I have not played an Atelier game since Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana back on the Playstation 2. I absolutely loved that game and how it blended combat and your interactions with objects in the game world. You could extract mana from that barrel sitting in the corner of town and use it to make an item to damage enemies or heal your party! I went into Atelier Sophie with somewhat high expectations, having loved Atelier Iris, and knowing that the series itself turned out to be fairly long.
Atelier Sophie revolves almost entirely around Alchemy and the crafting of different items. Sophie is a fledgling alchemist who has inherited a lot of things from her late grandmother, who was her village’s premiere alchemist. She made a lot of medicine for the townsfolk and was beloved by all. However, Sophie is very different from her grandmother in that she is somewhat of a ditz and very carefree. She is, however, quite dedicated (maybe even obsessed) to learning alchemy to help people. This is basically her entire character, and therein lies my first issue with this game. The characters are very bland and oftentimes one dimensional.
Another playable character, Oskar, is so focused on plants and botany that this is literally all he talks about. He also looks like he might have been Shovel Knight in his younger years (Haha!). By far the most interesting character is the book, Plachta. Plachta is a special book with a will of her own. Plachta can fly and talk to Sophie and her friends, and tells them that she has lost her memory. This is the entire point of the Atelier Sophie: restoring Plachta’s memories. This is done by gathering materials, crafting items, and writing recipes into Plachta’s blank pages. Each time a recipe is written, a small portion of her memories return.
Speaking of characters, in my time playing…in the main town a new character was introduced almost constantly. Leave Sophie’s house? New character! Go to the cafe to pick up quests? Three new characters! Go explore outside of town then return to drop off your spoils? Two new characters! I felt like every time I transitioned to an area I was having a new character thrown at me. This slowed down the pacing of the game, and it’s already slow enough. Many of these characters were not interesting or important enough to warrant such an intro, but they’re there anyway.
There are three things you’ll be doing a lot of in Atelier Sophie: gathering materials, crafting items, and fighting monsters. Here’s where I thought I might be dragged into the game further, but sadly I was a tad disappointed. Materials are EASILY found and are EVERYWHERE outside of town. There is no challenge to finding them whatsoever, which I would have enjoyed a bit more. Several quests or battles could have been designed around this, but during what time I could play before getting utterly bored, I did not run into such things. Crafting is a little better, but ultimately is very simple. Each item has a recipe, and many portions of the recipe can be filled with many materials. Some recipes call for very specific items, but these recipes are very few and far in between, until much later in the game. By then nearly every item requires a specific material and there is less freedom to fill in the blanks yourself.
Battles are very simple, and often just boring diversions. You can attack, use skills, use items, or swap “stances”. There are also Offensive and Defensive Stances, but there isn’t much to them until you get more characters later in the game. In the beginning, just choose Defensive Stance if you need to soak a big attack; otherwise stay in Offensive. The bar on the left shows turn orders and it also gives a hint at what monsters will do when their turns come up. The maximum level in this game is 20, and once you have completed some quests you will have access to a few other characters to add to your party roster. The special thing about these new characters is that they each bring something different to battle. For example, each character can use certain types of items. Oskar can use food items in addition to attack and recovery items, but Monika can use many types of food items due to sharing sweets with Sophie frequently. These new characters also have different traits depending on which Stance they choose in battle.
Overall, I didn’t really notice any problems performance-wise. Frame rate was really steady, holding at acceptable levels of 60+ and rarely ever dropping lower. No random bugs or crashes, no hangups or stuttering. There are quite a few video and audio options in the pre-game launcher, so make sure you configure things to your liking before playing. All of my playtime was with a controller, and the default control scheme was quite good. I didn’t feel the need to tweak it whatsoever.
Absolutely gorgeous. That’s the perfect way to describe how Atelier Sophie looks. It’s very bright, vibrant, and colorful. Every character has a great design, and their animations are very well done. This is probably my favorite aspect of the game. Towns and fields are very pretty, although field locations can be quite small and empty. You’ll see monsters running around and material gathering points, but otherwise many areas are very bland. Many of the early areas are just tiny ones…you see the entire area at a glance. Later on, these areas will have caves and such to expand them. They still look nice, despite their shortcomings.
Most music in the game is very simple. None of the tunes are complex or engaging to me, not even the battle music. It isn’t very gripping or gets you in the mood to fight, and I feel like that’s a big downside for me. I hold the belief that a LOT of the game can be influenced by it’s music. Mood and tone, direction and pacing…all of which can be affected by the music. Sadly, Atelier Sophie flounders in this area. The only theme I really liked was the main town theme. It’s upbeat and catchy, and very well sets the mood of being in town. However, the game will allow you to setup playlists for different situations: battles, bosses, towns, and more. You can even select music from earlier Atelier titles.
Despite its many shortcomings, I feel like it’s still a decent RPG. Not quite as great as the predecessors I had played years back, but still has some merit to it. While it might not be to my tastes, it might be someone else’s alley for sure. It’s definitely a slower, more casual paced RPG. It has some interesting systems in place, but they just aren’t complex enough for me.