What began with Ayesha and continued with Escha and Logy, now finishes with Shallie as Gust and Tecmo Koei brings the Dusk trilogy to an end. Three games in, are there any new tricks to add to the series or maybe it might rock the boat too much and hurt the ending of what has been an underrated series?
Atelier Shallie allows you to take the role of one of two Shallies in their differing quests. One seeks to help her village from a drought, while the other wants to seek fame and fortune. Much like the previous games in the series, the story revolves more around personal growth and interactions than the hero saving the world. If anything, that is a good thing considering the world has not been doing too well since Ayesha. This has always been what set the series apart from other RPGs. It is great for those looking for something new than another world saver games. There is a lot of interaction between the cast of characters but some of it can be considered fluff because it amounts to nothing more than simply passing time.
The biggest change Gust made compared to the previous games is they did away with the time system. No longer will the player have to play a time management sim. You have all the time to do everything you want like any normal RPG. Replacing that feature is a morale meter, which couples itself with the life goal system. As the player keeps performing various tasks, life goals will unlock. Complete them for a reward, like massive amounts of experience, stat boosts, and a bump in morale. You can only perform a set amount of life goals in a chapter, as shown by your hollowed out picture slowly filling up on the screen. Once maxed out you can keep going on; you’ll just be slowly losing morale from being tired. All this does is make you slower and you can’t pick up as many materials. It is not game breaking, or even an inconvenience. The problem though comes from the life goal screen being blocked by a message saying you are too tired to do more life tasks. You can still do the tasks, just from memory as you won’t be able to see them until the next chapter.
Combat had some minor modifications to it from Escha and Logy, creating a new level of strategy that was not in the previous game. Doing assist attacks is back but each reserve character has their own meter to fill, instead of a catch-all for the whole team. This cuts down on the massive combos you can create. Using the assist also subs in that character, which is the extra layer of strategy. Sometimes it can be a detriment though, especially if you accidentally sub someone in, as that person might be more hurt or have worse stats than your top three rotation. Thankfully, the switch only lasts for that combat. They also added in a burst system. Each attack adds to the burst meter and when it reaches over 100% you go into burst mode, allowing for extra damage and assist attacks don’t sub in characters anymore. Functionally, this system is fine and allows you lots of use with your bloated cast. How much you like the combat comes down to which system you enjoyed better, Escha and Logy’s or this new one.
The music of the game takes an interesting turn with Shallie. The BGM setup is back, allowing you to set up a lot of the background music to however you choose. Eshca and Logy, at the time of review, only had a limited selection. Shallie has a lot of the previous Atelier games, as well as other Japan-only titles. As someone who is always critical of the musical score, and the effect it has on the mood of the game, this expanded jukebox allows you to customize the music to your individual tastes. This was a boon for me as a lot of the common songs, like the combat music, I was switching out for the other soundtracks. The music wasn’t bad per say, I just found other songs I liked better in the jukebox. As an aside, this is a feature I’d wish a lot of other RPGs would implement.
That life goal mechanic talked about earlier is the most divisive part of the game. While it is great to have extra side-quests to do, the rewards for them greatly unbalance the game. Some of them gave high experience point bonuses, compared to the ease of the task, making me power level by accident. After a couple 2500XP bonuses and being in the high 20s during chapter 2, I was getting 1XP in combat 9/10 battles afterwards because of how high I had leveled. I call this divisive because while it is great for the people who want breeze through the story, it takes any of the strategy and difficulty out of the game for those needing a challenge. Gust compensates this by allowing you to change the difficulty modes at will. The added difficulty does come with the benefits of an XP, money, and item buff, so it caters to a wide variety of gamers.
The biggest drawback about Shallie that holds it back is how the designers decided to spread apart all the game mechanics. Usually, you get everything upfront in the first few hours of the game. But in Shallie I was unlocking new mechanics, like field enhancements and a new growth system, 20+ hours and many chapters later in the game. Instead of feeling excited, I felt let down because I spend so much time doing tasks that it would have been nice to have been using those add-ons. Now it feels like I have to rework from scratch. If this doesn’t bother you at all, then consider it more diversity in the gameplay for the late game. It doesn’t break the game, just in my opinion it would have been fun to use them earlier.
Overall, Shallie is a good addition to the Atelier series. It relatively keeps the core intact from the high that was Escha and Logy, with some changes to add freshness. How you grade the game will rely solely on how you enjoy those changes. If you don’t like them, then Escha and Logy will be the superior title. However, if you do enjoy the new changes and additions, Shallie is your home run to end the trilogy.
Summary: A solid title that ends the Dusk trilogy on a positive note. New and altered gameplay mechanics will determine if you rank this above or below Escha and Logy, but either way it is still a must-have for Atelier and TK RPG fans.