Mixing Things Up
Gamers of a certain age place console RPGs in a certain bubble. In early generations, console games were the way to go, due mostly due to technical superiority being on their side. Early handhelds usually played second fiddle to their stationery brethren, and were technically inferior to boot. However, technology advances, as it tends to do.
This led to games that were considered too beefy for handhelds becoming capable enough to run on the go. Square’s Final Fantasy ports on the Game Boy Advance and the subsequent DS releases showed developers that there’s a market for portable RPGs that can offer a similar or equal experience. While the Vita may not be as powerful as the PS3, it tries its best to be as close to a portable console as it can be (save for what the Switch is trying to do, naturally).
Originally released on the PS3 exclusively, Atelier Shallie Plus is the last game in the Dusk subseries of the franchise. The big plus for this portable release is that the amount of content included is massive. Not only will you be getting all the DLC that was released for the PS3 release, you’ll have access to characters that span the Dusk trilogy, new bosses, costumes, and stories that help flesh out the Dusk trilogy as a whole.
Developed by Gust and published by Koei Tecmo, Atelier Shallie Plus is available exclusively for the Playstation Vita digitally at a price point of $39.99. A limited edition is also available, which includes a physical copy (among other goodies). This title was released on January 17th, 2017.
Searching For Hope
Let’s get one major thing out of the way first – porting a console game down to a handheld like the Vita is not an easy task. Performance-wise, it does suffer from reduced graphics and an extremely sluggish frame rate. While the former is expected with conversions like this, the latter will be noticeable straight away. Once you make your way out into battle and navigate the various hub areas, it won’t be uncommon to find frame rates that dip below 30 frames per second. While sluggish, it’s not bad enough to make a serious dent in gameplay. Since this is a turn-based game, twitch responses aren’t a factor here. In that aspect, making selections are responsive.
Other than that, RPG fans will find this to be a pretty accessible game. You’ll be introduced to two characters’ stories, both of which are decently explained to give you a feel of which one you want to take on. Shallistera Argo is a an experienced alchemist tasked with saving her town from drought. Shallotte Elminus is a rookie alchemist with big dreams, but is grounded by taking temporary assignments. The tone is nothing out of the ordinary for a fantasy setting, and I personally found most of the characters I came across to be relatively likable. The voice acting is pretty decent, and this helps when battle banter gets to be repetitive.
While they both have storylines unique to their character, the core gameplay is basically identical. You move the story along in cutscenes and direction via the “Life Task” system, head out into the field and amass materials for alchemy, engage in very familiar turn-based combat, and take what you’ve gained in the field to synthesize via the alchemy system. Something to point out is that the game does change life tasks depending on your play style. If you’re more of an explorer, you’ll get tasks related to that. Same goes if you’re more of a combat fanatic. Depending on which direction you go, the field’s Life Task will vary. I do find this to be a pretty unique feature, as it’s something that will add to its accessibility.
Considering that alchemy is at the forefront of the Dusk trilogy (and the series as a whole, really), it comes as no surprise to see the alchemy system be a major part of the gameplay. Initially, you’ll be able to synthesize a few basic items, but additional items will become available as you purchase more alchemy books. Synthesizing items is actually pretty simple, as you’ll be able to quickly see what items are needed and select them when you have what you need from the battlefield. If you’re looking to just get right back into the thick of things, the simplicity will allow it. Despite this, it can also be pretty deep if you let it.
Insofar as the actual battle system is concerned, it’s about as straightforward as you can get for an RPG. You will be able to gain the upper hand in the field and initiate battle by “swinging” at the enemy in question. Each character you command will fall into the roles most RPGs feature (melee, cleric, healer, etc), and you’ll be able to make the standard RPG selections. Once you find yourself making consecutive hits in any single battle, you’ll transition into “burst” mode for a limited amount of moves. While in this mode, you’ll have heightened tactical advantage and power. Considering that there is a bit of grinding involved at certain points, what amounts to a skill reward does help with the pace a little bit.
It’s no secret that Sony has shifted their focus away from the Vita, but that hasn’t stopped developers from coming through for their fanbases. Most JRPG fans in the West are pretty used to importing their favorite titles without much hope for a localization. Thankfully for Atelier fans, this is not the case for Shallie Plus. The amount of extra content and inclusion of DLC is reason enough to pick this up for sheer value alone. It might have some noticeable technical hiccups, but it’s in a state that’s worth picking up if you can overlook those shortfalls.
Review copy provided by Koei Tecmo. Screenshots both taken by reviewer and provided by Koei Tecmo.