Alchemy in games takes me back to my childhood; I would crush handfuls of flowers together in the garden, pretending to perform magic. These memories particularly resurfaced while playing Atelier Shallie Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea. As the adorable protagonist mixed a few weeds together to form a healing item, weapon or piece of clothing, I was left to wonder if maybe my parents just didn’t grow the right kind of plants.
It’s a bit of a tradition for Atelier games to release Plus versions of past titles. In addition to the usual extra missions and bosses, Atelier Shallie Plus has new story elements. The reason for this is that fans felt the original PS3 edition didn’t tie up the plot holes from previous entries in the series. Whether it succeeds in its mission is hard for me to comment on due to not having played the other games. However, I did find everything very smooth, and couldn’t tell the difference between old and new elements.
In the story, a force known as The Dusk is spreading throughout the land, turning everything to desert. All over, people are facing drought and no one knows how to stop it. Despite the gloomy outset, though, there is a constantly positive message. The threat of failure pushes people to better themselves and join together, instead of simply wallowing in fear. Sure, it’s as sickly sweet as it sounds, but I found it to be a refreshing take on dealing with a difficult worldwide problem.
Atelier Shallie Plus gives you a choice of playing as one of two characters. They share the same plot points, but their personalities and backgrounds create changes that make it worth playing both. First, there’s the unsure but determined Shallistera. She’s an alchemist from a tiny village, hoping to find aid for her dying people at the town of Stellard. Then there’s the ever cheerful Shallotte, who dreams of making it big in Stellard, but is forced to work as a garbage cleaner. It’s through the friendship with each other that the girls manage to find the strength to fight for their homes.
Personality oozes from the characters through the design of their clothes, facial expressions, dialogue, and voice acting talent. I never got bored of looking at the fabulous designs, going so far as to find the in-game models better than the animated versions in occasional cutscenes. There’s only one damper to this, which is how bland the backgrounds were in comparison. I enjoyed the variety of places to explore but never felt overly impressed by any part of the world.
A lot of Atelier Shallie Plus is dictated by the Life Tasks system, as my chosen character had to complete a certain amount of tasks before continuing the story. There were points where this system got a little frustrating as it slowed down the pacing quite a bit. Luckily, there are plenty of places to fulfill these tasks, with a decent amount to explore from the beginning. Each area has a slightly different feel, too, with an assortment of enemies to go up against and ingredients to gather.
Alchemy is a big part of the game as well and essentially involves choosing what you want to make, then following the recipe. The 2-5 ingredients needed often have a lot of leeway. For example, it might ask for a plant – so I could pick from a host of collected herbs, and leaves. Instead of just choosing items at random, picking one with a good power level and effect gives an improved final product.
After the ingredients are chosen, you can further synthesize the items which will affect the power even more directly. They can even add new abilities if chosen with care. Getting my head around all these details did take a bit of time. Luckily, a mistake just means having slightly less proficient results, so I was free to learn at my own pace.
Crafting equipment is really satisfying. There’s nothing like knowing you can finally perform a one-hit kill due to a newly boosted weapon. A lot of my playtime was spent contentedly improving my level at the alchemy station. It felt like practicing a genuine hobby, as the more I trained, the more confident I became while being rewarded with new recipes and boosts for my efforts.
On the other end of the spectrum, the combat’s a standard turn-based affair with the speed stat dictating the order of turns. I was pretty disappointed with the lack of inventiveness here, until things were shaken up with a host of new party members. Suddenly, I was allowed 3 reserves who were all assigned their own button. When called into battle not only did they act as an assist, but actually swapped with one of the characters who was at the front. A Boost Mode adds to the fun, giving my team double damage, and allowing for an all-out attack if all reserves were used one after another.
I love Atelier Shallie Plus’ battle system. It’s simple to understand and fun to execute. There’s even a nice amount of strategy needed for bosses, and hard-hitting enemies. I did rather blast through Normal mode, so I’d actually recommend for players to just go ahead and start on Hard, which adds a sweet extra experience boost.
Before starting Atelier Shallie Plus, I was expecting it to be something pleasant to look at with very little actual substance. Well, I was right about the visuals. I found creating items that could save the life of friends, or take down enemies to be incredibly satisfying. Managing the combat then stayed fresh thanks to the variety of enemies and party members. Ultimately, Atelier Shallie Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea continues the charm that the series is so deservingly well-known for.
This review is based off a Vita copy of the game, which we were provided with.
Atelier Shallie Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea makes up for a lack of challenge by oozing charm through its beautiful characters, fun combat and big crafting list. It successfully manages to both patch up problems from the original, while providing newcomers with an endearing entryway into the franchise.