Atelier Shallie Plus is a turn based JRPG that gives the player plenty of busy work to keep one engaged. It has an appealing art style, catchy soundtrack, and characters with plenty of charm. At first, before I started playing the game, I thought to myself “Okay, great another JRPG I will start, shortly fall off of, and then never touch again.” That however was not the case upon first firing up this title. I found myself liking the art style right off the bat and the music just made the visuals even more enjoyable. This game is one of many titles in the Atelier series, but like most JRPG franchises, it is it’s own cohesive story that doesn’t require you to play the previous games to understand the story.
Atelier Shallie Plus starts off introducing both main characters (who are both nicknamed “Shallie”) and their initial goals that will drive their side of their adventure. After the introduction of each character, their main cohorts, and a few basic game play elements, you are given a choice as to which of the two “Shallies” who would like to play as. Shallistera Argo is the first Shallie introduced. She is the princess of a royal family, and budding alchemist and is more reserved in nature. Her main goal consists of finding a solution to her village’s drought problem. She and her crew set out on a voyage through the Dusk sea to find an oasis town called Stellard that may have that solution to her village’s drought problem. The second Shallie introduced is Shallotte Elminus. She is an average citizen of Stellard, and also budding alchemist, who is just trying to get by and provide a steady income for herself and her mother by doing odd jobs for her town. Her goal is to become a highly skilled alchemist and get rich in the process so her mother and herself can live comfortably. Throughout the course of the story, there is also a new threat that happens to cause trouble for the town of Stellard, thought to have been caused by Shallistera’s ship disrupting a powerful Sand Dragon during it’s voyage towards Stellard. This Sand Dragon has been rather peaceful up until about the time Shallistera’s crew arrived to town, but now is becoming a threat that the protagonists must deal with. For this play-through, I chose Shallotte Elminus’ story line to play through but you end up joining the other Shallie and her comrades about halfway through the game so you get to play as both eventually.
The game’s presentation really got me engaged and interested in what I was in for. The character designs are all unique and interesting with great looking outfits and bright color palettes that give the game it’s own style and gives the world it’s own special atmosphere. Every character looks flawless, like they wake up every morning completely camera ready. Each character has a distinct personality that even develops as the story goes on. I found myself growing quite fond of the character Miruca, the moment she was introduced. She is a brainiac who is blunt with her words and doesn’t mind telling people what is on her mind, even going so far as to tell Shallotte when she needs to go on a diet. She is Shallotte’s childhood friend who runs the imbuing shop that makes weapons and armor. She also accompanies Shallotte on outings in the world map to fight and collect materials. She is pretty much the reason I chose to play as that particular Shallie. I feel one can pick out their favorite characters in similar ways as every character has their own charm to them that makes each one interesting in their own way.
The game’s soundtrack is also rather enjoyable to listen to. It is really well composed which is a good thing for JRPGs as you often hear the same music frequently due to the amount of grinding that is required for leveling up, collecting materials for alchemy, and alchemy performing. You hear a lot of the same looping tracks, but they are enjoyable to listen to. I even find myself looking up the soundtrack on YouTube to listen to outside of the game. The game is fully voice acted which I enjoy so I don’t have to read loads of subtitles and is easier to engage myself in the story. You have the option for English as well as Japanese voices if you so desire to have the Japanese voices play out, but I personally liked the English voices. The voice acting is done quite well, but I did notice a few errors with the acting direction. Some errors were rather minor where characters will say different synonyms to words from what is shown in the subtitles, making one question if you can really consider those moments “errors”. However, during some moments, there are more blatant mistakes with the acting. At one point a character is referring to a “ship” in the subtitles below, but the voice actor had said the word “shop” which made the scene a little confusing had the subtitles not been there. Another time, a character was saying the word “us” but the sentence had said the word “me”, which could potentially cause confusion during the scene. Also, at one point a different character’s voice had come out of the wrong character’s mouth which was rather noticeable and took me out of the scene. I didn’t notice any spelling mistakes, just mistakes with the voice acting, however it wasn’t that bad and I was able to look past it because I enjoyed the rest of the game.
Gameplay and Design
I enjoyed the gameplay even though a lot of it is fetch quests. For most of the game you take on jobs from the Union Headquarters for varying amounts of money. These jobs consist of cleaning up around town, bringing back items in varying amounts, killing a certain number of enemies out in the field, or crafting special items using alchemy. These quests often get harder and more time consuming after you take on more and more jobs but they all really end up being the same kinds of jobs just with increasing amounts until they are completed. You start off killing maybe 2 or 3 enemies, but take on those jobs frequently, and the enemy count increases upwards of 20. Same with the item fetch quests, you begin handing over 2 to 3 of a certain item which gradually increases to dozens of that item later. However, you do get more money after the job is done, the bigger it is. I didn’t really mind this too much though as the map gets studded with more places to go and thus new items to discover and new enemies to encounter. New items mean more opportunities to craft better and/or new items using alchemy.
Alchemy is a feature in this game that is basically the center of everything you do. This isn’t a feature you can really just ignore, as many jobs you take on require you to craft things that you can’t just buy in the game otherwise. You also need it to make healing items, weapons, armor, MP recovery items, and even make things that are ingredients for other alchemy recipes. The whole process of Alchemy is rather deep and new features to the system were being introduced at multiple hour marks in the game. Even when my character was at level 40 and above, new features for Alchemy and Imbuing (weapon/armor crafting) were being introduced. I can honestly say that it is something I am not even 100% sure on how the whole process works. I am able to work with the ingredients and make useful items of strong values, but some little sub-features I am not entirely sure what they even do. Online guides written by veterans of the series are even of little help. I was able to get by however and I understand it for the most part. After a while, I just realized that increasing number values of the many different attributes was the way to go. Items also replenish themselves every time you go back to town so you don’t have to make that same items over and over again. So if you make an item that replenishes a large amount of health or a really strong bomb, you can rest assured use them all up when out in the world map, and not worry that you are wasting it as you will get it back when you come back to base.
Battling is rather easy to understand and is fun. The Shallies are the only characters whom are in charge of item usage, but your other characters have magic and special moves that use up their MP meters. This adds a bit more strategy to the battles, as if you need to use an item, you have to use it during Shallie’s turn and the other characters have more options in terms of fighting. When you get far enough in the game, you can have many characters in your party, although only three are active at a time. During these later battles where there are more characters at your disposal, you are often given the option to send in another character before an active character is attacked to defend against the hit and take that character’s active place. This is useful when said character is low on health or MP and you would rather send in a fresh, fully ready to go fighter. You can also swap them during your active turn if you need to and it doesn’t take up the turn either, still allowing you to attack, but that character can’t be swapped back in for a short period of time.
There is also a “Burst Mode” that becomes active after a meter at the top is filled. This meter is filled just by normal fighting and increases with each move you do. When Burst Mode becomes active, every character’s attacking moves become stronger, and support moves increase in value. Once active, each move will lower the meter for varying amounts depending on how strong the move was until the meter is depleted. I feel I should mention before I conclude this, that I did notice some frame-rate drops during battles when some ostentatious moves were being preformed, as well as in the main town due to all the objects it was rendering, and also during some cutscenes, but nothing that ruined the gameplay itself.
Atelier Shallie Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea is a game that made me a fan of the series with it’s fun presentation that made the world interesting and with characters to love. For the most part, I was able to look past most issues the game has due to it’s captivating world. The alchemy system gets rather heavy and complex but I can see people who like to focus on one game at a time, getting invested in it and finding that to be an appealing feature. I found myself spending long sessions just crafting new items and weapons, perfecting the most foolproof components to use throughout my adventure. Grinding doesn’t feel like a chore and makes for some satisfying item drops where you can discover more and more new materials to take back home and try out new formulas with. Get yourself familiar with the crafting as you will need to in order to progress further through the game. Good thing it is interesting in it’s own right. Fine tuning attributes to even the most minuscule upgrades was engaging enough that time had slipped away before I knew it.
Score: 9 out of 10
Atelier Shallie Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea is an engaging JRPG with mechanics you won’t find in any other series, giving the game it’s own distinction in a genre that can feel monotonous in terms of what to expect. Great art style and incredible soundtrack will make the whole experience memorable and a treat for your senses.