Drowning in the dusk sea.
I love the Atelier games.
Mana Khemia series, Iris, Arland and now the Dusk trilogy- I’ve played and beat them all (most of them multiple times).
The Atelier’s staple mix of equal parts item creation and combat along with a healthy dose of fun, charming characters has made it one of my favorite JRPG series of all time.
So whenever a new title is announced for the States, I very much look forward to it so when the last game in the Dusk trilogy was slated for release, I wanted to see if the (likely) last Atelier game of the PS3 era could end on a high note.
Unfortunately, not only does this prove to be the weakest Atelier game of this generation, a myriad of bugs and localization issues ends the dusk trilogy not in a bang, but a sad whimper.
Voice Acting Selection: JPN/ENG.
Length: 20-30 hours
For those unfamiliar with the Atelier series, it’s an RPG that puts forth a strong emphasis on item creation and a fast paced combat engine that’s deceptively complex.
Instead of the typical JRPG storytelling trope of an impending doom upon the universe, it weaves tales of budding alchemists trying to make it in the world whether that be trying to keep a job or helping their friends and family.
However, while Atelier Shallie follows the established formula to some degree, there’s a single change that makes all the difference.
It’s the complete removal of the time management mechanic.
In the previous Atelier games of the PS3 era, each action, whether it’s crafting an item or walking around from one destination to another took up a certain amount of time.
The players were often designated to perform certain tasks by ‘X’ date and the game would end eventually after enough time had past.
It gave significance to every action I took and there was a smooth progression as the more proficient I became at the game, the more efficiently I could complete everything that needed to be done.
Getting an assignment or a goal and planning days, weeks, months ahead to figure out what would be the best course of action was challenging and immensely fun.
With the removal of this single mechanic, it feels as though the glue that kept the whole experience together so well had all but vanished and everything I did felt much less interesting by direct consequence.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the game had major pacing issues as it constantly tasked me to “do work” and fill up a bar by doing a variety of miscellaneous activities in order to progress the story.
Without a concrete goal and good reason for why I was doing it in the first place, I felt sapped of my motivation and just kind of wondered about doing random things until it eventually filled up.
However, it’s not to say that things have only been cuts with nothing added in Shalli as there’s an introduction of a “morale” system.
As more activities are completed, the bar fills up and there are positive/negative effects correlated with the level of morale but it had such a small effect on my overall progress that I basically paid no attention to it.
If that was supposed to be the replacement to the time management system, I’m not impressed.
Luckily, it’s not all bad as the combat and alchemy system are still quite enjoyable.
The alchemy system has a real sense of progression as useful skills unlocked at a constant pace that allowed me to strategically add attributes, property and increase the quality of my items with ease.
The sense of accomplishment for crafting a truly powerful piece of equipment through planning and out of the box thinking was quite immense and I found myself spending hours just crafting away.
The combat is a fine iteration of what you would expect from a Atelier game and closely follows what was in Escha & Logy with the addition of a break/burst that adds a bit more strategy while not over complicating things.
Lastly, I must mention that the localization work on this title is amateurish at best.
Even looking past the myriad of typos, grammar and text spacing issues, there were text I could not even read because the text box was too small to fit them all.
This was mostly present during the alchemy process as it constantly reared its head as I had no idea the effect of a property because I simply could not read it.
There’s also a shocking small percentage of events that are voiced in English as only the most major scenes are voiced.
If you play the game in Japanese, every single event is voiced and compared to that, the English voice over covers a fraction of that. I realize that this is a common practice to cut localization costs but it seemed more fragrant in Shallie than the other titles.
As if all that wasn’t bad enough, there’s a game breaking bug where trying to access the “Growth” system (introduced at level 40) will lock up the game completely and the mechanic itself remains completely unusable.
Given how this bug is tied to a major mechanic, I have no idea how this could have ever made it past the testers.
I’ve heard that there is a patch in the works but when this review was written, there was no tentative release date for the patch in sight.
It saddens me to see one my favorite game series put forth such a weak effort and at the same time see it be localized so poorly with little effort and consideration.
The fans deserve better.
Fun Tidbit – I don’t know where the Atelier series will go from here but I sincerely hope they can bounce back from this misstep and redeem themselves in the next title.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.