With the news of Atelier Sophie coming September this year and all the information we have easily confirming it has nothing to do with the Dusk games – making them officially another trilogy – I felt it was finally time to finish up and post my review of Shallie. I had written almost all of this within a month of the game coming out but one of the most important things I wanted to talk about was only relevant if the next game had no connection to this, so I’ve been waiting to find out. I actually beat Shallie as Lotte and then did about 75% of the second playthrough as Stera within the first few weeks of it releasing.
Actually, “first few weeks” may raise a red flag if you’ve seen my glowing praise for this series in the past. Atelier is literally my favorite on-going franchise in gaming and are some of my favorite overall games ever, I usually end up playing ~10+ hours a day every day until I beat the new one after getting it release day and if there’s more than one ending or more than one path I restart immediately after beating it – sometimes without even waiting more than through the ending credits to begin again. Shallie, however, I played far less throughout each day, skipped some days entirely, and put off starting up as the other character for a couple of days or so. The part where I hurriedly wrote a review praising the shit out of it never came either, and no, this sadly isn’t that.
Shallie comes as a mixed bag of some of the best things in the franchise and a vast amount of the worst things we’ve seen come out of Atelier, it also features a lot of experimentation on the part of the developers. That attempt to try and drastically change things about game features and such is something I greatly respect and really is something that helped me fall even more deeply in love with this series when they were doing that with the Arland games. I’m one of the few people who absolutely despises the Plus games for how damaging they were to the original experiences of the games by removing those changes and homogenizing the games. That sounds like I hate change, but it’s the opposite; Atelier Rorona is full of an incredible amount of flaws in every aspect and yet it was an amazing but also overly difficult game – but then Totori came out and it was almost entirely revamped from the ground up in every aspect and mechanic as well as the UI, art style, quality of the character and world models, synthesizing system, combat, and so on – and then it happened yet again with Meruru, another huge step forward and up. The evolution from game to game with this series is unparalleled by any other franchise I’m aware of and it’s one of the things that makes this series amazing and an incredibly fun journey. So no, I’m not against change – but the ones in Shallie are just lazy and the game feels less like taking a step forward and more like stumbling back onto its ass.
Let’s go over some of the important elements – both those changed and unchanged.
One of the most drastically different things you’ll find here compared to prior Ateliers is the lack of a time restraint. There is none whatsoever, the game doesn’t even track time at all now. I always was a fan of the time limits though, managing your time is part of the series’ history – you’re meant to balance adventuring, gathering things, synthing, and doing story bits and manage it all well enough to get an ending as well. This gave an otherwise easy game a not only fun and legitimate challenge – but a very unique and interesting one you won’t find in really any other game, it also helped pace the story and character development, and yeah overall it made you actually think. It was a genuine mechanic that completely altered how the game was played compared to so many others. A lot of people though were overjoyed when hearing the time limit was completely gone now.
The result however is that removing the time removed the cohesiveness of the game mechanics – all of which now feel randomly plopped in to the game with nothing bringing them together or making sense of them, not to mention the inclusion of all the features that without a time limit serve absolutely no purpose. Basically, the problem isn’t that they removed the time restraint – but that they continued designing the game around the time constraint being there.
Everything you do or can do has no reason not to be done, you can do whatever you want, whenever you want, for however long you want – you can even go hours and hours exploring and gathering 99 of every single item tossing out any that aren’t high enough quality for you without problem. The game falls apart. You have all this freedom but you have no use for it. For example – why gather ingredients at all when you can just go get them once you get to a specific alchemy recipe that you need that item for? Hell, you have a mobile alchemy cauldron directly in your airship which is how you get around on the map so you never even have to fucking go back to town aside to push the “story” forward. Not to mention the game becomes incredibly easy without the time limit.
The entire reason they created the whole ‘gathering items’ part of the game was to make you have to balance the time, not to make you go enter and exit a zone 30 times to ‘grind out’ a shit ton of the ingredient with zero consequence for it. The entire reason they didn’t just allow you to create items on the fly anywhere you are was to make travel time matter. The entire reason there was an item limit in your basket was to make you have to go back to your home and put items away rather than coming back after exploring the entirety of the available world and gathering a billion items then just synthing everything 300 times because why not. Fuck, even the battle system and world map were put in purely as a way to use up your time to make you have to plan things out better. Yet here you have none of those restraints. It’s literally the exact opposite of the concept of “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”, as none of your actions whatsoever bring about any sort of reaction at any point in the entirety of the time you spend with this title in any of the game mechanics or really even the story.
To some it may sound appealing, but I guarantee even to those people they’ll realize the game has nothing to it really. It’s empty and pointless. Yes, you can explore – but then what? What the fuck is the point of exploring in a game not designed around that anyway, and where that would end up done with in a handful of hours after you’ve seen everything aside a few story-locked zones?
On top of everything I’ve already mentioned – Requests – a big part of the prior games, are completely fucking pointless now. They were basically time limited challenges that you could take on and complete for a reward as well as things that affected your ending in some of the games. Here they just sort of exist. You get some ingredients but rarely, if ever, ones you can’t just gather with your infinite time, and the amount of measly cash you get isn’t worth it either. Unless you’re hunting for a PSN trophy there’s no reason to actually do any of them aside a couple story-necessary ones. Plus, the system used to have you rewarded far higher or lower depending on your speed and the quality of the items you turned in for them, that is now entirely removed as well – just do the thing even if you take in-game years to do it and toss in the shittiest items imaginable and you get the full reward.
Keeping all that in mind, they tried replacing the time with the “motivation system”, but the thing doesn’t even really exist. It’s based on where you are in the story more than your actual gameplay and aside two parts in the game where it will be based on your actions it stays completely at 100% no matter what serving absolutely no fucking purpose aside some sort of placebo. The problem is not only that it’s either always full or a few times forcibly near empty, but that being full and being empty makes no real difference anyway because you have no time limits! All the motivation system actually does if you have it low (and this is literally all it does, the game even says so) is makes your character move slower, make you get a bit less XP from fights, and make you gather less items per gathering spot. The first one would be irrelevant even in the old games and is doubly so here, the XP part kinda sucks but when you can get so much XP so quickly from a few life tasks or just infinite grinding because you have no time limit it’s no big deal especially given you hit max level far before the ending no matter what which also blows, and then the last thing – the fuck is the point of that in a game with no consequence for just coming back into the place 300 times anyway?
Not only do you have no time limits and that retarded system, but you have this stupid other thing, “life tasks”, where you can only do certain side stuff when the game allows you and then it cuts that off very quickly. At first all these side challenges seemed like a fun idea to give you some small goals to always be working towards including some silly ones (jumping 50 times) – but then you go and do like 3 of the 20 it’s given you and it says COMPLETED and all you can do is move ahead in the story, incapable of doing any more of the challenges until the next part…when 20 becomes 40 and so on and you never get to feel like you’re really making any progress with these or getting closer to completing all of them. Hell, before I realized it just locks you out from doing more of them I literally restarted the entire game – thinking I had done one that forced the story forward by mistake, but no, it’s just a shit system.
Another new mechanic is that the world “changes” based on your actions, or so it tells you but I found this to be total bullshit just like the life task and motivation systems. The idea isn’t totally new to the series, Meruru had a similar one where the entire design of areas would change drastically based on you expanding your kingdom further into the wild. You’d have a place that starts out as a small lake with a bunch of grassy hills turned slowly into farm land with buildings and guard towers and all added both into the background and into the area you’re actually in. Or one of my favorite things, which was helping erect an entire fort over time. When you’d do this stuff it would also change the amount and types of enemies and amount and type of items in the area, it’d also change what shops had and such. In Shallie this concept was instead done with little to possibly no effort at all. Instead of those drastic meaningful changes, you just sometimes will see a message on the map saying “more enemies here” for some spots if you happened to fight a bunch there, or “less items here” for a place you picked ingredients up at a lot recently.
As for the cast of this, I read a lot of complaints claiming the cast was incredibly lacking in terms of motivation and personality – but this is definitely one spot I actually have to defend the game on. The cast here has as much personality as the cast in the majority of the Atelier games, and the same goes for motivations. A lot of complaints were raised about Shallotte’s motivation being “I want to make money and learn about myself” but, hell, that’s better than Rorona’s “I have to work here because my parents fucked me over lol” or Atelier Annie’s “I just want to sleep I hate having to do anything but grandpa says I have to work” lazy tomboy. If anything the Dusk trilogy is one of the first in this line of games to actually have characters with more serious motivations and reasons for doing what they do – especially Ayesha but even Escha, Logy, and the two Shallies, whom are all trying to save the world or their town (well, Ayesha is actually the opposite, as she fucks the already-dying planet over to save her sister which was really cool).
Speaking of Ayesha and the cast, Ayesha – you know, the entire main lead of the story of Dusk – does not show up at all in this entire game outside of for a split second in the ending and being mentioned a total of zero fucking times the entire game aside a couple allusions to her that Keith makes. She’s not the only one missing; in a series that typically leans on continuing with the same cast while introducing a full new one each game, this one really drops the ball even more than E&L did. The only characters you meet from prior Dusk games are Keithgriff, Escha, Solle, Katla, Reyfer, Harry, and and of course seemingly the director’s favorite, Wilbell – and of them only Keith and Wilbell are party members and not just NPCs in town. Not even ‘our’ Linca makes an appearance, let alone Nio, Ayesha, Logy, Marion, or anyone else. For the BIG FINALE GAME OF THE TRILOGY it sure didn’t bother connecting itself back to the prior games or cast at all and didn’t even feature cameos aside Ayesha and Nio literally appearing for about 1 to 2 seconds walking during an ending montage – it was incredibly fucking disappointing in that regard as well.
As for the cast we do have, they range from great to irrelevant. Most of the characters this time around just feel like they exist to make the game not feel empty, but I’ll admit I liked some of them. First another complaint though, they confused the backstories of the Lincas or otherwise made a massive conspiracy as to one of the NPCs involved in the main story of Shallie, as he has a Linca who believes she’s been here since she was a baby…when we know Lincas were mass produced by man kind in secret high tech facilities many ages in the past. At the same time finding that information out makes the original backstory for the Lincas also seem impossible, as they were openly stated to be made by Central in Central, yet you find the facility from the prior civilization where they were grown way out here in nowhere but Marion knew for a fact Linca and the others were made in Central. None of this is ever made understandable.
Secondly, I just wanted to say I really liked Miruca. She’s adorable in looks and personality and in the party she’s invaluable in combat. She can heal better than almost all of your own items, her heal auto-revives anyone that’s dead in the front line, and most importantly this will automatically continue shooting for two more turns even if she’s doing other skills/attacks, is dead or is in the back row. As long as one person is alive everyone in the front line will be revived and practically fully healed. That paired with her massive damage output makes her just a goddamn war machine that can double as the best medic imaginable. As an unrelated aside, Wilbell was actually a useful combat character for the first time in her entire career. Of course I really liked the Shallies and Hom and such, but I don’t want to spend too much time on the characters here.
The only other thing to say about them would be the voice acting and it’s actually pretty great with the exception of everyone (even those few recurring characters that we know can say it properly) calling the Atelier an “at-leer”. This isn’t remotely correct in any language or dialect anywhere in the world and it’ll make you laugh at how fucking stupid it sounds every single time it comes up.
In the overall picture of the Dusk story, Atelier Shallie is simply a waste of time – like a side story about John and Jane simply toiling away on their farm with no connection at all to the events of Attack on Titan happening right behind them. Why this was made at all is something I have no answer for because after 2 games focused on figuring out the Dusk and trying to stop it, we get a game that has fuck all to do with any of that and is just “lets stop this local drought in this irrelevant town”. Water was a small issue in E&L and not one at all in Ayesha, so that partially at least has come up before – but only in outskirt desert towns to begin with that only had a barely-filled well from the start. The story as a whole feels incredibly lacking – there’s no emotional impact and the characters just seem selfish. Not to mention in Ayesha you literally create an item that can cause massive rainstorms on demand across large areas, why not just do that here?
The game even constantly reminds you that you’re doing fucking nothing and that even if you save this town it won’t actually do anything for the world. Now, if they were trying to go that cynical route of “well guess we’re fucked, whatever, sorry world” sure, but they don’t, they try to continue this upbeat “LET’S SAVE THE WORLD!” angle for some reason while not actually executing on it at all and continually pushing the former idea. Funnily enough in Chapter 2 in Shallistera’s route you meet Keithgriff and the first thing he ever says to you is that your journey is pointless and that the drought is irrelevant and fixing the drought is equally meaningless. He even goes into depth about why fixing it serves no purpose in relation to fixing the Dusk and that even if they do resolve the problem it wouldn’t help the planet recover at all from whatever the dusk is. In this conversation Keith literally outright explains the biggest problem with this game and even points out hilariously bluntly how pointless the entire story of Atelier Shallie is.
Also, I’m still really mad we never ever get to see Central – a massive constantly brought up main capital city of this nation that was always relevant.
Then there’s the thing I have to say aside the story that is probably the worst thing about this game, and one of the worst handled things here more than in almost anything else I’ve ever played: the final boss. What is it? Who knows! It’s a randomly thrown together enemy that literally CANONICALLY DID NOT EXIST seconds before you fight it. I don’t mean you just never heard of it, which you didn’t, but worse – this thing FORMS LITERALLY RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU DIRECTLY BEFORE THE FIGHT STARTS. It was not even a fucking thing moments before, that’s how fucking retarded this boss is. It is by far the most lazy thing I’ve ever seen in my life and there’s just absolutely no excuse for it. I mean what a way to end the goddamn trilogy – a story about kind of barely helping a town by fighting a creature that wasn’t even created until you got to it as the big finale. Truly a fucking masterpiece. Not to mention all the bosses in the late-game were just half-cheating to create a sense of ‘difficulty’ rather than a genuine challenge with massive health and a billion turns in a row, including that final thing.
I don’t want to just focus on the bad, so I’ll quickly skim over some of the positives. The graphics here are, as usual with the newest of the games in this franchise, better than ever. It really looks fantastic and often the character models manage to look like the actual still images drawn by the artist. The synthesis system here is probably my very top favorite in the entire history of Atelier, it’s finally fully understandable for anyone and at the same time has the depth for those who want to delve into it that you’d usually expect. This is actually the first Atelier that I got extra deep into the crafting, usually I enjoy it a lot and spend a lot of time doing it but never worry too much about some optional aspects of it as they get kind of convoluted, yet here I felt like I fully understood every aspect and that it was really fun to master and try to create the very best possible items even if it wasn’t at all necessary.
I’d say the combat here is also the very best. It features multiple new systems that give it a lot more depth and strategy, it felt like the culmination of everything they’ve learned about their fighting system throughout their games. Lastly would be the variety and size of the areas in this game, it feels like there’s a lot more diversity in locales than ever before and each one with the new 360 degree camera movement feels much more alive. The dynamic music also helped a lot in making those locations feel more interconnected with the overall world in a fairly unique way.
Instead of continuing on for another 4000 or so words to really fully flesh out all my feelings and thoughts as I really do have a lot more to say, I’ll stop here. I do surprisingly in many ways really like this game and some aspects of it are the pinnacle of the franchise at this point…yet it feels like the vast majority of it was done as the bare minimum and like it’s all very confused about what it’s trying to be. The idea of making drastic change to everything is fine as I already said, but you can’t just do that so haphazardly and half-assedly and they did both.
Again though, I’ll admit I had fun with this regardless of how much I just shit all over it and enjoyed the laid back life of sweeping up trash for almost no cash – but in the end it truly is mediocre; the story is horrendous and goes absolutely nowhere, the characters have proper motivation and certainly personality yet they get essentially zero development beyond that, the main boss is fucking pathetic in terms of what a main boss should be in any game ever, the entire game is full of wasted potential, every game mechanic serves no purpose anymore, there’s lots of missing cast members, and it displays an overall total lack of forethought or purpose. This is a game that simply failed to be anything it could have been and wasted every single positive aspect that it held, the definition of a disappointment even outside of being compared to other Atelier titles. Yet at the same time it’s still an okay game, broken mechanics and all, just not one you should be in any rush to play.
Sadly the upcoming Sophie looks to be the final blow to this franchise. Shallie at least tries to be a proper Atelier game and simply fails, Sophie is just trying to cash in on the Compile Heart fanbase at the expense of everything else. It seems another amazing series has fallen, right alongside Tales with Xillia 2 and Zestiria.