It would have been easy for the Atelier series to just stick with one alchemy system and trot it out for every new installment. And people would have probably been fine if Gust had chosen to keep the exact same alchemy system for all the games in each of the franchise’s subseries.
But as we’ve seen numerous times by this point, that isn’t how Gust does things. Gust likes to experiment, refine, reinvent and occasionally revisit past ideas, all in the name of providing an interesting and varied experience — say, for anyone undertaking some sort of ridiculous mission like playing all of the Atelier games one after another.
Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea is one of those installments where Gust decided to reinvent the alchemy mechanics, rather than refining the systems we’d previously seen in Atelier Escha & Logy and Atelier Ayesha. And it presents us with an interesting new angle to this aspect of gameplay.
Much as the overall structure of Atelier Shallie draws somewhat from the PlayStation 2-era Atelier games, so too does its alchemy system. Specifically, it takes some cues from the excellent Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy in that both the elemental affinities of your ingredients and the order in which you add them to your recipe are much more important than in some other installments.
Atelier Shallie starts things off simply with a basic form of the fundamental system the series has always been based on: get recipe, get ingredients, combine ingredients for new item. But as your chosen protagonist levels up in alchemy — which happens at a much quicker rate than in some previous games, since the cap is now level 99, not 50 — they will learn various skills that allow them to influence the crafting process. And on top of that, their Cost Point limit increases, allowing them to use higher-quality, more complex ingredients and thus, in theory, produce better items.
So far, so Atelier Ayesha and Atelier Escha & Logy, you might think, but no. While in Atelier Ayesha you spent Cost Points to use skills as part of the alchemy process, and in Atelier Escha & Logy you could use accumulated elemental skill points to have various effects as you progressed through the synthesis process, in Atelier Shallie skills are things that you attach to your ingredients as part of the preparation process, then once you’re prepared, you run the synthesis and enjoy the results.
To put it another way, while Atelier Ayesha and Atelier Escha & Logy took something of a “turn-based” approach, where you’d add each ingredient and use each skill one at a time, in Atelier Shallie you lay down all the “cards” that represent your ingredients in a row, attach skills to them as you see fit (and depending on how many skill slots each card has), decide whether that’s the optimal arrangement, and then the whole synthesis happens in one go when you’re good and ready.
It’s not just a case of picking what you think is the best skill for the job, however; like in Atelier Escha & Logy, skills have one of four elemental affinities. Here, though, rather than building up elemental skill points to spend on these skills, you simply need at least one ingredient with an affinity for the skills’ elements in order to unlock those skills for use in that particular synthesis session. For example, if you want to make use of the Earth-attuned skills, which mostly affect the power and quality of the final item, you need at least one ingredient that carries the Earth attribute.
This would be relatively straightforward were it not for the fact you’re also juggling this with the system from Atelier Ayesha and Atelier Escha & Logy where the total strength of your ingredients’ elemental affinities affects the properties that will be added to the final item. To return to the above example, putting in an ingredient with a strong Earth attribute will unlock the Earth skills for you to use in that particular synthesis, but if the final item only adds new properties from the Fire and Water elements, it might be worth considering if you really need those Earth skills, or if you can replace them with an alternative ingredient.
Each element’s skills have a particular “theme” to them, and getting to know these is essential to getting the most out of Atelier Shallie’s alchemy system.
Fire skills, for the most part, have a direct effect on the strength of an ingredient’s elemental attribute. Let’s say you’re making a healing item and you know that strengthening its Water attribute will increase its effectiveness — but with the ingredients you have on hand, the Water value of your recipe is coming up a few points short of where it should be. By using one of the Fire skills — exactly which one depends on context — you can buff up that elemental attribute a bit higher, hopefully to a point where you’ll get a new effect on your final item.
Since each skill can only be used once, there are a few different skills that have the same basic function but with some different considerations. The most basic Fire skill, for example, simply increases the elemental attributes of an ingredient, no questions asked. Then there’s one that increases the elemental attributes of an ingredient based on how many slots for skills the ingredient has, one that increases the attributes more based on how early in the line of cards the ingredient is, and another based on how late the card is. And as your protagonists level up, these skills become more effective, resulting in bigger increases to attributes if you use them effectively.
Water skills also have an effect on elemental attributes but place a stronger focus on the order in which you add the ingredients. Most of the Water skills will only provide their bonuses if an ingredient is in a specific slot; the “Order 4” skill, for example, only functions if the ingredient is the fourth in the line of cards. And to make matters more complicated, the most powerful of these — the “Order 1” and “Order 4” skills — take up two skill slots on a card rather than just one, making it impossible to use them with certain ingredients.
You can likely already see how the order in which you add ingredients is very important in Atelier Shallie; fortunately, at any point during this preparation process, you can swap the cards around until they’re in the perfect order, and you’ll immediately see the effects on the final item before committing to the synthesis. This allows you to fiddle around with every possibility before resigning yourself to the fact that you’re just not quite good enough to make the perfect apple pie… yet.
Wind skills tend to have an impact on the final product in some way — one allows you to increase the number of items or the number of charges in a consumable item, for example. When working with the character Miruca to “Imbue” weapons and armour — similar to how Logy worked in Atelier Escha & Logy — the wind skills also tend to add useful additional abilities to the finished item, so they’re worth using if possible.
Finally, Earth skills, as we’ve previously seen, have an impact on the overall quality or effect power of the finished item; as you progress, you’ll be able to significantly increase the effectiveness of specific types of ingredient, as well as absorbing unneeded elemental attributes and converting them to effect power. This is similar to some of the Wind skills in Atelier Escha & Logy.
This is already quite a complex system that takes a bit of getting used to, but the game throws another wrinkle in the mix partway through the game called Chain. This is a value that gradually increases as you add more skills to the synthesis, with significant bonuses added if you 1) match the skill element to the element of an ingredient and 2) do this multiple times in succession.
By itself, the Chain value does absolutely nothing, but all of the elements have a Chain skill that allows you to increase that element’s attribute based on how big your Chain is — and there’s also a Chain skill that allows you to bump up the final product’s quality and effect based on how long the Chain is, too.
The nice thing about Atelier Shallie is that while all this might look rather overwhelming and incredibly complex on paper — and it kind of is — the game takes great pains not to overwhelm the player all in one go. At the outset of the game, all you need to do is find the right ingredients and bung everything in the pot; skills are introduced slowly and gradually as your protagonist gains alchemy levels, and Chains don’t come until relatively late in the game. By that point, you should be comfortable with everything that has come before, though — as well as confident enough to experiment a bit with the mechanics and see what happens.
In this way, Atelier Shallie’s alchemy mechanics tie in quite nicely with a recurring narrative theme throughout the Dusk series, which is that the best alchemists are the ones who seek the truth for themselves rather than waiting for it to be spoon-fed to them. Atelier Shallie’s alchemy system is designed with this in mind; it provides you with the information you need to know in order to use the alchemy system, but making the best use of it is up to you to figure out for yourself through experimentation, trial and error.
And the good thing is that because this alchemy system places such an emphasis on preparation before committing to anything, you can experiment to your heart’s content with elemental attributes, skills, Chains and any combination thereof until you’re completely satisfied that your final item will be the best it possibly can be. You won’t lose anything until you hit that all-important “This is OK” button — and you’ll doubtless learn pretty early on that you shouldn’t hit that button until you’re good and ready!
While the seeming complexity of Atelier Shallie’s alchemy system combined with how different it is from the previous two Dusk games has proven a little offputting to some players over the years, it’s definitely an interesting twist on the usual formula that works well — and, much like the rest of Atelier Shallie, combines brand new elements with influences from the series’ history to create something unique to this particular installment.
The same can be said of the combat and exploration mechanics, too — so that’s what we’ll be looking at next!
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