America - Front
America - Back
By Karl Koebke 31st Mar 2015 | 5,574 views
Atelier Shallie is the sixth and perhaps last game in the Atelier series to release on the PS3. Every entry since Atelier Rorona has made incremental changes to the series formula, but Atelier Shallie offers by far the largest departure from the standard gameplay, dropping the time management mechanic completely.
Time management was a hallmark of previous entries, and I was concerned that Atelier Shallie might be too easy without it. While Atelier Shallie offers up an adorable story, enjoyable characters, and interesting crafting mechanics, unfortunately my fears of a lack of difficulty proved well founded.
Two young alchemists, both with the nickname Shallie, meet in a small oasis town that is slowly losing its defining feature. Shallistera has been sent from her home town in order to try and solve a major water crisis, while Shallotte is just trying to work her way towards financial security. Following a brief introduction the player can choose which of these two girls to have as their main character. The choice between two characters was given in Atelier Escha and Logy as well, but here it feels more meaningful as the two Shallies don’t spend as much of the game together as Escha and Logy did. Regardless of which Shallie is chosen the story follows the familiar arc of this series, focusing on smaller personal conflicts within the ever-present backdrop of a dying world.
Sadly, the Atelier series as a whole doesn’t really use this setting to its full potential. This is particularly exemplified by what I thought was going to be a really poignant and meaningful conclusion, but alas the hard choice that the characters are forced to make is ultimately erased with a fairytale ending to what should have been a poignant conclusion. It reminded me of hearing about the “true ending” to Atelier Totori, which I will never personally consider canon.
Speaking of decisions that I just can’t wrap my head around brings me to the removal of time management. This really makes no sense to me. Part of what made me stop and strategize in previous titles was the attempt to get everything done within the allotted time. To be fair, the requirements for completion were probably too harsh in Atelier Rorona, but since then it feels like every iteration has gotten progressively easier and has never managed to achieve the happy medium that was Atelier Totori.
Without a looming deadline there’s nothing to stop you from farming every material you'll ever want or need, and then crafting pretty much everything you possibly can. Whereas before you might have to make the decision between crafting a piece of armor or a weapon because you wouldn’t have time to make both, now the prevailing sentiment is “Por que no los dos?”
This could work if some other aspect of Atelier Shallie stepped up to introduce a challenge, but nothing ever does. Even with the difficulty set to the highest there were only a couple fights in my 27 hour play through that weren’t cakewalks. Completing the story allows you to select a higher difficulty, and there are optional bosses that are more difficult, but none of this alters the fact that a first playthrough is both easy and thoughtless.
You shouldn’t have to mindlessly smash through the story in order to get to something even remotely challenging. Crafting in order to obtain products with specific qualities is still enjoyable, but any strategy involved in that process was brought about by time management system, and so without it the crafting system is just a toy that you can mess around with infinitely.
Thankfully, while the trend in the series’ gameplay is all downhill, the presentation has gotten consistently better with each entry, and Atelier Shallie is no exception. This isn’t something you’ll show to your friends as they gape in awe, but it’s impressive what a small company like Gust can do given a short development window. I’m still not 100% sold on the switch from character profiles during dialogue to 3D models, as these still have issues conveying emotion, but the addition of a rotatable camera while exploring is certainly appreciated.
Unfortunately the English voice over is still objectively inferior to the Japanese voice over, so I’d suggest going with that regardless of your usual position on subs and dubs. The issue is that the Japanese track has practically every event voiced while the English track seems to only kick in for major story events. Atelier Shallie also features yet another enjoyable Gust soundtrack, and I soon found myself humming along with the tunes. Nothing really struck me as memorable, however, so on balance it is probably one of the weaker soundtracks in the series.
This was a fairly harsh write-up, but I don’t want readers to think that I didn’t enjoy my time with Atelier Shallie, rather I just didn’t enjoy it as much as previous iterations. However, if you’re new to the series and have been wanting to check it out this might be a good time to jump on board. It lacks challenge as an RPG, but it’s one of the few games in the genre that focuses on more personal storylines, which can be incredibly endearing. As a new player, if you enjoy Atelier Shallie and think you can muster the courage to play with a deadline then I highly recommend Atelier Totori, which I still consider the pinnacle of the series. Fans of the series, on the other hand, have almost certainly already bought the game and so have their own opinions on where it ranks in the series as a whole.
So with all that said, and to get a little bit existential for a moment, who is this review actually for? In all honesty I think it’s for myself; a look at a series that I love and why it’s falling away from my favor. I emphatically hope that this isn’t a long term trend, and that I can jump into the next Gust title and fall in love with it, but Atelier Shallie just isn't that game.