The Atelier series is well known for its long standing position in the JRPG market. It has continued to survive through several generations starting with the PS1 and has still managed to surprise and delight fans with each new entry in the series. Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is another brand new entry that welcomes new players to the series while also catering to the old ones.
Atelier Sophie has a relatively simple story that is not hard to follow. It features the game’s lead Sophie, who is an amateur Alchemist at the start of the game. Sophie soon discovers an old book in her home which belonged to her grandmother. After realizing that the book can speak, Sophie makes it her mission to retrieve the memories buried deep within the book. Sophie’s adventure starts after the discovery of this book as she has to find recipes in order to unlock the memories that are hidden deep within it.
The majority of the game is set in a town called Kirchen Bell. This is the main hub of the game where the players will be able to explore the town, interact with the NPCs and also get new sidequests. Since the book ‘Plachta’ requires Sophie to create and unlock new recipes, the majority of the time will be spent in discovering them. Sophie can get some ideas for a new Alchemy recipe from her surrounding locations or by fulfilling various requests given by the citizens of Kirchen Bell. The requirements for each of the recipes can be checked through the in-game encyclopedia, which makes most of them have a pre-defined set of instructions. This removes the experimental aspect of Alchemy, which was a prominent part of the past games in the series.
The world map simply has the player travelling back and forth between two different locations without much interaction in between them. Majority of the travelling is done for scavenging items or slaying certain monsters. Since the quests that are featured in the game are mostly fetch based quests, when we have to slay a certain number of monsters or locate a certain number of items, they can often end up feeling repetitive. The monsters and items in each location can vary depending on the time of day. This gives the player an incentive to revisit such locations even if they don’t pack many secrets.The other aspect that changes the way each location alters is based on the time that the player can spend at each location. If a large amount of time is spent, it can have an effect on the enemies and items.
As a JRPG that is more focused on exploration and Alchemy aspect, Atelier Sophie has a surprisingly polished combat. It features up to 4 party members in a battle and it is essentially a turn-based combat system at its core. Players can perform various commands using their party members by either attacking the enemy or defending themselves. The game utilizes a “stance” system for this part. The stance system is divided between “Attacking” or “Defending” and can be changed at any point in the battle. Depending on the stance that is selected, the support action executed by the team members is different. They will either attack the enemy or defend the player from further attacks. If a large attack is being executed, players are usually warned beforehand in battle so that they can be more defensive instead of offensive.
Despite having a combat system, the core of the game still revolves around the exploration and Alchemy aspect. Sophie has to find recipes to progress throughout the game and this in turn unlocks items that can be used in battle. The alchemy is pretty straight forward to develop. It requires a certain amount of items and all we have to do is select these items in the order required by the recipe. The developers have then added an extra layer to the Alchemy by making the players drop down these items on a tiled grid-like surface. Each of the recipe item is represent by a set of grids on this surface and depending on how they fit the recipe items on these tiles, the end Alchemy product will have improved attributes or different characteristics.
Despite being a PS4 game, it doesn’t really look that demanding graphics wise. The environments of the game are the one that suffer the most as they look very bland and desolate from the rest of the game. Fortunately the main character models are well made and they look really good. The art style meshes well with the aesthetics in the game but the environment and surrounding could have been improved with a little more attention.
Atelier Sophie is a fun entry in the Atelier series that takes the concept of Alchemy and exploration to one step further. It is a nice entry point for newcomers and fans alike, especially those who want experience the series for the first time. The game features a simple story that is full of colorful characters. Despite having a major focus on exploration, the game has a rewarding combat system.
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is now available for the PS4 and PS Vita. It was developed by Gust Co. and published by Koei Tecmo. This review covers the PS4 version of the game.