Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea DX Review (Switch)
In 2020, Switch RPG fans were treated with a deluxe release of the Atelier Dusk trilogy – a content-packed appetizer for those patiently awaiting the release of Atelier Ryza 2 earlier this year. Of course, seeing as it had become one of my favorite franchises in existence, I prioritized playing and reviewing the trio of titles for the site. While reviews of the first two entries, Atelier Ayesha and Atelier Escha & Logy, were published in September of last year, something happened when it came to the final release, Atelier Shallie. It had nothing to do with any sort of disdain for the endcap of the trilogy – I, in fact, put close to 30 hours in it before, for whatever reason, putting it on the shelves. You could say that I just dropped the ball.
But now, I’m here to atone for the sins of my past by sharing a long overdue review of Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea DX. And for those that can’t be bothered with the finer details, yes, this game once again proves how consistently solid this franchise truly is.
Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea DX takes place several years after the events of Escha & Logy, centering around two new heroines – Shallistera and Shallotte – that have a shared knack for alchemy. The two teenagers are forced quickly to grow as both individuals and as alchemists as they team up in hopes of solving some genuinely troubling world issues. The worldwide famine and drought alluded to in the other Dusk entries has finally come to a head, as the water supply continues to erode and many struggle to deal with it. This leads some, including the princess of Lugion and co-star, Shallistera, to travel to the oasis town of Stellard in hopes of finding a way to stymie the water problem at large.
It is here that the “Shallies” unite, with Shallotte being a Stellard local whose basic, but daily struggles encourage her to do just about anything to make things better for herself and those she cares about. The city of Stellard is known far and wide for their ever-flowing water supply – but even they are beginning to feel the drought-like effects of the Dusk. What unfolds thereafter is a united front of both friendly faces from the entire Dusk trilogy and newcomers that all have one thing in common: finding the truth behind the global crises and resolving it before it’s too late.
Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea DX provides some much needed realism and perspective to the world-spanning problems that have more or less been glossed over for the vast majority of the trilogy. There is finally a clear picture of what the Dusk is capable of doing, and it’s not pretty. Arid chasms are all that’s left of many bodies of water, foliage wither away at an alarming rate, which subsequently causes permanent harm to the wildlife – a slow but vicious path to death, one that soon may cause irreparable damage to the world.
Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea DX uses a simple, straightforward plot point – a drought – and makes it interesting by combining it with the alchemy and human nature. With great power comes great responsibility and all that. Obviously, it’s not something unheard of or anything that will blow your mind, but it’s framed well enough here. Most Atelier entries have a tendency to put more stock in characters and their development over the story itself, but both feel surprisingly equal in this game. It certainly helps having many iconic and beloved characters from the first two games return for more screen time, some that actually play major roles in this third and final Dusk arc (this may be a surprise for those that have only played the original Shallie, as significant changes were made in the Plus and DX versions). Although some of the new faces (specifically supporting characters) struggle to captivate the player on the same level as many of the returning ones do, that’s to be expected when prior investment and nostalgia come into play.
By and large, both the cast and the narrative wrap the Dusk trilogy up fine. As was the case in Escha & Logy, players can choose between two heroines to play as – Shallistera or Shallotte – and can experience some heroine-specific story nuances in both routes. Moreover, there are a total of five endings, two for each heroine and one true ending that requires at least one additional playthrough to see (yes, NG+ is a thing). There’s a lot of story content here for those who want to dive deep, and it’s completely viable (though not necessarily recommended) to play this without playing the previous Dusk games due to the surprising amount of details given regarding past events and character-specific story bits.
It’s easy to see why Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea DX is one of the most controversial entries in the entire series. While many of the core gameplay mechanics remain consistent – explore, fight, gather, craft, and build relationships – this is one of, if not the very first game to do away with any form of time limit, a staple in the series up to this point. Newer Atelier fans would never know the difference, of course, but veterans likely found this to be a polarizing, if not unwelcomed, change.
I myself can find both good and bad in both flavors of Atelier, but I’ve grown to prefer those without a time limit. On the other hand, it’s obvious that this was one of the team’s first forays with the time limit-free mindset, as substantial bumps in difficulty at the final dungeon (without overgrinding or overgearing) feel a bit awkward when compared to modern, more evenly distributed entries. Not insurmountable by any means, but the huge spike compared to the rest of the game definitely feels off.
That said, Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea DX does feature one minor element that hearkens back to the time limit days with its “motivation” system, though I use “hearken back” lightly since it’s still very casual. Essentially, there are many periods of time where the player can do whatever they want and tackle whatever tasks or objectives they desire. Some of these objectives are things that the heroines want to do (denoted by “want to” in your campaign log, otherwise known as “life tasks”).
While the player can ignore the “wants” of the heroines, over time this causes their motivation to drop and will vastly lower the player’s movement speed and the amount of ingredients gathered from any given gathering node (until they bring it back up). Since there aren’t any time limits to worry about, though, it’s very simple to attain and maintain high motivation, and it’s also a prerequisite for achieving certain endings.
Beyond that, Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea DX functions similarly to past entries. For those not in the know, these games emphasize crafting (or alchemic synthesis) over everything else. Synthesis is key to advancing the plot, fulfilling many side objectives, and improving character power. Ingredients found in the field can be returned to Stellard and synthesized into a wide assortment of goods – some which can be consumed, others that are used in the creation of weapons/armor (known as imbuing) or accessories. Every recipe has a purpose, though many of them merely serve as subcomponents or stepping stones to more meaningful syntheses.
Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea DX features one of the most approachable synthesis mechanics in the series. Recipes will call for a certain amount and type of ingredient, each of which have their own associated properties, traits, and elements. Once they are selected, the player then is able to assign card-like bonuses to each individual ingredient provided the ingredient in question carries open slots. Slotting these element-specific cards in ideal ingredient slots is key to getting the most out of any synthesis as they strongly determine the potency and overall quality of the finished product. As the player’s alchemy level grows, so does their ability to easily create powerful items and equipment.
Being alchemists, the heroines can equip a wide variety of synthesized goods to take out in the field and in combat. While most of the previous games would either require compensation for refilling used synthesized items upon returning to town (or delete them entirely), Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea DX replenishes them for free – a perk for saving the world from a drought, I guess. While this gives little incentive for any sort of thought behind when and where to use more powerful items, it is also not bad to not have to worry about it for once either.
Regarding combat, Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea DX functions similarly to its predecessor, Escha & Logy, by leveraging a six-person team in turn-based arenas. The three front members are considered the active row and can freely use items, skills, and attacks. The three in the back row are considered support members and are limited in how they can assist the team as a whole. Each support member can either provide a followup attack to their respective front row partner, or can take damage from an incoming attack for them while also swapping places. The player can freely swap between front and back row partners at any time, though the aforementioned assist commands may only be used when a charge is available.
Continuously dealing damage to the same enemy will eventually result in one of two things (or both): a broken enemy and/or a burst window. Broken enemies will take additional damage and be stunned until their next turn, or are attacked again (whichever comes first). On more powerful enemies, this can be a huge advantage as the player may opt to halt their attacks in order to throw out some support skills and better line up their assaults for the next turn. Conversely, this can open up an opportunity for quickly ending a fight without having to worry about retaliation.
The burst window temporarily provides an opportunity to chain attacks together – whether one after another or in between an enemy’s own attacks – in order to incrementally deal additional damage. Furthermore, the burst window allows one to chain up to three support attacks in a row (compared to one outside the burst window) for powerful united attacks. This is also a great time, if possible, to perform a character’s ultimate attack that also deals insane damage. Ultimate attacks do have a drawback, however, as it can sometimes cause the opponent to perform an ultimate attack as well if the player’s own did not finish them off. Overall, the combat of Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea DX feels like a solid evolution of what came before it.
Goals and Everything Else
Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea DX is split into 10 chapters, and the general flow of gameplay has the player getting details of an objective in town, partaking in various subevents (character-specific or otherwise), and achieving the primary objective before enjoying some downtime tackling various subobjectives. All of this revolves around the previously mentioned “life tasks,” which are essentially quests that range from talking to specific NPCs, killing certain enemies, or synthesizing/obtaining various goods. There are a subset of varying goals called requests which can also be accepted that function the same way, though their completion may or may not count against the player’s current life tasks.
Collectively, these are nothing more than glorified fetch quests, but the accompanying story content that comes alongside it certainly makes everything more palatable. Regardless of how one feels about them, completing life tasks is what ultimately moves the progression ball forward and onto new chapters. The previously mentioned subevents between the heroines and specific characters are what really develop each character and, per Atelier standard, they are plentiful.
While these can’t always be avoided entirely, they can always be fast forwarded if one doesn’t particularly care for their details. Not only that, but this version also includes further quality-of-life adjustments and enhancements, such as faster battles and even new playable characters. Yes, in addition to new story content for certain returning characters from the series, players are able to have characters, such as Ayesha, Solle, and even Escha and Logy, in their party.
Although allowing returning characters an active role in the party does pull at those nostalgia strings, it also opens up some criticism for character balance. Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea DX has some clear winners and losers when it comes to party makeup and even though virtually any setup should be viable, there is a vast difference between decent and great characters.
While pretty much all of the DLC/version-specific characters feel overpowered compared to the main cast, there are even some base characters that are just leaps and bounds ahead of other party members in terms of overall power and usefulness. Regardless, it is nice to have such a large assortment of characters that the player can pick and choose from to best suit their tastes.
All things considered, Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea DX is an enjoyable gameplay loop that is sure to satisfy fans and newcomers alike.
Graphics and Sound
Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea DX was the last series to be built with the Playstation 3’s hardware in mind (Sophie would be released on PS3 and PS4 at the same time). Like clockwork, this entry marks an improvement over its predecessor overall, though not as drastic of a difference that would be obvious in later hardware jumps. While the game does center around the desert oasis of Stellard, not everything is shades of brown and yellow – floating castles, towers of vine, and caverns of lush, dense plantlife are only a few of the areas that await the player. In typical Gust fashion, the soundtrack is full of bangers that adequately cover an array of situations, moods, and events. And without a ton of critique to give for overall performance this time around (historically it has been hit or miss) there’s nothing more to say besides “well done” overall.
Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea DX not only brings an acceptable conclusion to the Dusk trilogy, it also controversially marks the beginning of the end for certain franchise staples, notably time limits. Is it as good as Ayesha or Escha & Logy? I wouldn’t say that…but it’s still a solid entry and serves as yet another reminder of just how committed Gust are to changing up the formula – for better or worse – even between individual releases of a subseries. That just isn’t something you see every day. Despite its flaws, Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea DX helped pave the way for the new style of Atelier many know and love today.