Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea – A Socratic Paradox

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And so it is that we come to the end of one of the most beloved subseries in the entire history of Atelier. Every Atelier fan has their favourite installments, but it seems everyone has a lot of time for the Dusk series as a whole.

With that in mind, it seems fitting to bid farewell to this part of the series with a look at how Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea wraps things up after your second playthrough — and what all this has meant for our journey as a whole.

After that, it’s time to explore brave — some might say Mysterious — new frontiers, but that’s a story for another day!

As we’ve previously discussed, the main contrast between the two protagonists Shallotte and Shallistera is the angle from which they approach the core narrative of Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea. Shallistera approaches as an outsider who is trying to solve a problem that is affecting her home village; Shallotte is someone who has simply been floating through life without any real aim, but who is eventually inspired to explore and develop her own talents after meeting Shallistera.

It is the connection the two of them develop with one another — including the section partway through the game where that connection seems to be at risk — that allows them to get things done, and ultimately make a positive change for the region in which they live.

A recurring theme throughout the Atelier series as a whole is that people have connections with one another, and that no-one truly does their thing in complete isolation. This was most clearly demonstrated in Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk, where Ayesha met people from all over her little part of the world who had surprising links with each other — including herself — but it’s also a key part of Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea.

As you might expect for an installment that attempts to wrap up the Dusk trilogy as a whole, Atelier Shallie brings together a significant number of characters from earlier in the series in order to help us reach a certain amount of closure — or at the very least, to make us feel happy and comfortable about leaving them behind to continue their lives without our intervention.

This actually raises an interesting point about many of the Atelier games we’ve seen to date, particularly from Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland onwards: the fact that, while the story of the game comes to an end, we never really feel like the overall story of the setting and characters is “finished”. It feels like they will continue living their lives without us, and that they will have further challenges ahead of them.

This isn’t to say that there’s no sense of satisfying finality about these games, mind; it’s simply testament to how well-established these characters and settings are by the time their respective games reach their conclusions that we can imagine how life might proceed for them from thereon. And, from a business perspective, it also allows Gust the freedom to return to their most popular settings for further adventures if they see fit — as we’ve already seen them do once with Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland.

With this in mind, it’s not really a spoiler to note that although there’s a pleasing sense of a job well done by the time you beat Atelier Shallie with both characters, the actions taken by our alchemists and their friends aren’t enough to magically solve the world’s problems overnight.

Fixing one malfunctioning water supply, which is what Atelier Shallie’s finale sequence essentially boils down to, won’t suddenly make the Dusk go away — particularly as it’s established throughout Atelier Shallie in particular that the Dusk itself is evidence of the long-term consequences of humanity not paying sufficient respect to the planet on which they live. But it is an important symbol of hope; it’s a sign that humanity doesn’t have to just settle down and make peace with the fact that the world is coming to an end — every member of humanity can, if they choose, take their own personal, individual steps to try and take things in a better direction for everyone.

And that includes alchemists, who are better equipped than anyone to learn from the mistakes of the past and apply those lessons to modern life. Indeed, this concept is explored through a number of different characters over the course of the series as a whole, many of whom have their own moments of clarity throughout Atelier Shallie as a whole.

One of the most potent examples of this that we’ve already seen is Keithgriff, a character who has been around since Atelier Ayesha and who, in that game’s canonical ending, accepted Ayesha as his apprentice, believing her to have proven herself to be someone keen to seek knowledge and understanding — and, crucially, to ensure that knowledge is not used for selfish gain or hubris.

Keithgriff is initially presented as a somewhat antagonistic figure towards Ayesha — indeed, he absolutely beats the shit out of her and her party in one memorable boss fight in her own game. He has grown to despise humanity, and believes that the organisation known as Central — which we never actually see in its entirety throughout the entire Dusk series — is sending the world on a crash course to ruin by following almost the exact same path as an ancient civilisation did.

Keithgriff’s initial response is to lash out at those who he believes to be “unworthy” of wielding the alchemical knowledge of the past, and even threatens Ayesha with this. As Ayesha demonstrates herself to not only have a desire to save her sister Nio from captivity at the hands of a creation from the ancient civilisation, but also to understand how and why this happened, however, Keithgriff softens somewhat.

We don’t see Keithgriff and Ayesha at all in Atelier Escha & Logy, but we do hear from Nio that the pair of them are wanted criminals, since Keithgriff is still a fugitive for his destruction of alchemical equipment and relics in Central, while Ayesha supposedly destroyed some ancient ruins.

Were you to come at Atelier Escha & Logy in isolation, you could easily think these were unforgivable crimes in an age fascinated with archaeology and rediscovering “lost” knowledge; if you spent the entire length of Atelier Ayesha getting to know our beautiful herbalist of Dusk, however, you know that Ayesha doesn’t have a malicious bone in her body, and as such could not have possibly destroyed those ruins deliberately. Indeed, in Atelier Shallie, when we finally get the opportunity to catch up with Ayesha, we learn that her destruction of the ruins was a consequence of simple curiosity; she forced a door open to see what was beyond, and that happened to bring the whole place tumbling down.

Ayesha and Keithgriff might seem like an odd pairing — particularly given that Atelier Shallie makes some strong (albeit never fully confirmed) implications that there might be some sort of romantic interest between the pair of them — but the more we have the opportunity to get to know both of them, the more it makes sense. Both of them are seekers of knowledge; both of them want to understand the truth of the world; both of them are aware that alchemy can be used to harm, heal and, perhaps most importantly, develop our understanding of the world.

The reason Keithgriff plays such an important part in the latter hours of Atelier Shallie is because, by this point, all the other major characters have also demonstrated a clear thirst for knowledge and understanding. They want to know the truth behind the Dusk; they want to know if there’s anything they can do to stop it; and they want to know what can be done in the short term to deal with the problems that are starting to arise in even the most seemingly blessed parts of the world, such as the “water city” of Stellard.

A recurring theme in Atelier Shallie is the Socratic paradox — the phrase “I know that I know nothing”. Indeed, several characters actually state this outright over the course of the narrative, including towards the very end of the game as a whole. This also ties in with another Socratic dictum: “the unexamined life is not worth living”, which we see a number of characters paying tribute to over the course of Atelier Shallie’s narrative as a whole.

One of the most interesting examples in this regard is the character Solle, who was positioned in Atelier Escha & Logy as being the representative example of how corporate culture is inevitably more concerned with filling out forms and following proper policy and procedure than actually getting anything done. Since his arrival in Stellard prior to the narrative of Atelier Shallie getting underway, however, it’s clear that Solle has undergone some changes.

Over the course of Atelier Escha & Logy, Escha in particular demonstrates that a chaotic joie de vivre and disregard for rules and regulations can get things done just as well as if you are dotting every I and crossing every T.

Solle would never admit this, but he is inspired by how Escha manages to bring people together and encourage them to do their best; ultimately, it’s Escha who manages to help Logy work through his own despair at his past failures, and that, in turn, allows him to use his knowledge to help the city of Colseit build a powerful airship and solve a longstanding mystery.

Solle can’t help but take notice of all this. And so while the Solle we see in Atelier Shallie still likes to do things “properly”, there are a few notable changes about his personality.

Firstly, he’s much more willing to admit when he is stressed out by his perpetually increasing workload, and that he uses his sweets-making skills as a means of unwinding. In one memorable scene, he even expresses frustration at the fact his paperwork seems to be never-ending, and that he is gradually becoming surrounded by the same enormous stacks of papers we saw in Marion’s office in Atelier Escha & Logy.

Secondly, he openly admits that his accepting an assignment in Stellard is as much to indulge his own curiosity and desire to do something about the Dusk as it is about progressing his career. An unexamined life is not worth living, after all; by being chained to a desk in Colseit, he would never have the opportunity to answer the questions rattling around his head, and so when he had the opportunity to step out and examine his life, he took it.

Thirdly, he acknowledges his own limitations; in many ways, he was one of the most powerful characters in Colseit’s branch of the Central government thanks to the fact that he had his hand on the purse-strings, and that could have easily led him to complacency and arrogance. By the time he’s finished seeing what Escha and Logy are capable of, however, he has no choice but to conclude that he knows that he knows nothing, and as such is best off deferring to the knowledge of those in a better position to uncover the truth than he is.

Which, of course, brings us to the two Shallies. The pair of them are young, energetic, passionate about accomplishing their own respective goals — even if Shallotte’s goals are fairly ill-defined for much of the narrative — and keen to prove themselves as people who can help in some way.

That form of “help” that they provide takes a variety of different forms over the course of the narrative as a whole. Initially, Shallotte helps keep the city of Stellard clean by sweeping up trash. Shallistera wants to help her village by discovering a means of solving the water crisis. Shallotte helps Wilbell feel at ease when she has a crisis of confidence over making a contract with the furious Lord of Water. Shallistera helps Shallotte’s mother by making her medicine, even knowing that she and Shallotte have been fighting. The pair of them help the region as a whole by getting to the bottom of the mystery surrounding the water situation.

And, in the game’s “true” ending, the pair of them help one another stand up to the Dusk with renewed courage — and the knowledge that they will never give up while they stand alongside each other. The pair of them represent the way in which humanity might be able to find their way out of the Dusk crisis intact: by acknowledging that they know nothing, and by examining their lives while they still have the opportunity to live them.

Where the Dusk setting ends up after the events of Atelier Shallie remains to be seen at the time of writing — but with all the alchemists of Dusk continuing to work together and understand the world even as we leave them behind for now, I think it’s safe to say that it’s in good hands.

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