Atelier Shallie Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea Review

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Game Title: Atelier Shallie Plus ~The Alchemists of the Dusk Sea~
Developer: Gust, Koei Tecmo
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Type: Vita
Download: 3.1 GB
NA Availability: Retail (Limited Edition Only) | Digital Download
EU Availability: Retail (Limited Edition Only) | Digital Download
PSTV Support: Yes

Atelier is a long-standing franchise that has a big and growing user-base in the handheld world.  Counting the game we are going to talk about in a moment, there have been 7 Atelier games released on the Vita, plus Mana Khemia on PSP that is a spin-off of the Atelier series.  For that many games to release on the Vita in a single series in less than 4 years is really something.  For fans, that’s good.  For others, that is quite surprising with how often the games are coming out.

Most of my Atelier reviews have been games from the “Dusk” series, which is a trilogy of games on its own, having their own continuity but also allowing each game to stand on its own.  It began with Atelier Ayesha Plus and continued when Koei Tecmo sent me a review copy of Atelier Escha and Logy Plus.  Then, I got the opportunity to try the new series with Atelier Sophie, my favorite game of the series to date.

Finally, we are going to finalize the Dusk Trilogy with the most recent release in the West.  Here is my review of Atelier Shallie Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea!

Story

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6 years after the events of Atelier Escha and Logy (10 years after the events of Atelier Ayesha), the strange force known as “The Dusk” is ravaging the world’s water supply.  Oceans have completely dried up and many towns that remain filled with water begin to show signs of drought.  The story stars 2 alchemists, both with the nickname Shallie.  Shallistera is the princess of a village and departs to a city to save it from drought.

The story is told from 2 perspectives.  Shallistera’s story focuses on her journey to save her village, learning a lot about the Dusk and how it has been affecting the world over the decade of the series.  Shallotte’s story focuses more on her daily life as she trains and aims to become a better alchemist to help at home with her mother.  They’re two very different perspectives, though they intertwine into one, long story.

As interesting as the story is to the overall continuity, I could not help but feel it never really hit the mark Atelier goes for.  The serious tone is a change from the overall cutesy feel the series normally goes for, but the big issue is the imbalance between character interactions/backstory and progression of the main story.  It is decently balanced in the first part of the story, but the latter half feels more like 80% character backstories and 20% to the actual plot of the game.

Gameplay

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Like previous games in the series, Atelier Shallie Plus is a crafting and turn-based RPG.  As you play, you’ll be doing a lot of exploration, fighting enemies, crafting items with alchemy and all around completing various tasks that the game throws at you.  It’s pretty normal Atelier formula.

Since this is a “Plus” release, this version of Shallie has all of the DLC from the PS3 version of Shallie.  On top of that, it adds new playable characters as well as a significant amount of new voiced story scenes with those characters (Ayesha and Logy from earlier in the Dusk series).  The story scenes are especially note-worthy because Ayesha plays a big part in one of the more important story scenes a little past halfway through Shalistera’s story.

Main Progression is kind of like it was in Escha and Logy.  After the intro, you play through the game as one of the two Shallies.  You then play through the game from their perspective, and can change over and replay it from the other perspective once you complete the game and unlock New Game Plus.

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Now aside from that, you go through chapters.  In each chapter, you have tasks that pop up for completion.  In order to complete each chapter, you spawn story scenes and complete your main tasks.  Eventually, completing tasks will end up in a Finalize task where you go back to your Atelier base and complete the chapter.  While many chapters have set tasks for the story side, you will end up doing random other main tasks at the end until you spawn the finale of the chapter.

With how this progresses, I must say that Shallie is the easiest Atelier game I’ve played to date.  There are no time restraints and it is incredibly easy to get story scenes to spawn.  While you do still have to do a lot of crafting for alchemy (creating items from materials) for many of the main tasks, you don’t have to have it up there for those tasks and scenes to first spawn.

Combat is also pretty simple, savor a couple boss fights.  The turn-based combat hasn’t changed a lot, but the difficulty isn’t too high.  Most battles won’t give you problems and as long as you upgrade equipment when you can, most bosses shouldn’t cause you any problems unless you’re on the Hard difficulty.

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The combat is a little different, though.  All of the assist attacks and defense maneuvers come from your backup party members instead of your main party.  You also have a Burst gauge and when it hits 100%, you go into Burst Mode where all of your stats sky-rocket.  This is very easy to build up and stack for major fights so you can go right into Burst when the battle starts.  And this is key because what bosses the game has do have their needed strategies.

Now, overall, each campaign of Atelier isn’t as long as previous games.  Each campaign should take you around 15 hours to complete, leaving doing both around 30 hours total.  This is a bit shorter since my last Atelier was 40 hours long, but it still has a decent amount of length to it.

Controls

As always, Atelier Shallie Plus is compatible with the PlayStation TV.  There are no special controls on the PSTV, but the compatibility is there for those that want to play this on the go as well as on the TV.

Controls are pretty simple.  Left Analog Stick lets you move around town areas and dungeons and the Right Analog Stick moves the camera around as well as zooming features.  Apart from that, X lets you interact with objects to harvest items, talk to people, etc.  Then Square lets you swing your weapon to start battles with enemies, Circle lets you jump, and Triangle brings up the customization menus.  The L and R buttons are used for pulling up your tasks as well as the fast travel menu.

Presentation

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Visually, as always, the graphics look quite amazing.  Very few, if any jagged edges, and looks like it was taken straight from the PS3 or PS4, but on a handheld.  Gust knows how to make a game look beautiful on a handheld.

The music is unique as well, and some of the soundtrack sounds quite epic.  The track I took from my PSTV Gameplay video came from the soundtrack and sounds like something you’d see from a AAA game like Final Fantasy.  The main issue with the audio is the fact that we, once again, have an incomplete English dub.  There are a lot of scenes in the game that are voiced in Japanese but not English.

Performance is about the same as you’d expect.  First, load times are great.  The longest time I waited for a loading sequence was 4-5 seconds, so it is excellent there.  But there are a lot of frame-drops.  The game stutters quite a bit during battle animations and when loading new areas.  It’s about the same that was in Escha and Logy Plus.  Annoying but not game-breaking.

Summary

Atelier Shallie Plus is probably the most user-friendly Atelier in the Dusk series.  On the downside, the story balance is off towards the end, the English dub is incomplete, and the frame-rate stutters quite a bit like previous Dusk Plus games.  But past that is a unique entry of the series that takes a more serious tone than its predecessors. 

7/10

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