With the latest installment in the long-running Atelier JPRG series, what’s most curious about the new entry is how introductory and welcoming it is. It’s not about bringing new players to a world or meeting characters; no, instead, Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea, despite its lengthy title and seemingly complex crafting system that runs at its heart, progresses as a role playing game primer, a simple and simplistic exercise in video game creation and exploration.
Pastel coloured graphics, trite dialogue, overt metaphors, menial tasks, and turn-based combat makes for an easy, if not mindless gaming experience. The amount of enjoyment the player will get out of it entirely depends on the extent to which he or she wants to spend time collecting and fighting in a repetitive manner. This isn’t like amassing loot in Borderlands – what Atelier Shallie runs for quite some time is a mundane task-and-reward game that is limited, but perhaps comforting in such confinement.
Then again, if you’re familiar with the series, which now has 16 titles with this being the third in the Dusk trilogy, it would seem the newest vision has everything one would love.
Within its latest story, building on old narrative developments while simultaneously easing in new gamers, there are two separate paths from which to choose. That is, early on in the game, following some banal exposition and thin character development, you are faced with a decision to make that will determine how you experience the rest of the game. Of course, that means that the road not taken initially can be opted for a second time around, more or less doubling the gaming experience.
The choices are tricky but trivial: we don’t know much about our two female heroines, but we must align with one. It may or may not help that both lead girls refer to themselves as Shallie. There is Shallistera, a precocious princess of fair skin and dark hair, hopeful but maybe a bit naïve, and tasked with helping solve a water shortage in her city. The alternative is Shallote, a more capricious figure who seeks meaning and purpose beyond her menial job of picking up trash every day.
Their paths cross with some infrequency, and they have enough dissimilarity to make them distinct enough. The same, however, can’t necessarily be said of the supporting characters, despite each one getting an official introduction in the game.
Despite there being a very substantial crises transpiring here, one that could easily find parallels to the present world, there is never a sense of particularly importance or dire circumstance. The two girls certainly allude to issues of familial honour, work ethic, and individuality, but those existential concerns seem impassionate and matter-of-fact.
Still, there is much to enjoy here, albeit in calculated doses. There is a carefree spirit that permeates throughout the game, as the world quickly opens up for either character to explore. At that point, they can perform a variety of simple tasks that are ancillary to the plot, while the main story moves along at a snail’s pace. Unlike previous iterations, there is no time limit here to complete tasks, and indeed no rush to get the plot moving. With myriad generic themes, indeed balance is the only thing to keep the game moving – you have to do as much battling as conversing, as much crafting as exploring.
Though that may be welcome to some fans, it depends on how much you favour busywork and levelling up. Shallie’s growth specifically is reliant on a quintet of Life Tasks, which range from talking to a certain number of people to jumping a certain number of times to doing other things until hitting a required quota. At times the tasks seem infinite, as once you kill a certain monster four times, you’ll be asked to destroy it another eight.
She, of course, also grows in battle, as does her party, which caps out at six, making for a well-stocked and elaborate fighting troupe. The battle system is easy to use, as each hero and foe is queued up for easy reference and strategic planning. Again, there is no pressure or time constraint to punch in the right commands quickly; unfortunately, at least early on, many battles can be won by merely attacking directly as opposed to opting to use specific skills each characters boast
As for synthesizing, which as the title suggests, is a major part in the game, there is an elaborate yet approachable system of alchemy that yields new weapons and items without proving too laborious. That there are scores of random liquids and plants and trinkets and trash from which to choose is incidental. Just like every other facet of the game, there is this controlled freedom when it comes to crafting: you can pick and choose what to use and make, but for the most part you are guided carefully along.
Essentially, we hunt, we gather, we synthesize the spoils, and we repeat. It can be both comforting and frustrating, something that can be executed in an utterly mindless state as well as with careful attention.
Atelier Shallie: Alchemists Of The Dusk Sea is beautiful in sight and sound and deftly-crafted, albeit lacking in story and import. It serves as both an effective installment for fans of the series, with a trio of difficult levels from which to choose, as well as an introduction for curious and careful JRPG investigators. Though not perfect, fans of the genre should find a healthy amount to like here.
This review is based on the PlayStation 3 version of the game, which we were provided with for review purposes.
Atelier Shallie is the best yet in the long-running series, but will only appeal to selective gamers. While beautiful in sight and sound, there is no drama or purpose in the narrative, and the careful spirit and repetitive nature of fighting, collecting, and crafting make bore some. Still, for those new to JRPGs or fans of the Atelier, this serves as a worthwhile diversion.