Gust loves them some alchemy games, so here we go again: Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea is the latest in developer Gust’s long-running series of craft-’em-up RPGs about hardworking women running a small business — and killing the crap out of monsters. It was one of my favorites in the series, with a fantastic presentation, well-written story and enjoyable voice acting…and then a game-crashing bug came along and ruined it all. C’est la vie. Let’s talk about the game first and then get to why you probably shouldn’t purchase it.
Shallie shakes up the Atelier formula a bit by offering two different heroines to choose from – both of whom are conveniently named Shallie so the title works either way! Shallistera is a princess while Shallotte is a city girl with big dreams; whoever you pick becomes the game’s lead character and the plot adjusts to match. Shallistera feels like she’s meant to be your first choice, as her story is a bit more traditional and her combat encounters are vastly less challenging, while Shallotte is great for series veterans who want something with a little spice.
It also shakes up the formula by removing the series mainstay timer! Instead, you perform “life tasks” – a catch-all term for quests that offer a customizable rate of progress. You can keep things moving as quickly or as slowly as you’d like, which is a great change from previous titles. Earlier Atelier games could become a bit stressful given that you’re constantly working under the clock; naturally, without the clock, that doesn’t come up.
Combat is similar to previous Dusk titles, meaning it works without overshadowing the focus of the title on crafting. It’s never especially difficult, though Shallotte might run into a couple speed bumps here and there if you’re not putting the item creation system to work. Either way it’s not what the game’s out to do – and chances are if you’re even considering picking up Shallie you know this, so you’re not going to be too disappointed when the game isn’t your typical dungeon crawler.
Yeah, crafting: this is an Atelier title so you’re going to be crafting. And gathering materials for crafting. And working on your crafting recipes. And then crafting some more. The crafting system is as deep as any other title in this series, meaning you could spend hours making even simple combat items in order to ensure they’re as powerful as possible. That’s what this game is, really, and you need to know that coming in or you’re going to hate it.
Another thing you’re going to hate, as well as the reason I cannot in good conscience recommend Atelier Shallie despite loving it: it’s got a game-crashing bug that locks you out of one of the character customization systems. You unlock the Growth System a little later in the title around level 40 (ten to fifteen hours or so into the game) and it freezes your system whenever you use it.
Other reviews have mentioned this, as have posters on forums related to the game, so it’s not just me. It also happens every time without fail and could have been easily caught by a tester, any tester, having played through the game fully on consumer hardware. Attempts to contact Tecmo Koei about the bug and any efforts to correct it, perhaps with an ETA on a fix, met with no response.
At least they’ve acknowledged it with a post on the game’s official Web site does address the bug…by waffling a bit about a fix and stating “this has no serious effect on the player experience.” Sure it doesn’t. Something like nebulous framerate and matchmaking issues are more forgivable in my mind than a single, easily reproducible hardlock bug, especially when the official response is to downplay the issue.
There you have it: Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea is a delightful game that is, sadly, broken. You’ll spend the majority of this title having a great time, then you’ll encounter a blatant, gaping flaw that will sour the entire experience and could have been easily caught before release with the barest minimum of effort. Therefore, I can’t recommend purchasing it at this point, as my criteria for doing so involve the game actually working as intended. If Tecmo Koei patch things up we’ll consider revisiting these hardworking ladies, but until then…stay away.