Reviewing Atelier Sophie last year was my first chance to try out the Atelier series, but it soon became one of my favourite JRPGs. It had taken me a long time to give it a shot, partly because of its release schedule. Atelier games come out at least once a year, but they’re then followed a couple years later by Plus editions that carry a bunch of new content. By the time a game is getting discounted, a new version with a bunch of improvements is released. The cycle continues this year, because even though Atelier Firis releases on PS4 in March, we’re seeing a Plus version of Atelier Shallie released for PS Vita this week.
Released a year before Atelier Sophie, Atelier Shallie was the last game in the series to come out on PS3, as well as the final chapter in the Dusk trilogy of Atelier games. Most of the time, these Plus versions of the games simply add minor quality of life improvements and extra dungeons, but Shallie Plus tweaks a lot of the narrative. It answers fan complaints that the game originally failed to address a lot of plot points or touch on characters from the previous Dusk games.
The story revolves around two protagonists; Shallistera Argo and Shallotte Elminus, both of whom are nicknamed “Shallie”. After playing brief introductory sections for both of the girls, you actually get to choose which character’s story you want to experience first, but both live in the same town and do eventually join together as alchemists in training and great friends. Before that, though, their adventures differ in a lot of ways, and getting to see what each of them experience prior to meeting, as well as how their experiences differ after meeting, is really interesting.
The choice of a protagonist is also a great way to cater to different kinds of players. Shallisteras story is closely tied to the narrative of the Dusk trilogy and the mysteries of the previous games, while Shallotte has a more grounded story about fame and success that serves as a good entry point for new players. Both stories do, however, end up wrapping around the plot threads of the entire trilogy, and a lot of the climactic events and revelations won’t have as big of an impact on you if you’re coming in blind. This Plus version manages to weave the protagonists from the previous Dusk games into the main story, having them involved in numerous cutscenes and story arcs to better explain where they’ve been and what their involvement in this final chapter is.
Another thing that these Plus versions add, however, is an awful framerate. For some reason, the Plus versions of PS3 Atelier games always come out exclusively on the Vita. The game looks beautiful; it never once seems like the visual fidelity was significantly downgraded from the PS3, aside from some aliasing on character models and slightly blurry textures on some costumes. Unfortunately, the game consistently runs below 30FPS. There’s a constant stutter to it, objects pop in ten feet away from my character, and when big action scenes or lots of characters appear on screen, I feared my Vita was about to just give up and turn off.
If you can manage to put up with poor framerate, the rest of the game rewards you handsomely. Atelier Shallie maintains the Atelier formula of gathering items in the world to alchemise, as well as fighting enemies in the field via traditional JRPG combat.
The Life Tasks system has your character keeping track of what they want to do in life in their head, and it cleverly takes inspiration from the things you do to come up with new goals, some of which progress the story, and some others which give you bonuses in combat and alchemy. I busted open ten barrels of water in the field, and Shallotte was inspired by that to decide that she should try drawing water from the city well. Stacking these life goals on top of the normal job-requests you get from townsfolk gives you a lot of different objectives to pursue, and it’s a great way to get you to constantly explore and investigate the world.
Of course, all of that exploring will eventually land you in combat with various creatures and enemies, and the combat system is another area where Atelier Shallie shines. Combat takes place with a six person party in a traditional turn-based format. There’s a unique Burst Mode that activates after a certain amount of damage has been dealt in quick succession, which doubles player damage and allows more frequent attacks from you party. It’s an interesting system that incentivises all-out offensive strategies, and is almost a required tool to take advantage of in boss battles.
After reaching a certain level, you also get access to Growth Points, a system which lets you boost specific stats of each character, customizing them to help create unique combat builds. As simple and easy as combat can be in this game, on harder difficulties and in New Game Plus, a huge amount of strategy and forethought can go into combat encounters and character experience.
That same amount of depth is present in the alchemy system, as well. By gathering certain items and learning recipes, you can craft a huge variety of items, from healing creams to leather gloves, ice bombs and more. Recipes have required ingredient types, but you can select different kinds of specific ingredients within those categories to get different properties. On top of that, there’s a Skill system that lets you assign bonuses to your alchemy session and the ability to add bonus properties to your final item based on your alchemy level. There are a lot of options, but you’re always free to either keep it as simple or complex as you like, and the game rarely forces you to go out of your comfort zone when it comes to alchemy.
Atelier Shallie is a great entry in the series. I really enjoyed all of the characters, and the Life Task system is a fun take on quests and story progression. In those ways, I even like it more than Atelier Sophie. Unfortunately, so much of my love for this game is ruined by its choppy frame rate on PS Vita. If this were simply on PS3 or PS4, it would be a nearly flawless experience. As it stands, Atelier Shallie is the best version of the game available in terms of content, but having to suffer through a poorly optimised experience for those benefits is too steep a cost.