Developer: Gust Corporation
Platform: PS Vita
Release Date: January 17, 2017
ESRB: T for Teen
It is the first quarter of 2017 -- know what that means? Trying to fulfill New Years resolutions with a newfound optimism? C'mon. Let's be real. No! Everyone knows the beginning of every year has to be kicked off with some sort of Atelier game. Well.... technically two in the case of 2017.
Rather than talking about the recently released Atelier Firis, however, I'm here to talk about the enhanced PS Vita port, called Atelier Shallie Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea. Which was also a former PS3 release that I actually reviewed exhaustively back in 2015. I know, I am just as shocked as you all that the Vita has at least one video game in 2017.
Now, I'm not going to beat around to bush. I liked Atelier Shallie on PS3 quite a bit, actually. Almost in spite of itself at times. By that I mean that it was a very enjoyable game to play mechanically with its fiendishly addictive take on item crafting and surprising entertaining turn-based RPG combat. The "in spite of itself" part had to do with it having thoroughly underwhelming storytelling and, uh, somewhat close to game-breaking bugs at launch that literally had to be fixed through a patch. Thankfully the latter issue is nowhere to be seen in this Plus release.
It may not sound like a big deal for the outside in, but in terms of narrative Atelier Shallie was supposed to be the end of the "Dusk" Trilogy, which included Atelier Ayesha and Atelier Escha & Logy. Its main problem, however, is that it felt like it honestly mostly ignored its predecessors altogether even though both left a lot open regarding their promising settings and futures for their cast. The main heroine of the first game of the trilogy, Ayesha, was basically nowhere to be seen in the original Atelier Shallie, for example. This is why Atelier Shallie Plus is rather intriguing for series fans. Atelier Shallie Plus basically adds, and re-writes, quite a few new cutscenes during the second half of the game to provide more narrative resolution as well as added justification of the returning protagonists: those being heroine Ayesha of the first "Dusk" game and protagonist Logy of the second.
Though you essentially have to play through roughly half of the game to see them it is actually kind of shocking how much of the main story was altered to accompany the new characters. Even if, ultimately, you are still revisiting the same areas and bosses in the original PS3 release. This kind of gets to the point where the likes of Logy and especially Ayesha sort of overshadow the two playable main "Shallie" heroines whom you choose to primarily play as at the start (though, it doesn't matter much.), Shallotte and Shalistera, in terms of actual narrative importance. Still, for as much as Atelier Shallie Plus tries to bandage up its severely disjointed narrative, with many direct callbacks and references that frankly weren't in the original release, it is still unfortunately not all that compelling as a whole with its storytelling and still remains as the game's greatest weakness.
More than just narrative fanservice, both Ayesha and Logy -- as well as former DLC only characters like pink-haired heroine Escha and stern manager Solle -- join the fray in the midst of gameplay too. The newcomers are generally fun to use, if not a bit overpowered with some of their incredibly useful skills, such as reviving an entire team in addition to putting auto-revive on those that aren't incapacitated (really Ayesha?). Of course, some minor nitpicks aside, the flashy combat system (made more rewarding through alchemy progression) remains as one of the game's greatest assets.
As with the original release, the primary gameplay is centered exploring environments in order to fulfill requests/story progression as well as crafting generally at your leisure. And thanks to the placement of "life tasks," many varying objectives that allow you to pick and choose what progresses the main story, there is no real rush to do so. However, because it is a final game in the trilogy, it does feel like the game's overall difficulty is honed to series veterans who more than know how to extrapolate the depth out of the alchemy system. Like I am almost positive they made the final boss more difficult in Plus, for example. Considering how much alchemy feeds into every other aspect of the game, I do think even now established Atelier fans will mechanically find it to be one of the very best entries.
Other than that, Atelier Shallie Plus is mostly familiar minus some slight additions. Storytelling and playable characters aside, there are new costumes, songs, and superbosses as well. Which, to reiterate from my former review, the soundtrack of Atelier Shallie is absolutely stellar. Even the couple of new song additions to the Plus release, like new boss and character themes, are a total delight and continue to maintain the very high bar. The only compromise the Plus release really makes in general is with the visual fidelity. Frame rate does quite noticeably chug in bigger areas and it does become a bit apparent that lower res environments and character models were made to accompany the weaker portable hardware.
Atelier Shallie Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea is probably one of the strangest enhanced ports for the series. It does not quite go into remake territory like Atelier Rorona Plus, but it does somewhat render its original PS3 release obsolete by feeling like a more complete gaming package, regardless of its apparent technical compromises. Not only does it rather significantly alter the storytelling in the game's second half with more fanfare, but it includes entirely new playable characters and all former DLC in the game by default as well. It also cements my thoughts on it still being one of the best entries mechanically. However, despite all that, I can't help feeling like Atelier Shallie Plus it tries to more neatly close the book on a disjointed trilogy than meaningfully doing anything else.
+ Combat and crafting gameplay are still very entertaining
+ Many added story scenes and added playable characters provide much-needed additions to a former release that frankly should've had them
+ Soundtrack is truly fantastic, and the few new tracks are also a treat too
- Technical hitches in the midst of exploration and combat can be rather off-putting
- Have to go through basically half the game to see the new content
-Storytelling and character interactions are still quite underwhelming
- Not a good entry for newcomers due to the higher than average difficulty
Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10)
For those invested enough in the series, or those that haven't played the original PS3 release altogether, should be pleased to know that Atelier Shallie Plus release does stand above as the definitive release for the title. Even if, ultimately, the game underneath is not all too too different outside of storytelling.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.