it comes to earlier game activity.
Verdict: Fixing a few fan gripes and putting the rest of the elements back where they were make Atelier Shallie Plus another average attempt to bring the Dusk series full circle on the portable front. Being far and away the Atelier title that offers the greatest amount of freedom, it is one that is a little on the dull side when you are not sticking to the critical path. If you are a fervent fan of the Dusk trilogy or just getting all the games on the go, Atelier Shallie Plus is more than the worth he cost, especially with all the included DLC to boot.
Disclaimer: In no way, shape, or form was I compensated for the composition or publication of this review. This by my own volition. A review copy of the game was kindly provided by Koei Temco.