The end of an era. The finale of something beautiful, mysterious and wonderful. The last of a trilogy that has honestly been one of the most satisfying in all of the Atelier land. For those of you out there who are reading, you might see all these reviews come out at once (per embargo date), so you can’t see the way that things have changed over the last three weeks that I’ve had these games. Playing through close to seventy combined hours of time through the Dusk Sea while also living life and having to deal with actual events has been a bit of a challenge, but a good one overall. Thank goodness that there was a gracious lull in the gaming world prior to receiving the games, or I don’t know if I would have finished on time with all the amazing titles that the Switch has already seen (and will see in 2020). But here we are, with the third instalment of Dusk, and, in my opinion, a fantastic ending to what has been a long, vivid and intriguing journey. This is Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea DX.
In a clever twist, Gust decided to double down on the dual protagonists and two different perspectives to take on the game, but gave each of our heroines (no more male leads) an identical nickname. Shallistera is the daughter of the chief of a remote village that has seen the toll the Dusk Sea is taking, and know they will soon be without water or a way of life unless something can be done. Aided with her brother, her trusted advisor and some unlikely allies, she sets off in an airship to try and find the solution to saving her people and potentially the entire world. On the other end of things, Shallotte is a very bubbly and typical Atelier leader who is trying to become a better alchemist under her father’s tutelage and serves as something between a comic foil and a more familiar lead in this arguably dark and dramatic saga. Eventually, the two girls will cross paths, and it turns out that they need each other to finally save everyone from the encroaching decay, and they can only do it by following their hearts, their minds, and the hidden advice left from the alchemists of long ago.
As with Escha and Logy, Atelier Shallie lets you choose one of two girls to helm the entire adventure, but I argue that there’s a significantly bigger difference here. Besides the two being able to operate independently from each other for a while, the game tone and plot line feels entirely different (though the ending does end up being the same…ish). By allowing the two girls to function without needing to be in the others presence, it develops a deeper narrative that shows the world of the Atelier through different eyes while still being in the same world. I equate the divergence to Ender’s Shadow: seeing the events from different perspectives and different ideologies. To be a snob, I frankly prefer Shallistra’s track because it involves so much more of the mythology of both the alt life world and the Dusk world specifically, which can grant a bettter handle on the series overall. When the game starts with some proper dark foreshadowing (no more weird, Gothic artwork), then you want to follow that all the way through, not just chase Shallotte’s miniskirt down the street as she tries to get a handle on life. I’m mostly poking fun, you do get plenty of story with Shallotte’s track, it just comes at you in different increments.
Some people complain about the way that Atelier Shallie departs from a lot of the game’s core structure, but the only thing that I saw was the removal of the time clock, which is good riddance. I continue to come back to these games time after time to explore the world and enjoy the crafting and collecting, and I end up sprinkling Tums on my breakfast burrito because I’m stressed out of my mind about finishing my tasks before the cutoff. Instead, we get to do these “life tasks” where you run errands and complete side missions at different times of day, at your own leisure, which directly impact the game world. Don’t feel like getting the bandages for the dude at the pub? That’s not a problem, you don’t have to. However, if you do, you might find that there are better spawns for materials outside, or the enemies are a bit easier to deal with, or you might even find some great items that normally wouldn’t be there. I view it as a karmic system, and it should be a straight-over-the-plate move for anyone who’s played these games before. You don’t want to be a jerk, and being a nice person and doing more chores means a better time ahead and you do want a good time ahead, because you can get really caught off guard with how rough things turn.
Atelier Shallie decided to roll back a bit of the combat complexity from the last game, which was a tad disappointing. Now we’re back in a traditional turn-based situation without much coordination or cooperation, and it becomes that thing where the combat just mutes into the background of the game. Granted, that might be a better choice with a stronger focus on synthesizing items and hunting ingredients since that’s become more pressing. Remember how we said the Dusk Sea is coming to murder everything? Well, it’s already spread in some places, so the hunt for necessary parts of your potions and poultices is harder than before, leading to some rather new and unorthodox situations, like mining, “dousing” for things, and even scrubbing down floors. The shift moves away from the combat field and back into the Atelier’s backyard, giving me flashbacks to the importance of crafting when I first took on Rorona’s heavy mantle, and I quite liked that. Sure, the world was dark and different, the characters were certainly different, but the original feeling came back in a big way. For that, I’m grateful, even if I’m miffed about the combat.
OH, I totally forgot to mention that Shallie continues something that happened in Escha and Logy (that I overlooked): skipping over tutorials. Freaking thank you, Gust. I don’t know if it was part of the DX update or just was part of the original game, but being asked “Do you already know how to pick stuff out of your inventory?” Instead or watching eight screens of stills on how to do it was a lifesaver. I get some people might come into these games for the first time, having not been a part of eight other titles on the Switch already? But giving the option to just move ahead and pretend like I knew what I was doing was a relief. Thanks, Escha and Logy. You did something right, and Shallie continues the tradition.
Naturally, the music and artwork of Atelier Shallie is a double strike of gorgeousness, and I would even argue there are plenty of moments here that overtake what I loved about Ayesha. With a more tribal influence from Shallistra’s path, the music incorporates even more drums, native-sounding wind instruments and some pretty sweeping and almost lonely sounding music. In the city, Shallotte enjoys a bouncy soundtrack that moves and jumps along with the plot, taking some dramatic turns as facts present themselves and the truth about certain matters are presented. Also, as the third game, they’ve had time to iron out more of the glitchiness regarding smooth animation and draw distance, so the landscapes of the Dusk continue to look forlorn and beautiful, plus our characters have more details and angles that we couldn’t really appreciate previously. We’ve also done a better job of having the camera unlocked (except for in some tight spaces), so you can appreciate how freaking big a lot of the fields and areas are, a huge step forward from the last two games. By the way, if you don’t want the game spoiled, stay out of the dressing room option of DX until you get at least halfway through the game. I wanted to check out the costumes right away and was immediately beset by characters I didn’t know would be in this game, and sort of ruined the surprise before I even started up.
The Vita may have been the handheld to beat in the last generation, but the Nintendo Switch continues to be one of the most all-encompassing machines that Nintendo has ever released, and these titles back it up in a big way. Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea DX is a beautiful, satisfying and replayable conclusion that is a must for any fans of the Atelier series and an even bigger draw if you’ve played the others in the trilogy. While it feels sad to say goodbye to the Dusk world, it’s wonderful to know how the story wrapped up, and I feel confident that the renewed life of these ports and upgrades means that the Atelier series will continue to flourish, now with a wider Western audience, and we can anticipate more adventures in the not so distant future.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea DX Review
Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Replay Value - 8/10
This third and final chapter of the Dusk saga may not ring as strongly as the first, but delivers a fantastic experience derived from learning and taking risks.