Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is a turn based role playing game developed by Gust and published in North America by Koei Tecmo. The game is available for PS4 and Vita, but this review is for the PS4 version. It is the 17th main title in the series and although I tried one of the previous entries, I was turned off by the time limit system. Since that system was removed for this title, I figured it would be safe to try the series again.
There is something of a main story in Atelier Sophie, but there is not much to it and what is there is not especially interesting. The game begins with Sophie meeting a sentient book with amnesia named Plachta and the majority of the plot revolves around restoring Plachta’s memories. A villain is revealed late in the game, but it just feels like they were included so that the game could have a big battle at the end.
The method of progressing through the main story is a bit unusual for the genre. Main story events are tied to certain alchemy recipes which have a variety of unlock conditions with different repeatable tasks offering different quantities of completion percentage. This gives the player options in regards to how they want to go about moving on in the story. Killing ordinary monsters may raise the completion rate by a certain amount, but defeating a specific optional boss may unlock the recipe in one go and you might also have the option of buying items from shops over and over until gauge eventually fills.
While the main story is not particularly impressive, much of the game’s runtime is spent learning more about the stories of individual characters. These stories also do not have much substance to them and are arguably boring. Still, the characters themselves are interesting and this makes interacting with them and learning more about them fun even when the end results are just predictable clichés. It also helps that the tone of the game is pretty upbeat and the happiness of its characters can be infectious.
Graphics alone do not make a game good, but honestly it is the visuals that put Atelier Sophie on my radar and made me want to give the series another try. The colour scheme for each character is pleasant to look at and the outfit designs suit each character well. Sophie’s large, thick coat offers sufficient protection from the elements while out gathering materials and has large bags attached for storing items – it is a very practical piece of apparel, but the blue also works nicely paired with the red accents provided by her hair and dress, so it looks nice as well. Harol defines himself as a business owner and so he dresses in a formal manner, but the muted colours also work to accentuate his antisocial nature.
As far as actual technical quality goes, everything looks nice in the PS4 version. The game runs at 60 frames per second at 1080p and if there were ever any framerate drops, I did not notice them.
One interesting feature that helps set Atelier Sophie apart is the option to make your own playlists out of the in-game music. You can take a selection of your favorite fast-paced songs and assign them to play during battles with strong enemies, then use more relaxed songs for battles with lesser enemies and others for exploration at different times of day. Furthermore, the game gives you access to songs original to Atelier Sophie as well as tracks from Atelier Shallie and there is DLC for even more Gust developed titles. I would say that the music is pretty good overall, but then I only ever listened to songs I wanted to hear.
The cast for the English dub all fit their roles and many delivered some surprisingly good performances making the voiced conversations a highlight of the game. However, not every conversation is voiced and even many that were voiced in Japanese were not voiced in English. The mouths move, but nothing comes out. For those that want it, the original Japanese voice acting is included.
Aside from the conversations that were not dubbed in English, there were no issues with the audio.
Ultimately, Atelier Sophie is a game about achieving goals. Whether it is advancing a character’s storyline, performing a task needed to unlock a recipe, or finishing a sub-quest before the time limit is up, there are plenty of things to strive for. In fact, there are so many things to do that once you accomplish one goal, you will naturally end up halfway through completing another goal which makes the game difficult to put down since you are always so close to finishing up “just one more” thing.
The crafting system in Atelier Sophie is more enjoyable than I ever would have expected. Most recipes call for materials of a certain category rather than specific items, so you are normally free to choose what sort of items to use in addition to picking out a specific variation of the material with the traits or size you want. The actual synthesis plays out like a sort of puzzle mini-game. Each material carries a certain value and the grid you place it on has spaces that enhance that value. Placing a material increases the enhancement value of every adjacent square, so the order of ingredients is just as important as where they go. The effects of the finished product will vary depending on the final values of the materials used and these differences can be rather significant, so it is worth putting in the time to try different approaches and see which combination of values is best. Meticulously rearranging symbols on a grid to modify numbers until they fall within a certain range certainly does not sound like fun, yet there is much joy to be had in getting everything just right and achieving the desired result.
When gathering materials outside of town, coming into contact with a monster or hitting one with your staff triggers a turn based battle. With a low level cap of only 20, it is clear that combat is not the focus of the game, but you will still spend about as much time fighting as anything else. The battle system is mostly straightforward with the player assigning each character one action (attack, defend, use skill, use item, or run away) per turn, but there is a stance and chain system that makes the otherwise repetitive combat a little less tedious. When you give a character a command, you can also assign either an offensive or defensive stance which leads to additional attacks or characters taking damage in place of others depending on turn order and how much the chain gauge is filled. Making smart use of this system is not always essential to achieving victory, but it does help and trying to fight with efficiency helps keep the player engaged.
Atelier Sophie does not have the deepest story out there, but the characters are likeable and the gameplay can be addicting. I managed to put 80 hours into this game while going for all the side content and I would say that I enjoyed it very much overall.