Known for its tongue twister titles and alchemy themes, the Atelier series of JRPGs has garnered quite the cult following over the span of the franchise’s 16 titles. Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea marks the third installment in the ‘Dusk’ story, one of many in the Atelier series. Being my first entry into this epic series, I was somewhat concerned about jumping into the series 16 titles in. However I find myself pleasantly surprised by Atelier Shallie’s ability to draw me in without any preexisting knowledge of the series’ past. What really astonished me however was the immediate sense of understanding as to why this series has such a cult following. Put simply it is a fascinating game that feels simultaneously like a throwback to RPGs of old all the while firmly carving out new territory for itself.
It is difficult not to be swept up in the grand story at hand here in Atelier Shallie and with the colourful cast of characters being so richly depicted it is easy to become attached to these people. Most interesting was the deep sense of mythology and history behind the world of Atelier Shallie that drove me to want to learn more about these people and this wonderful world they inhabit. The concept of the dried up ocean is not a new one but Atelier Shallie manages to give it a greater sense of emotional weight in the fact that all of these characters lives and futures hang in the balance of this situation. It is utterly captivating and somewhat staggering to absorb all of this detail yet I found myself thoroughly entrenched in this world.
Now while the story and cast are truly engaging and a pleasure to explore in greater depth, the gameplay mechanics are somewhat old hat. In particular the alchemy system in the game feels rather pedestrian in comparison to the grander events that unfold around it, leaving a feeling of deflation any time you are required to complete some alchemy scenarios. There isn’t a lot of enjoyment to be gained from the alchemy portions of the game which is a shame as it is an important factor of the game.
Comparatively the combat mechanics are top notch and provide a superb throwback experience for fans of the oldschool turn-based RPG style that has largely been forgotten in the modern evolution of the JRPG which has largely opted towards real time combat systems similar to the Tales Of series and Kingdom Hearts. In a genre now so thoroughly wrought with real time combat systems, it is refreshing to see a turn based RPG such as Atelier Shallie, especially one that nails the formula so expertly.
Worth noting is the ‘life task’ system which is tailored to your play style. Throughout the game you will receive ‘life tasks’ which are essentially quests, however depending upon how you choose to play the game, your ‘life tasks’ will vary. Rather interesting is the importance of these ‘life tasks’ on other experiences in the game. For example if you fail to do ‘life tasks’ the game will ultimately be much more difficult. The way you play really does effect the course of the game making for a truly individual experience.
Atelier Shallie: Alchemist of the Dusk Sea is particularly noteworthy for its gorgeous anime inspired visuals which look absolutely lush on the PlayStation 3. Furthermore the soundtrack and English language dub are brilliantly put together making Atelier Shallie a feast for the senses.
All in all Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea is a genuine throwback to RPGs of old that incorporates modern RPG systems and mechanics to create an absolutely compelling clash of styles that is equally as addictive as it is engaging. This one may not be for everyone however and the alchemy segments are more than a little bit tedious. Ultimately this is a game that will please fans of the series but may not bring enough to the table to entice those who have missed the boat thus far to climb aboard.