Just as Nintendo look to Switch up the handheld market, Sony give gamers a reason to dig out the trusty old PlayStation Vita in the shape of another fun and accessible Japanese role-playing game. Atelier Shallie Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea is an enhanced port of the PlayStation 3 game packing all the downloadable content and a host of improved options.
'Shallie' is the finale of the 'Dusk' trilogy and probably the best of the series to date - and there's a lot of love for them as this is the 16th Atelier game so far. The good news is that this is certainly the easiest to jump straight into, with a dual storyline that offers double the playthrough possibilities as you get to control one of two possible young alchemists each named a variation on 'Shallie'.
Choice one is the innocent young 'Shallistera', who is heir to the leader of her clan, and her quest is to find a way to save her people as their water sources are all drying up. Or you could pick the more worldly wise 'Shallotte', a free spirit looking for adventure and whatever comes her way. One of the additional options included in the 'Plus' release is the option to dress up your Shallie in a range of outfits - some practical and others that are, erm, designed to appeal to certain tastes, but hey, we suppose that this caters for a wide potential group of gamers.
Which Shallie you pick shapes your game experience; there are some events that both will have, but there are also lots of unique ones that tie into the story of each girl. In some ways, this makes Dusk two games in one, and certainly adds to the replay factor. Meanwhile, the 'Atelier' in the title means 'workshop' or 'studio', especially one used by an artist or designer, and the Atelier franchise certainly embraces this create-'em-up dynamic with a deep crafting system into which a huge number of hours can be sunk.
As mentioned, the plot has water at a premium as the seas are drying up, and both storylines employ pretty standard RPG gameplay; you'll wander around talking to people, you'll pick up quests, travel via a world map to the place where quest indicates, and once there, you'll battle monsters with your team and collect resources. There are differences when it comes to side activities, however, as Shallote can scrub the floor for items with her broom or clean and catch fish using bait, while Shallistera has the power to uncover hidden items.
Combat is refined to a pleasing degree too, simplified from the previous games but still addictive and satisfying. The burst system is a particular highlight, activating when your battle meter is full, unleashing spectacular attacks and other bonuses; running riot on the battlefield with your team and using their assorted magical skills to destroy all before you is just excellent fun. You can have six characters in your group and switch out the three that you want on active duty while the others slowly level up in the background, giving you control over what kind of party you think best suits the current situation.
The story is broken up into handy bite-sized chunks, which is ideal for gaming on the go, and because you're free to take all the time you require to finish the main story missions, Alchemists of the Dusk Sea proves to be a good stress buster of a RPG.
Atelier Shallie Plus: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea is great way to wrap up the trilogy. This is a perfect choice for someone looking to try their hand at a JRPG, but still offers enough meaty battle challenges and huge crafting possibilities for devout fans of the series. This Plus version is one of the best entries in the series to date, and while Atelier as a whole may not quite measure up to the genre's classics, this is still a very enjoyable handheld adventure that will keep you coming back for more.