Atelier Shallie Plus Review – Cute Girls: Curse of Red Tape

How do you portray a fight against global warming in a game? How do you fight a concept rather than a villain? Do it the good old fashion way they do in our congress: put forth a motion to deal with a significant issue, fight your way around red tape and get people to support you through mutual benefit, then finally start working on things that would fix the core issues you’re facing. I didn’t expect that this would be what I was dealing with when I first started playing Atelier Shallie Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea, but here we are, cute girls and all, and it’s done spectacularly.

Title: Atelier Shallie Plus: Alchemist of the Dusk Sea
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Gust Co. Ltd.
Platform: PS Vita (Reviewed)
Release Date: January 17, 2017
Players: 1
MSRP: $39.99 (Review Copy Received)

This is a review coupled with a supplemental video review. You can watch the video review above, or read the full review of the game below.

This game looks great, with unique enemy designs, entertaining and sometimes bizarre characters, and impressive environments. The environments are well designed and really give you a feel for the weather and atmosphere of the area. The desert setting really plays itself off well with the carcasses of dead gigantic monsters being used as bridges and sand as far as you can see. This atmosphere is expanded by impressive audio tracks with an Arabic feel that just heighten the exhausting and even comforting warmth of the area. Even dark caves are interesting with a limited line of sight and soft isolating music that really played up the setting well!

Enemies also have unique and interesting designs that help to set this game apart from others. Some animals look cute and cuddly, while others look like alchemical monstrosities. The interesting aspect of it though is that none of it’s explained, these monsters and animals are just a natural part of nature and your supposed to just go with the flow. Sadly the selection of monsters are quite low and while there are a few palate swaps on these monsters it doesn’t help a floundering ecology.

Another big issue happens to be the overall design and lack of any sort of explanation in character design choices. Cowboys, witches with bat wings, robots with mechanical Angel wings and interesting weapon choices beg me to ask for some sort of explanation. I look at the weapons on the main cast and wonder how a bell could be used as a weapon, or why one of the characters had a charm as their weapon, rather than the spear they are shown to have. It doesn’t make sense and the audience is asked to just go with the flow.

While I was playing these thoughts never occurred to me. It wasn’t until I further examined the art direction that I noticed this absurdity. The game sucked me in and successfully allowed me to suspend my disbelief. That is a great example of what makes a great game. If you can present the absurd and the audience just goes with it that is awesome.

I didn’t really expect much in terms of gameplay. At first I saw only a very minimalistic dungeon crawler. Each area is a branching hallway leading to goodies to grab and enemies to fight. There were missions to hunt down specific enemies but it generally felt underwhelming to start off. What I didn’t realize was the eventual complexity of the combat system and the glorious crafting system that pervaded the entire game.

You don’t get many characters to start off with at the very beginning of the game. This makes it difficult to recover MP outside of the sparsely used items. The only other way to recover MP for your skills  is to give your characters a rest and at the beginning of the game this is impossible due to your lack of characters. This causes leisurely strolls out to the field to be very short.

After several chapters of being highly restricted by your own skill level and lack of characters new characters are introduced allowing you access to a more complicated battle system. Once you get 4 characters one character can be in the back row allowing them to recover their MP and make a assist attacks and defenses. It was slow, but gradually the game got much more complicated and fun with the introduction of ultimate skills, chain combat, and burst mode.

As soon as you get access to your back row you will slowly begin to build a bar on the top of the screen. This is your burst gauge and you fill it by attacking the enemy and I have a good back row switch in to assist on attacks. As soon as the burst gauge is completely filled up you will go into Burst Mode which features stronger attack and allows for further combinations using the back-row assist attacks. It is only in this mode that all three back-row characters can attack together leading up to a special attack by the last character chosen from the back row. This added complexity made combat a lot more entertaining then I originally expected.

Where this game shows real red meat is it’s massive crafting system. This thing is easy to learn with many different recepies that will help you craft usable items your alchemists can use. The deviousness of this system comes in the various traits each item holds that can be crafted onto other items. It took me hours to build a set of items used in making ultimate gear. While anyone can build regular gear it takes quite a while to master the nuances of alchemy, something the main characters learn over time with you.

My only complaint with this game’s action is the overuse of cutscenes. It feels like every two seconds we have another cutscene and it really cuts into the meat and potatoes of the game. There is practically a metric ton of events that help to expand the story, develop characters much further, and give hints at what’s to come later in the game. While I would typically complain about a game taking me away from the action the way it was done in this game is absolutely fantastic. I can safely say that this game has earned it’s pass on this complaint.

I can’t say the same for this game’s voice actors. Many of the main character’s voices are like nails on a chalk board. From the strange speech impediment that Homura has to the dainty flower that is Shallistera that lacks any confidence in her voice, the voice acting made me want to play with the volume off. Thankfully I was told that this game actually offered dual tracking with the original voice actors. After switching over this game’s audio has been great! I wish more games did this.

I’m glad I did because the music in this game is fantastic. The audio tracks in this game are impressive and take inspiration from all over the world. Many overworld and dusk theme’s had an arabic theme to them, while boss music could range from grinding rock and metal, to the spanish influenced Octopunch with plucked guitar, maraca’s and a grooving bass line that just screams “listen to me” . Other tracks like Sleeping Star, and Tsunami are also well worth a second listen to if you have the chance, I’d highly recommend it!

I also enjoyed the silly nuance between different event interactions highlighted by various themes. Take for instance when you know something stupid is going to be happening in an event, such as a miscommunication being turned into an awkward situation. The musical theme would change to the track “Um, What” that sounds like something you’d hear from the bizarre tea party of a Mad Hatter. Even meeting up with friends has cute tracks behind it that help to show the different types of relationships between friends. The musical direction of this game is great and it as an entry-point into this series it makes me wish I had given other games in this game a chance earlier.

I really did wish I had given this series a chance before now because this game has been a great experience. Sure there are many things that I wish they had went into a bit more detail about, but honestly the way this game shows the various forms of relationships between characters has been amazing.

Characters have insecurities and personal weaknesses. Some characters seem greedy, or maybe even closed off, but each and every main character has their own motivations and purpose for their actions that is great.  Sometimes you’ll see friends fighting, or misunderstanding each others point of view, and it’s all done in a way that you don’t typically see every day. Sure this means more cut-scenes than most other games, but you learn more and more about the character this way. Seeing first hand the strains personal objectives can have on friendships is amazing in a game.

The story itself feels fairly weak, for Shallestera you’re trying to help your village’s drought, but you’re caught in a bureaucratic mess of red tape. In order for anyone to even consider helping you, you have to show your worth to the city. This is done by completing missions and doing work for the city. This is interspersed with the people giving you orders willingly talking around you, so that you only have a small understanding of the greater conflict of this game, and this is a big issue.

Many of the core concepts of this game, like the real conflict of this game, or other smaller aspects of the world aren’t properly explained. Part of it may be just me wanting to know more about the world, and why things are the way they are. Things like a lack of an explanation as to why Homura speaks the way he does, or maybe why Wilbell has wings, or even what witches are, make me wish I knew more about the world.  Though I do admit this issue might just be me needing to play the rest of the series.

Honestly this game has been a great experience with great environments, writing, music, and gameplay. I doubted that this game would be anywhere near as good as it was because I thought it would just be “Cute Girls doing Cute Things”.

The truth of the matter is that this game is a great look into the concept of relationships, sure there are some bizarre annoyances here and there but ultimately this is a great RPG and something every Vita owner should play at least once.

Atelier Shallie Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea was reviewed on PS Vita using a review code provided by Koei Tecmo. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.

The Verdict: 9

The Good:

  • Environments are well designed
  • Crafting is deeply nuanced and fun
  • Music is great to listen to!
  • Japanese dub is a GODSEND
  • Relationship writing is amazing

The Bad:

  • Bizarre character design mechanics that are never explained
  • Lack of monster variety
  • English dub can be annoying
  • Core concepts need further explanation

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I am a research student with a history in psychology. I am a fan of tactical rpgs and I love to travel. I hope to one day be a clinical psychologist.

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