Over the course of the Atelier series as a whole, we’ve seen Gust take on the challenge of making a meaningful New Game Plus experience several times.
In a lot of role-playing games, a New Game Plus is primarily a means of enjoying the game’s story again without having to worry too much about mechanics; in some cases there are powerful enemies or additional challenges not seen on a first playthrough, but more often than not New Game Plus is a fun extra that not everyone feels the need to take advantage of in order to feel like they’ve “beaten” the game.
In Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea, however, much like Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky and Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy before it, there’s great value in taking the time to play through the game with both its main protagonists — and this time around we have one of the most solidly implemented New Game Plus systems the series has seen to date.
As we’ve previously discussed, Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea features two main characters, both known by the nickname Shallie. Up until now, we’ve focused on exploring the narrative of Shallistera, a character who comes into Atelier Shallie’s main setting as something of an outsider — and in a manner that causes a certain amount of resentment among the locals.
Pick Shallotte as your leading lady, however, and the experience is markedly different right from the very beginning of the game — rather than coming into the game’s main city of Stellard as an outsider, Shallotte is a local. She knows and loves the city of Stellard, she’s well-known among the people around town and, unlike Shallistera, doesn’t have a solid goal in mind for her life — beyond figuring out who she is, what she’s good at and, indeed, what she actually wants to spend her life doing.
In terms of concept, this setup is quite similar to how Atelier Escha & Logy had Logy come into the city of Colseit as an outsider while Escha was the local, but the execution is rather different here. While in Atelier Escha & Logy, both Escha and Logy were working together from the very outset — Logy’s arrival in the city and assignment to work alongside Escha was one of the first events in the game — in Atelier Shallie, the first half of the game is completely different for both protagonists.
The pair of them occasionally cross one another’s paths in the early game, but it’s not until the major “Sand Dragon” battle that the two “officially” come together and decide to cooperate with one another. This means that two separate playthroughs give us a very different sense of context and setup for the narrative as a whole, immediately making the New Game Plus run feel worthwhile, regardless of which order you decided to tackle the two heroines’ stories in. Those early chapters aren’t throwaway fluff, either; in each playthrough, we’re given a good opportunity to get to know our chosen heroine, what sort of person they are and their motivations — however vaguely defined they might be.
Even once the two Shallies have come together, though, we’re not just retreading the same steps. Like in Atelier Escha & Logy, our chosen protagonist informs whose “thoughts” we get to hear during critical scenes, as well as witnessing certain narrative events unfolding from a particular perspective or context. And notably, there are still times when the two Shallies choose to do things separately due to their own distinct priorities; Shallistera is constantly seeking a solution to her home village’s drought problem, while Shallotte spends a lot of time hanging out with her friends in an attempt to figure out exactly what it is she wants to do with her life.
A scene partway through the game where Shallistera and Shallotte have a disagreement over what they should do in order to proceed onwards is a good example of this. Their argument turns so heated that they decide to split up from one another and seek their own solutions; this comes shortly around the time of some revelations about Shallotte’s mother being sick with an incurable heart disease, so it’s a time of high emotion already.
During this period of the story, we get to see how the two heroines approach a crisis like this, according to how “close” they are to it. Shallotte is, as you might expect, devastated by the news that the mother she has always loved and relied on might not be around for as long as she would hope for, and as such spends quite some time panicking, being depressed and seeking comfort from her friends. Shallistera, meanwhile, feeling bad about the pair’s argument, decides to seek the counsel of Ayesha and Keithgriff, ultimately coming up with a medicine that, while it doesn’t cure Shallotte’s mother, it certainly helps her out considerably.
In this sense, the game is highlighting the fact that both Shallistera and Shallotte are two very different people, despite the couple of things they have in common: the fact that they are both known as “Shallie”, and that they are both alchemists. Of course, we, the audience, are already well aware of this, but it seems like both Shallistera and Shallotte haven’t really thought about this — as often tends to happen when you suddenly develop a new relationship that seems to be just a little too perfect.
“I met a girl with the same name in a city I didn’t know,” says Shallistera. “I felt like the heroine of some storybook. That’s why I misunderstood. I thought we were special. I thought there was no way we could ever disagree with each other. But that wasn’t the case. We just happened to get along, and didn’t try to get to know each other more deeply. We aren’t special, we’re just normal girls.”
From this point on, we can tell that Shallistera and Shallotte have learned to stop taking one another for granted — and to stop thinking of each other as this amorphous blob of “Shallie-ness”. To that end, after these events transpire, they take to calling one another by the latter parts of their names — the parts that contrast from one another — rather than the thing they have in common. Shallie and Shallie become Stera and Lotte.
Neither of them make a big deal about doing this, but they both start to do it around the same time — and it sticks for the rest of the game. It’s a poignant moment in narrative terms, and also helps to reinforce the fact that our two playthroughs are contrasting and worthwhile.
So that takes care of the narrative side of things so far as a second playthrough of Atelier Shallie is concerned — but what about mechanics? New Game Plus runs of many games almost inevitably see players being overpowered for their entire run, making most of the mechanical content of the game trivial, even meaningless at times. Is that the case here?
Well, it can be if you want it to be — but interestingly, this time around Gust chose to include a new difficulty level that unlocks after you clear your first playthrough. Offering a middle ground between the “Game Fan” mode recommended for most players to start with and the extremely tough “NO HOPE” level, “Despair” difficulty is specifically marked as being intended for second playthroughs. Monsters are made tougher, but not unreasonably so, and rewards of money and experience points are considerably increased.
This means that even if you kitted yourself out with the best possible gear and consumable items at the end of your first run, monsters will still put up a fight for most of the game, making your New Game Plus run feel meaningful from a mechanical perspective as well as with regards to the narrative.
And of course you can carry certain things over from one run to the next. As in past Atelier games, all the equipment you had on playable characters carries over to a second playthrough, as does the amount of money you had at the time you cleared the game — and, notably, the consumable items you had equipped. This latter part is a big deal, as it means that both Stera and Lotte are able to use immensely powerful items from the very beginning of the game — which, as you might expect, is extremely helpful when it comes to Despair difficulty.
There’s one other notable thing that carries over from your first playthrough, too, and that’s the Growth Point system points you earned first time around. These are points gained for every level you achieve beyond 40, and can be spent on either flat increases to base stats or enhancements to skills and resistances. You still need to hit level 40 in your second playthrough to be able to use these carried-over points, but they make a huge difference when you are suddenly able to use a huge chunk of them in one go — and this mechanic alone makes a strong argument for taking the time to grind your characters up to the level cap first time around if you have the patience to do so.
Through these mechanics, it’s theoretically possible to become immensely powerful across multiple Atelier Shallie playthroughs — and in doing so be able to tackle the higher difficulty levels with even greater ease. This is by no means an obligation for those who have no interest in doing so, however; if you just want to see the other heroine’s story and don’t care about besting powerful foes, there’s nothing stopping you whacking the difficulty down to the easy “Story Watcher” level for your second run, even.
It’s a nice, flexible approach that means a second playthrough of the game always feels rewarding, whether your primary interest in running through again is from a mechanical or narrative perspective — or indeed both. And, of course, that second playthrough provides the opportunity to see a conclusive, final “True” ending for the game, too — but we’ll talk a little more about that next time as we wrap up our time with this substantial installment in the Atelier series.
Until then, be kind to your friendly local alchemist, regardless of their origin; you never know when you might need them!
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