Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book (review)

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I’ve had the chance to play every installment of Gust’s Atelier series that’s been released in North America, and the one thing I’ve always looked forward to was seeing just how each new installment will evolve. The premise of the series is always the same, you start off as a newbie alchemist who, for some reason, tries to improve, whether to help save their homeland or just because the story calls for it.

In this case, Sophie, a fledgling alchemist who inherits her grandmother’s workshop, tries to become a full-fledged alchemist without any real training, causing her to fail as often as she does well. One day while searching for one of her grandmother’s recipes, she stumbles upon a book that can actually talk and move. Sophie learns that the book’s name is Plachta and has no memories, and Sophie helps Plachta, who in turn will help her improve her alchemy.

Atelier Sophie is a bit of a departure from last few installments of the series. It retains all the elements the series is known for while making some changes that work and don’t work in its favor. One of the biggest changes is how the game proceeds. In previous Atelier games, you were given a time limit to complete a variety of missions. Failing to meet them would affect the overall story and your overall grade. That isn’t the case for this game as it plays out differently. There is still the concept of time, but it’s only to separate night and day elements. You may find yourself taking your time collecting materials and traveling to different locations without the fear of running out of time. It’s a nice change in a way since you are able to play at a much slower pace, but it also takes away the importance of managing your time, which I actually enjoyed.

Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~_20160531081358

Alchemy gets a bit of an upgrade. You still use materials you collect on the field for defeating enemies or buying things in town, except you have more control over the quality of the synthesis by playing a Tetris-like minigame. There is also a new way to collect alchemy recipes. Instead of having to purchase books, you “discover” new recipes by meeting certain requirements which usually revolve around picking up certain materials or defeating a specific enemy or two among other objectives. It’s a pretty big change and possibly one of the main reasons time isn’t a huge factor.

The new recipe system also plays a big role in how the story proceeds. As I mentioned before, the previous Atelier games had a time limit, and that affected how the story proceeded. Now it proceeds at your pace, and each time you obtain a main recipe, you unlock a new memory for Plachta, who helps you get closer to the final goal. This also takes away some of the excitement. Having to meet a goal within a certain amount of time was annoying and tedious, but it was a challenge and something to really push you to play. Without that this sort of becomes a slow-paced game where it comes down to a player’s willingness to continue.

Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~_20160603065038

The combat system is turn-based which is something that fits this game perfectly. Attacks are based on a player’s stats, however, both players and enemies can cause their opponents to lose a turn or even delay it based on attacks, abilities, and items used. All players can equip items created through alchemy, which makes it useful to stock up on bombs and such since you aren’t on a tight schedule. There are a few factors in the game that can affect how you fight which include how much you’ve traveled without resting. You can also gain a nice advantage in battle thanks to the Combat Counter Gauge, which can give you different options in battle such as defensive abilities to protect weaker characters or support attacks which can help make a battle move faster.

Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~_20160531074429

It feels like Gust wanted to try something very different by giving players the ability to play at their own pace. The biggest problem is that it does so in such a way that it becomes easy to lose interest quickly due to little goals and very little storytelling. Previous games have done a great job creating something that makes you want to succeed. This also affects many of the characters, who really have no room to grow or become interesting. About 12 hours in, I wanted to know more about the characters, but they never really get a chance to stand out, and aside from a bit of story and interaction, they fall bland and become almost generic partners. It’s a bit disappointing seeing as the game has a really good soundtrack, good voice acting and most importantly, a really beautiful art design. It’s something I’ve really come to respect Gust since the PS2 days.

Atelier Sophie Rating: 3.5/5 Atoms

NR 3_5 Atoms - B-

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Chris Del Castillo
Chris Del Castillo 2588 posts

Growing up Chris watched a lot of the original Saturday morning cartoons and developed a love for arts and animation. Growing up he tried his hand at animation and eventually script writing, but even more his love of video games, anime and technology grew.