Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book (PS4) Review
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is the 17th game in the primary Atelier series, and the start of a new setting after Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea concludes the Dusk installment series. It maintains many of the franchise's long-standing traditions but it also finds room to try new and notable things. Developer Gust takes more chances to shake things up, and it pays off. It compliment's the series' best parts (like the alchemy system) and supports the weaker aspects of the formula.
The plot of Atelier Sophie revolves around a young novice alchemist, Sophie Neuenmuller. She is an orphan who inherited her atelier and alchemy skills from her grandmother, who was well-known by the people of her hometown in Kirchen Bell. Sophie soon discovers she owns an enigmatic book imbued with a soul. The amnesiac book introduces herself as “Plachta,” and as Sophie writes down alchemy recipes, Plachta regains more of her lost memories. She also tells Sophie a legend of a cauldron that can grant amazing alchemical knowledge, although she doesn't remember all the details about it yet. Apart from beautiful, sparsely used anime-style cutscenes, Atelier Sophie's graphics do look a bit dated. Remember, the Atelier series has never really been known for it's graphical fidelity, but that didn't distract me from enjoying it.
Unfortunately, the story is pretty slow paced compared to some of the previous Atelier games. Most of the game is centered around Sophie and her friends and aside from the main story is a series of character side-quests, where Sophie will help and be helped by the various members of her party. These quests allow players to know more about each character while exploring all of Kirchen Bell. While some players may be turned off by this, I found the story to be more relaxing this time around as there was no emphasis on trying to save the world, just the life of a young alchemist looking to hone her skills in alchemy and helping a new friend.
Atelier Sophie’s core gameplay is it’s turn based combat. Sophie’s approach is both familiar and fresh, easy to get into and understand but actually quite dynamic and deep once you dig in. Your party consists of four members: one at the front, two mid-row characters, and Sophie in the back. Combat is now focused on using offensive and defensive stances. Turn order is displayed on the side of your screen allowing you to plan accordingly. You’re going to want to use defensive stance when an enemy has a powerful attack lined up to avoid the extra damage. Should you have the upper hand, especially if a turn is canceled out, the offensive stance will make quick work of the enemies. There is also support attacks/guards, where your party members will do a follow-up move or block an incoming attack once you chain enough attacks together. Combat is fast and flashy and I really enjoyed pulling off different support attacks with each character. The combat gets even more deeper when your support gauge fills up to 300% allowing your character to perform a signature special attack.
Atelier Sophie adds a new layer of depth to item synthesis that makes it even more fun thanks to a material placement system, which gives you more control over the quality of your recipes. When selecting your materials, you must place them into a grid in your cauldron; materials have different shapes and take up a different amount of tiles, making it very similar to a game of Tetris where you try to find the best possible way to place every ingredient. Material placement can determine how powerful your creations are, especially since overlapping ingredients cancel the surrounding bonuses. I really enjoyed figuring out the best method to give my item the best boosts and quality possible, feeling like I had more of a hand in the final product.
Creating items and traveling took entire days off the calendar in the previous games, but they can now be completed in hours. You can also play at your own pace without strict time restrictions on the main quest, which revolves around restoring Plachta’s memories. The new time system gave me a reason to explore more, since I didn’t have to rush to complete any task thrown my way. One thing I did not enjoy was the Life-Point (LP) system. Atelier Sophie introduces a fatigue-based LP system, which can weaken attacks when a character has spent too much time adventuring, gathering materials, and/or fighting without resting (returning to the atelier). There are a lot of reasons to keep playing, too. Atelier Sophie took me 25 hours to beat, but I could have easily tacked on 15 or 20 more hours to that if I went back to finishing all the character stories and secret bosses, unlocking every alchemy recipe and earning all the PSN Trophies.
The Atelier series has a long history, and some of the games in particular - Totori, Meruru, Escha or Shallie - hold a special place in my heart. Atelier Sophie isn’t better than any of those entries in my estimation, but is a worthy addition to the primary Atelier franchise. Sophie’s ability to nurture Ateliers’ traditions while adding its own flavor to the mix is perhaps its greatest strength. Although the game does suffer from it’s occasionally slow paced story, and a subpar graphical look, it’s weakness are overwhelmed by its complex systems, fun combat, fun side stories, and compelling party of characters.
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is a must-play for Atelier fans and JRPG fanatics alike.
- -Beautiful Anime Art
- -Fun Combat
- -New alchemy system
- -Slow paced story
- -LP system
Review copy courtesy of Koei Tecmo America