Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book Review
The Atelier series is one of those under-the-radar JRPGs that is constantly overshadowed by the likes of Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, Megami Tensei, and Tales series here in North America. With its staple formula embodying a unique world full of alchemy, light heartedness, and innocence, it may seem odd and not your cup of tea at first. However, the Atelier series has been gradually making its mark since 2005 with Atelier Sophie being the twelfth main game in the series to hit North American shores. The Atelier series is also constantly evolving and changing with each ark and subsequent installment. As the previous “dusk” ark was completed by Atelier Shallie, Atelier Sophie begins the brand new “mysterious” ark fully jam-packed with new characters, themes, and even artist to keep things fresh and exciting.
Atelier Sophie begins with the only character you would assume it would begin with – Sophie. Like past installments, the lives of the main character revolve around mastering the skills of alchemy not only as part of self-fulfilling achievement, but also as a responsibility to aid others. In this case, Sophie strives to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps to help the people in her town. The twist here is that Sophie discovers that she owns a book that can talk and float. The more Sophie and this book converse, it seems that the secrets to the art of alchemy are hidden within it. However, to understand and harness these secrets, she must restore the memories of this book by writing alchemy recipes in it. As you progress through the story, Sophie not only improves her alchemy skills but also unravels forgotten memories, and eventually strives to uncover the book’s origin.
“While the story seems far-fetched at first, eventually it blossoms into one that will capture your heart.”
Throughout the game, you’ll complete requests and events to restore the memory of the talking book to enhance Sophie’s alchemy skills and understand the secrets the book holds. Of course, Sophie doesn’t do it alone but with her trusty companions she meets along the way. While the story seems far-fetched at first, eventually it blossoms into one that will capture your heart. The new characters and themes presented in the game allow for new players to jump straight in without any loss and returning players to have a new adventure in a world they’ve come to love. In addition, the ability to interact with certain characters more than others due to the Friend Level System allows you to learn more about the characters you want to learn about and spend a minimal amount of time on the one’s you have less of an interest in.
Even though the Atelier series continues its staple formula, Atelier Sophie is far from short of new features and changes. In fact, it’s quite a change from that of Atelier Shallie. A few drastic and new additions in Atelier Sophie include the emphasis on time and weather, character’s fatigue, as well as recipes and the process of synthesizing. Time and Weather play in on the time management aspect in terms of planning out the order and method of gathering items, completing requests, and heading out on explorations. The “dusk” series tended to be more lenient on the pressure of time management as opposed to that of the “arland” series, but the pressure is cranked up yet again in Atelier Sophie. For example, the time of day and the weather conditions influence what monsters and gatherable items, who is available to converse with, and certain activities allowed to be engaged in. Also, any actions engaged in cause the time to progress. Meanwhile, characters in your party rely on their fatigue on how hard they hit and well they survive in battles. With the Life Point (LP) system, attacks are weakened when a character has spent too long adventuring, gathering materials, and fighting without resting or ingesting food.
While recipes and synthesizing is a well-known aspect in the Atelier games, the process of obtaining recipes and synthesizing items has been given an upgrade. Recipes are now gradually obtained by partaking in certain actions. Whether it’s obtaining certain items or battling certain creatures, Sophie has to gain the idea for the recipe to obtain it. This can be very agitating and even annoying for returning players as having a whole library of recipes at your fingertips is completely gone. Nonetheless, recipes play a huge role in the game’s story so unlocking each one by one is what drives its progression. Synthesis is revamped by welcoming you with a grid-like interface where the items used for synthesizing are made into tetris-like pieces so that you can piece them together while avoiding as much overlap as possible. Successfully piecing these pieces together without much overlap allows the item produced from the synthesis to have better stats and even special bonuses. This can either be a headache or an addiction, depending on how accustomed you are to past Atelier games or not. Many of the changes and new features are really a hit or miss sort of thing – you either love it, or hate it. They’re not necessarily worst or better, but being used to how the Atelier series has been doing it in past installments may very much effect how easy you are to adapt to these changes.
Although battles are very much identical to past entries, it’s been simplified and tweaked for this installment. Battles still consist of a given party utilizing a turn-based battle system, but stances and supportive actions are new features. Stances are split into two categories – offensive and defensive. Depending on which one chosen, how hard you hit or get hit is affected. While supportive actions have existed in past installments, they are triggered in a slightly different way this time around. Depending on the stance chosen, characters will either attack or block a fellow party member as soon as the needed gauge is filled.
“Many of the changes and new features are really a hit or miss sort of thing – you either love it, or hate it.”
Visually, the artist has changed for this new ark but doesn’t stray too far from the Atelier series’ known cute, soft, and innocent feel. While the environmental features of the game does fall to the less detailed side, characters and NPCs are full of it and all harness their own unique style. Interestingly, this installment’s visuals have a more metallic finish to it than a pastel one like past installments. Characters tend to have more shiny and sharp features instead of a dream-like pastel haze.
Again, like past installments, Atelier Sophie offers dual audio in both English and Japanese to suite your preference. Full of music, voice acting, and quirky sound effects is what keeps Atelier a very upbeat and light-hearted JRPG.
Atelier Sophie packs some interesting new features and changes that can either agitate or entertain returning fans of the series. Simplification of the battle system and revamping of the recipe and synthesis process will probably come as more of an annoyance than enjoyable. While keeping the core formula the Atelier series is known for, Atelier Sophie is still an installment that players can love or at least learn to love. Overall, it’s a solid and unique experience for the start of the “mysterious” ark.
***A PS4 review code was provided by the publisher***
- Continuing staple formula
- Unique story
- Loveable characters
- New changes and upgrades
- Tedious recipe system
- Awkward synthesis process
- Simplified battles
- Undetailed environments