For a lot of people, the charm of the Atelier series comes the cute and bubbly aesthetic of each game. Many of the modern entries in the series see you playing as a peppy young alchemist girl in a colorful and fantastical fantasy world, getting up to all sorts of cheesy and lightly fanservice-filled shenanigans with their equally colourful and wildly dressed companions. The way this slice-of-life world combines with the casual crafting-focused nature of the gameplay gives rise to a satisfying and successful formula that’s spawned over 20 main games and nearly a dozen spinoffs since the inception of the series.
With so many games in the Atelier series, it’s the entries that buck the trends of the franchise and try something new that end up being the most memorable. With the Atelier Dusk Trilogy Deluxe Pack, modern consoles have been blessed with some of the few Atelier games that forego that familiar bubbly tone in favour of a more solemn tone and realistic aesthetic. It results in what is arguably the most iconic trilogy of the entire franchise.
Atelier games are often released in interconnected trilogy that share a common setting, but their stories are typically so loosely connected that you could jump in with any of them and have a grand time; the focus was always primarily on the cutesy shenanigans of the moment. With the Atelier Dusk games, though, Gust tried something different.
The first game in the series, Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk, established a dying world called the Land of Dusk. Once a prosperous and advanced land, civilisation declined as the art of alchemy was forgotten. As Ayesha goes on her own journey to save her younger sister Nio from a mysterious ghost-like curse, you encounter the ruins of a previous civilisation and hints of a higher power. The mysteries of the world are just as important as the struggles of the protagonists, adding crucial weight to the experience of playing these games as a joined trilogy.
While there are still silly moments and fun characters in the Atelier Dusk games, the overall tone is much quieter and more serene than you’d usually expect from the series. This shift is accomplished perfectly thanks to the incredible character designs by artist Hidari. While so many Atelier characters are over-designed with giant skirts, neon ribbons, dozens of belts and other JRPG goodness, the Atelier Dusk games pivot from that style entirely. Instead, characters wear simple and surprisingly modern clothing, with many supporting characters wearing simple business attire, waist-coats, plaid button-ups and more. This “less is more” approach to character design is an huge success, resulting in some of the most memorable and enjoyable characters of the entire franchise.
The characters also contrast nicely with the design of the world itself. While characters are dressed in slightly modern and Western attire, they inhabit strange mountainside villages and grand beachside harbours that encapsulate the feeling of a once modern world that has now been reclaimed by nature. This world aesthetic ended up staying in my mind far longer than any of the idealistic and vivid vistas of the usual Atelier worlds.
The Atelier Dusk games don’t just experiment with the tone of the world and their stories, though. They also experiment with how the player experiences those stories. In Atelier Escha and Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky, you have two different protagonists to pick from. Logy is a young man who left his old home of Center City to pursue a new job opportunity in Colseit, while Escha is a young alchemist girl who grew up and lives in that town as an experienced traditional alchemist. The two spend the majority of the game together, so most story scenes play out the same based on who you pick, but there are also a decent amount of scenes and endings you can only experience as a specific protagonist.
The third game in the trilogy, Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea, kept this dual-protagonist approach, letting you choose to play as either Shallistera or Shallotte. Shallistera is the daughter of a village chief who goes to the town of Stellard as clan representative in order to seek out their aid in helping her village recover from a drought. Shallotte, meanwhile, is a small-time alchemist in Stellard with an atelier of her own who dreams of making it big and earning major money.
While the two have their own unique character arcs that they go through over the course of the game, the protagonists of the prior Dusk entries are also along for the ride, as well as countless supporting characters. The stories of the trilogy tie together in a major way with this third entry, and while many of the mysteries of the world are still left unsolved by the time the credits roll, the satisfaction of seeing these five budding alchemists reach the end of their journeys is made all the sweeter by how interconnected those journeys ended up being.
With the Atelier Dusk Trilogy Deluxe Pack, each of these games is playable with a plethora of add-on content and expanded story scenarios that were originally exclusive to their Playstation 3 releases and Playstation Vita re-releases. The first game in the trilogy, surprisingly, suffers from some stuttering framerate while you’re in certain environments and watching certain cutscenes. The other two games, thankfully, perform flawlessly. While environments lack the same detail that modern Atelier games boast, character and enemy models look as sharp as possible on Nintendo Switch, both docked and undocked.