Review: Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book (PS4)

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Title: Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (5.95 GB)
Release Date: June 7, 2016
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Gust Co. Ltd.
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: T
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is also available on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

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The long running Atelier series makes its PS4 debut, well, not exclusively, with Atelier Sophie. Sophie builds on some of the aspects the series is known for, like alchemy, but also bucks the trend on others for better or worse. This isn’t my favorite game in the series, but it’s still a good game and an enjoyable time.

The premise of Atelier Sophie finds titular Sophie the sole proprietor of an atelier in the town of Kirchen Bell. One day she finds a mysterious book in her atelier, left by her late grandmother. After being written in, the book springs to life. Plachta, the book, has few memories so Sophie agrees to assist it in regaining them using the power of alchemy.

The game doesn’t focus much on a central narrative though, unlike many JRPGs. Sophie slowly makes progress towards her goal of helping Plachta and there’s even a villain of sorts that’s revealed late in the game, but the narrative rarely drives the game. This works for the most part though obviously it makes the game’s appeal more narrow.

Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~_20160603212056Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~_20160704141333

Gameplay:
Gameplay is split up between alchemy and exploration. Both are staples of the Atelier series but the former is what the games are especially known for. As this kicks off a new trilogy within the series, the alchemy offers some new and unique aspects while retaining the ability to deeply customize synthesized items.

Alchemy in the game is not a simple case of two items melded together to make a third. Instead, items are built using recipes but the outcome can vary greatly depending on the items used and even the order in which those items go into the concoction.

… trying to build up the best bonuses I could …
This order mattering aspect comes out of the way the ingredients are combined. After selecting the recipe and the ingredients, the player then selects which cauldron they want to use. The ingredients can then be moved around and placed into a grid based system that represents the cauldron. The order in which they are placed affects the bonuses and different cauldrons have different rules and bonus structures.

This is one of my favorite aspects of Atelier Sophie. The ingredient selection stuff, which I’ll talk more about later, is interesting but something the Atelier series has been doing for a while. This aspect is new and I enjoyed the puzzle associated with trying to build up the best bonuses I could through this system.

Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~_20160605131051Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~_20160701083839

I’ve mentioned the ingredients a few times because they are still very important to the alchemy. Not only which types of ingredients but also specific ones as well. I mean this in the sense that a recipe might call for “water” but the player can choose between different types of water like well water or pure water. And then further by selecting individual pure water items which have unique traits.

All of these selections matter to the alchemy, making it very deep and rewarding. Learning how to use the system effectively takes some time but the player ends up with the ability to make much stronger items.

Exploration is, of course, how Sophie gets all of the items she uses in the alchemy system. There are a variety of areas to gather materials from, with more and more opening up as the game progresses. These areas are also home to monsters though, so fortunately Sophie and her friends come to be proficient fighters.

… a stance system built into the game …
Combat is a basic turn-based system. Interestingly, the system allows the player some insight into what their foes will be doing. At the beginning of each turn, the monsters all lock in their action as shown in a timeline on the screen. The player then selects an action for each party member and can see when it will happen in relation to enemies. Once all allies have an action, the turn starts and things play out according to the timeline.

Because the player has some inkling of the enemy’s action, there’s also a stance system built into the game. Player characters can be assigned either an offensive stance or defensive stance for their action. Selecting defensive lets characters cover for one another while offensive lets them perform special follow up attacks. This is a pretty cool system and I feel like it adds a lot to an otherwise rote turn-based combat system.

Knowing the enemy is preparing a stronger attack and deciding between playing it safe with a defensive stance or trying to beat them out quickly with a big offensive feels a lot more meaningful. And of course combat is very much influenced by the strength of the items created through alchemy. Well crafted bombs or medicines can greatly swing the course of a battle.

Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~_20160602225528Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~_20160605142652

Including a time management system is a large part of the recent Atelier series. Five of the last six games had one and that sixth didn’t have explicit time management but still had factors limiting the player’s actions. At first blush, Atelier Sophie seems to have a time management system as well. However, the system has almost no limiting factor on the player.

In this one, performing actions like alchemy or traveling will take up time and a counter in the corner slowly ticks up hours and days. However, where previous games might have main story goals tied to the passage of time, this game does not.

… there is a day/night cycle …
Personally, this is a minor detriment to me. I know some players don’t like feeling they could be passing time doing the “wrong” things in the previous games. However those limits also lead to a back and forth with alchemy and exploration to do the best possible in the time available. Without it, the Atelier Sophie feels a little too meandering.

On the plus side though, the new time system is used in some cool ways. For example, there is a day/night cycle. The same areas often contain different monsters and gatherable ingredients at different times of the day. Even in town, certain NPCs will appear in different locations depending on the time of day or day of the week.

Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~_20160630230457Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~_20160626235035

The one thing that is limited by time is requests. These quests can have a time limit baked in, but they aren’t required to progress the game. Game progression is instead tied to Plachta’s memories, with an in-game events tracker to help the player move the plot along.

Progression was another odd part of the game for me. For the first ten or fifteen hours, the game progressed very slowly. I didn’t have many areas to explore or recipes to synthesize and I don’t know if it was something I was doing wrong. After the twenty or so hour mark though, suddenly the game exploded on me. I was able to complete several Plachta memories in a very short period of time and I suddenly had a ton of places to go and things to make.

PRO TIP
I believe my woes were tied to NPC events. There are no indicators when an NPC has an event for the player so I recommend periodically going through town and talking to each of the major NPCs – the ones that show up on the town map.

I do like how the game incentivizes exploring the game systems. Sophie’s recipes come from her being ‘inspired’ by something. Things like fighting a boss, making an item with a specific trait, or running from enemies. These are mostly spelled out in Sophie’s recipe notes, although the in-game notes can be annoyingly vague on occasion which was a minor complaint.

Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~_20160625160123Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~_20160702221355

Visuals:
Although the series makes its PS4 debut, the platform hasn’t had a profound impact on the graphics. This is partially because the game is still on PS3 and Vita as well. Comparing this game to last year’s Atelier Shallie, the biggest upgrade is that it looks crisper and cleaner, at least on the PS4.

Even if it isn’t a technical powerhouse, the overall art style is good. I like most of the character designs and the way they all fit in the world the game depicts is nice. There is a lot of palette swapping on enemies, unfortunately.

… works well with the subdued feeling of the story …
Audio:
The music is great with some pretty catchy songs that I found myself whistling along to. The game even does some pretty cool things with the new day/night cycle and the music playing. As has become usual for the series though, if there are any songs the player doesn’t like they can swap them out, though there aren’t a lot to choose from without buying DLC.

Character voices are pretty standard for a JRPG. The game offers both English dubbed voices and the original Japanese to appease both crowds. Actual vocal range seems pretty subdued for both casts, but it works well with the subdued feeling of the story.

Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~_20160625233643Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~_20160626133105

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

Conclusion:
Atelier Sophie doesn’t seem like it’s reaching too far for its goals. The laid-back nature of the story permeates the rest of the game to the point where even when the story gets “serious,” I never felt pushed by it. Because the game isn’t reaching too far, it does seem to do everything the designers set out to do.

With that in mind, and with fantastic alchemy and combat systems, Atelier Sophie is an enjoyable game that I didn’t mind playing for forty or so hours. I wish it had reached a little farther and accomplished a little more in a way that’s hard to put my finger on, but the product that is there is still good. This may not be my favorite in the Atelier series thus far, but I still recommend it to anyone who is interested in the series.

Score:
7.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Andy Richardson

Andy Richardson

A longtime PlayStation fan who enjoys JRPGs and rhythm games when he’s not tweeting about his parrot.

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