Atelier Shallie Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea Vita Review

Koei Tecmo are continuing the trend of bringing previous released PlayStation 3 Atelier games to the Vita and giving them the Plus appellation, with the latest title to transition to Sony’s handheld being the adaptation of Gust’s Atelier Shallie that first released back in March 2015. Unlike the other Atelier Plus games currently on the Vita, Atelier Shallie Plus takes the port content up a notch, and while this is great for existing fans, this new release of a late PS3 game is beginning to crack the technical power of the Vita when it tries to keep up with its bigger brother.

Atelier Shallie follows on with its predecessor’s (Atelier Escha & Logy) idea of being able to pick your protagonist from a list of two. This time around its two heroines, a pair of alchemists who go by the name of Shallistera and Shallotte, but both are known by their nicknames, Shallie. After dabbling with both characters, you are asked to pick one to become the main focus of the game. This doesn’t mean that there are two whole stories featured in Atelier Shallie, as the characters cross each other and join forces to search for a way to solve the issue of the world’s water supplies drying out. It does mean that you do get to see more of an insight to that character before the stories combine and when they take a break from each other, such as Shallistera’s quest to save her village or Shallotte’s daily challenge to better herself as an alchemist. The prologue instantly reveals the personalities of the characters, with Shallotte getting my vote for her bubbly and fun attitude over the more serious threat that lingers its weight on the personality of Shallistera, but no matter who you like the most, this is a game where a second playthrough with the other character is welcomed, due to the different progression at points in the game.

Billed as the ending of the Dusk Trilogy, Atelier Shallie Plus might seem like a title that would put people off who are expecting the game to be a lesser experience for anyone who has never touched the other Dusk titles, but people shouldn’t be worried about this issue. If you really do want to dig into the world, the other two Dusk games (Atelier Ayesha, Atelier Escha & Logy) have Plus versions to purchase on the Vita as well, but I feel that people can jump into Atelier Shallie just fine and not be lost with the connections to the other games. The only thing that won’t click are the feelings of seeing previous characters from the trilogy arrive into this title as playable characters, a nice welcome for fans, but not a hurdle to hinder newcomers who are looking for a portable Japanese RPG.

Previous Atelier Plus entries felt more like a packed collection of the main game and its DLC for handheld, with a little bonus inclusion of new costumes and small story scenes to have fresh content. The case for Atelier Shallie Plus is a little different, as Gust decided to improve upon the back end of the game’s story by including new scenarios that bring the main protagonists of the other entries in the Dusk series to help the duo Shallies, and as a whole picture, puts a better closure on the trilogy that was lacking a concrete explanation in the PS3 release. It’s an inclusion made for fans, as they finally get their questions answered about the Dusk and why its here, while bringing back the starter of the trilogy, Ayesha, who skipped being part of the second game.

Gameplay wise, nothing has changed from the home console version. Atelier Shallie already changed up the flow of the series by eradicating the time limit system that had slowly became less demanding in each game released. This means that while gameplay remains familiar, with its Life Task system that requires specific targets to meet before being able to continue to the next chapter, or the many side quests/requests that can be offered from the Cooperative Union Headquarters, you are never forced to rush or plan around a time cycle. This means Atelier Shallie is a more relaxing experience, a rather easy game to play – maybe bump up to hard for more of a challenge, you can always knock it down to normal at any time if it becomes too much – that allows players to gather in the wild, take part in battles or work on their alchemy without the need to decide which to focus on under a time constraint. Players can slow down and take in the constantly charming, blissful personalities of the characters and their fantastic designs without stressing about failing to meet a criteria or hitting a game over. Atelier games have always been titles that make you feel good, being perfect games to keep a smile on your face, thanks to the almost unnatural happiness of game’s cast.

Alchemy is a big focus on the game (surprise!), and with the time limit gone, you can really dig into its depths to create the best quality items. Synthesising begins simple, creating small items, such as health packs and food, but it grows considerably when more items are introduced. The possibilities to craft the perfect version of the item become harder later on, as the quality of elements used within the creation determine how great the overall product is, along with being able to buff them with the skills of the Shallie creating them. Alchemy has always been an enjoyable part of the series. It brings wonderment to the discovery, and for anyone with OCD, this is a big rabbit hole that you can fall down into when you begin fretting over the most microscopic statistic from a freshly created weapon or item.

The world map is made up of key points that are visited by clicking on them and transporting into a small environment, similar to Final Fantasy X. Within these areas are where wild animals and other dangers lurk, waiting to pounce on any unsuspecting alchemist unless you smack them first with your broom for a first attack. Combat is turned base, very traditional in terms of options, with a turn-based counter on the right informing the order of combat. Six people can be in a party at once (3 front, 3 back), but the people in the front do all the action, while the back team can act as support or defence, switching in for an attack before going back to the lines. The longer the battles last, the more chance the Burst meter will kicking in, which is essentially a fancy name for dealing more damage while its currently active. It’s a relative easy to understand battle system without much depth, but its fast paced so that battles don’t drag out for long.

With all the enhancements to the Vita release of Atelier Shallie – this is clearly the better version in terms of content and the improvements to the story – it’s a shame that on a technical level it’s poorly optimised to run on the hardware, even with the downgraded visuals. The frame rate isn’t stable, hardly ever hitting the 30 fps target, taking huge hits when running around the cities, which is clearly demonstrated when arriving at the game’s first major city where Shallotte lives. Character models seem to keep most of their detail intact, but the lower quality assets for the world and its environment standout compared to the PS3 release, coming off as a disappointment for a game that is improved in every other area, only to fall flat when it comes to graphical presentation. It’s not a blow to the heart for this version, as it still retains a playable frame rate, but people who are performance enthusiasts will feel a little disheartened. This is a game that could have benefited from a re-release to the PS3, a situation that somehow happened with Atelier Rorona Plus, and hasn’t happened since.

Atelier Shallie Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea brings the marvellous personalities of the duo Shallies to a handheld, allowing people to take the relaxing Japanese RPG on the go – a perfect fit for turning that frown into a smile after a hard day’s work. It has the most improvements made to content than any Atelier Plus title before it, making it a worthwhile investment for existing fans, while being a great RPG injected with a twist of that sweet, joyful, Japanese craziness for newcomers to enjoy. Atelier Shallie Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea is overall a pleasurable tale, and even when the overarching story has a depressing theme and the graphical performance is a little lacking, nothing stops it from being just a bliss of fun, a warm bundle of charm in a climate where we kind of need something to give us a smile from time to time.

8 out of 10