Title: Atelier Sophie -
Platform: PS3, PS4, PS Vita
Reviewed on: PS4
Players: Single player
Written by Dragoon 17th July 2016
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book by developer Gust is the Atelier series first foray on to the Playstation 4. It’s also the start of a new story after the previous trilogy so it should be a great starting point for newcomers to the series to dip their feet and test the waters. I had a great time with the previous game Atelier Shallie which I reviewed last year but is there enough new content here for those returning to the series like me? Or is it a case of the same old recipe that has gone a little stale at this point?
The game tells the story of a young girl named Sophie who lives in the quiet town of Kirchin Bell. After her Grandma passed away Sophie took up the mantle of the towns alchemist, although she wasn’t very good at it. The titular mysterious book turned out to be a magical flying book that can talk named Plachta, we soon find out that she doesn’t remember who or what she is but she does have some knowledge of alchemy. Together with her friends, Sophie sets out on a quest to help Plachta regain her memories while improving her alchemy along the way.
As is the series norm, Atelier Sophie is a very light-
Gameplay consists of two distinct sections. The first is Sophie’s town life where she conducts her alchemy to fulfil the requests of the townspeople and improve her skills. The alchemy system this time has been given a little shake up but it’s essentially the same at its core. You use the materials you have gathered to create a new item from a recipe, these items can be anything from bombs to help you in battle to biscuits to have with tea. While this is the same as it’s always been there’s now a new mechanic that helps make alchemy a little more interesting.
The new mechanic is the implementation of the cauldron, previously you would just select your materials and the item would pop out. This time you are taken to a grid, almost similar to the inventory system used in Resident Evil 4, and tasked with slotting the materials in. Each square on the grid corresponds to one of four colors and the same goes for the materials themselves which also have a unique shape. If you match an item color to a square color you get a boost to that materials properties which in turn increases the potency of the end result. It makes alchemy a little more involved but it also drags out the whole process, one irritating issue is that you can’t increase the amount of an item you make, meaning if you have a request to create ten of something you have to go through the process ten different times which is needlessly tedious.
An important part of Sophie’s town life is interacting with the various people in the town itself. As you wander around you meet new people and get to learn a little more about them and the town. Different events happen at different times of the day and week so it always pays to walk around to hunt them down. Some of these events are just fun little interactions while others unlock new stores to help you out. You can also take on requests and listen to local rumors at the town's bar/café. These little scenes are what make the Atelier games feel alive, their just pure fun and make you want to explore and meet people. There are also some fun little references and cameos for fans of the series which I greatly appreciated.
To unlock the next story chapter you have to complete a certain number of these requests or discover new recipes for alchemy. There’s no time limit like past games in the series so you can take the game at your own pace and having the freedom to choose how and when you progress is always nice. There’s no stress and no need to rush your way through. While some may not like this system it’s always been a nice feature for myself, although it can be a little too slow to progress at times. Like I said before this game definitely isn’t for people who want a story to constantly drive them forward.
The second section of the game focuses on combat and gathering. Sophie and her friends can go out to various gathering fields to gather new materials and fight the monsters that inhabit them. You unlock new fields as you progress the story and each offers a unique setting with different items and monsters. Combat in Atelier Sophie is a pretty generic affair, anyone who’s played a JRPG in the last ten years will recognise the simple turn based combat system. The main feature of the system is the support gauge that when full allows your companions to follow up on an attack or defend you depending on what stance they are in. The two stances are Offensive and Defensive which can be switched at any point for each character but it’s largely inconsequential, I got by just fine leaving everyone on the same stance. The combat is a step down from the great system they had in place in the last few games in the series, it just doesn’t make sense that Gust would strip it down. I guess they were trying to make it more accessible but it just ends up being a tad dull.
Atelier Sophie utilises the same celshaded anime style that Gust have used in most of their games which have always looked great and this is no exception, while it may not be making full use of the PS4s graphical power it's still a pleasure to look at. The character designs are also fantastic, everyone looks unique and they all feel like they were taken straight out of a children's book. The environments are bright and colourful and while some are a little bland, mostly the starting fields, the rest are full of life and beautiful to run about in. The voice acting in the game is fantastic in both English and Japanese, having the option to switch between them is a welcome addition. Where the game falls flat is the soundtrack, usually Gust deliver an excellent and memorable selection but this time around this is sadly not the case. It’s all just so generic and forgettable, it’s nothing bad but it’s disappointing when you compare it to the soundtracks from other entries in the series. Luckily all the tracks from Atelier Sophie are available to switch in which is a fantastic feature to have.
Overall Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is a great starting point for newcomers to the series. While it may not offer much in the way of new content for series veterans it’s still a good Atelier game at it’s core. It’s bright and full of life, offering a lighthearted adventure for those who want something they can just switch off to and enjoy. With good JRPGs being hard to find on the PS4 at the moment I’d highly recommend fans of the genre and those who are looking for something genuinely fun give it a go, you won't be disappointed.
Bright and colourful graphics,
Classic Atelier gameplay,
Great cast of characters.
Dull combat system,
It may not be a perfect start for the series on PS4 but it’s still a great Atelier game, Atelier Sophie mixes together to form a 7/10