The third and final part of the Dusk trilogy of Atelier games, Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk DX is another generous helping of light JRPG action with the series’ trademark deep alchemy system at its core. Telling the story of two very different young alchemists, Shallotte and Shallistera, it sees you choose from one of these two young ladies as you set out to solve yet another ecological problem brought about by the Dusk. Shallotte, a resident of the town of Stellard, is headstrong and outspoken and longs to be free of her low paying job, confident that fame and fortune lay in wait in her not-too-distant future. Shallistera, on the other hand, is absolutely not the fame-seeking type and has made a long trek to the Stellard in order to find a solution to a water shortage which is threatening to destroy her home.
As is always the case in the Atelier series – this entry is the sixteenth entry, in case you were wondering – it’s not long before one person’s problem becomes everyone else’s and the water shortage that’s affecting Shallistera’s village must be stopped from ravaging Stellard. Choosing either of the two main protagonists here will see things play out in different ways and, as usual, there are multiple endings, cutscenes and bits and pieces of dialogue which open up depending on who you’ve settled on playing as. However, in terms of actual gameplay, for the most part you’ll spend your time here running errands for Stellard’s union in order to grow more powerful and help stop the drought threat.
After a brief pre-credits sequence which gets you acquainted with the two heroines on offer, this entry in the series jumps pleasingly quickly into action, avoiding the rather turgid opening few hours of its predecessor in favour of letting you get out-and-about on your world map and crafting away to your heart’s content as it teaches you the ropes along the way. And there are a few rather nice new ropes to get acquainted with here.
As well as being the first Atelier game to feature a freely-moveable camera whilst out in the wilds – something that really makes it feel much more modern – this third part also switches up some of the standard gameplay loops of the franchise, this time completely excising the time limit which usually sees your characters having to complete their various tasks and missions within a set period or fail. To be fair, the last two Atelier games had made it so lax that it wasn’t really much of a challenge to keep within your allocated time, but by completely removing it here, this entry allows players to relax, taking all the time they want to explore its various locations, gather and discover new resources and battle monsters.
With the time limit mechanic now completely gone, Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk DX implements a new ‘Life Tasks’ system which sees you check off a bunch of tasks in order to unlock progress to the next chapter in the storyline. Jumping into your character’s menu via a press of the X button allows you to monitor your progress, and it’s something you’ll need to do quite often as you’ll always have a long list of things going on at any one time. Life Tasks will also change on the fly depending on how you choose to play your game. If you’ve been out battling monsters more than crafting then it’ll charge you with going after certain types of enemy, whereas if collecting resources is your jam, it’ll fix you up with plenty of errands to suit.
It’s not a bad system overall, although we did find it a little irritating just how much we ended up having to go in and out of the menu to check what we were doing or how much more we needed complete in order to move on. For sure, these games have always been about running constant errands and checking things off lists in order to progress, but something about the Life Tasks system here really draws attention to it all in a way that makes it feel much more like a chore.
However, away from this, it’s mostly all good news for fans of the series. The turn-based battle system has continued to be beefed-up and improved upon and now, as well as your staple move sets, special skills and assist actions that let you stack attacks and jump in to guard weaker members of the team as you fill your assist gauge, there’s a new introduction in the form of the Burst Gauge. Successfully attacking enemies fills the burst gauge up whilst getting hit drops it down again; by filling it right up to 100%, you’ll unleash burst mode, enabling your party members to attack much more ferociously, doing lots more damage to their foes. It’s another nice little wrinkle in what’s a pretty old-school but really rather enjoyable combat system, and it certainly sees the fighting element of these games in the best shape it’s been up until this point.
Elsewhere the alchemy, the very heart and soul of any Atelier game, has also had a lick of paint and a few tweaks here and there. It’s still the same absorbing and addictive minigame-style system as it’s always been; easy enough to get to grips with, but with enough depth to it that it really does become a pretty engrossing timesink – especially once you’ve levelled-up and unlocked enough abilities to let you really start to tinker with your creations. As well as all the usual variations in ingredient types, purities and rarities, this time around you can also add traits to your ingredients in order to give them bespoke properties such as extra damage or healing strength, or perhaps the ability to generate a greater yield of whatever salve or offensive item you happen to be crafting. It’s a versatile and fun system into which every other facet of the game feeds in a very satisfying manner.
World traversal and exploring remains largely the same as ever here; you’ll blast around a map collecting ingredients and battling monsters in small, tightly-contained areas – although we have to say Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea DX does better in this regard with areas that are larger and slightly more interesting to look at than the previous entries in this trilogy. Make no mistake, however, this is still not anywhere near the type of open-world roaming you’ll be used to from a full-fat JRPG, so if that’s the kind of deal you’re looking for, the Atelier games probably aren’t really for you. The story once again keeps things pretty small-scale and ties into the trilogy quite nicely; there are plenty of returning cameos from the previous two Dusk games, but rest assured, if this is your first Atelier outing you won’t struggle to jump into this third part as the plot is pretty much self-contained, save for some overlapping threads here and there.
Performance-wise, the whole thing runs perfectly smoothly in both docked and handheld modes, and for our money it’s easily the best-looking of the three entries in the Dusk trilogy. Framerate problems, which hampered the PS Vita version of the game, are non-existent and this is, once again, a title that really does suit portable play fantastically well; blasting through your checklists of life tasks in small chunks here and there when you find the time is brilliant stuff.
This DX version, as with the other two games in the trilogy, comes with all the additions from the PS Vita release of the game – including that reworked storyline – and also packs in numerous quality of life features such as the ability to fast forward through swathes of dialogue, speed up travel on the world map and turn up the rate at which combat encounters play out. There are three different difficulty settings – including a story-mode which lets you sit back and relax entirely – and overall, as with the other Dusk games, this is an entry which bends over backwards to be accommodating to players.
Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea DX is the strongest entry in the Dusk trilogy. It adds a nice new camera, spices up the alchemy, strengthens the turn-based combat system and gives you two heroines to play through as, each with a journey unique enough that it’s more than worth your while playing through the whole thing twice. World exploration is just as tightly controlled as in previous Atelier games and won’t perhaps suit those hoping for a real sense of adventure or the desire to get completely lost in the wilds of the world presented here but, for fans of the series or those wanting to jump in and check it out, this is another solid entry in the long-running franchise that performs excellently on Switch and suits portable play perfectly.