Atelier Sophie ~ Alchemist of the Mysterious Book
Available on PlayStation 4 (Japanese version also available on PlayStation 3 & PlayStation Vita via importing)
ESRB Rating: Teen
Number of Players: 1
Publisher: Koei Tecmo America Corp
Developer: Gust Co, Ltd.
Release Dates: JP – November 19th, 2015, NA – June 7th, 2016, PAL – June 10th, 2016
Version Reviewed: North American PlayStation 4
Atelier Sophie is a light hearted adventure in a European styled town in which the titular character, Sophie, uses her alchemy skills to help her friends and fellow villagers with their day-to-day lives. The game features some mild language in the form of a few curse words, and there are some suggestive themes, namely from the “Tess” character. There’s also a few somewhat revealing outfits in the game that are worn by the Plachta character. This has earned the game it’s teen rating, which is probably pretty appropriate for it. Even children younger than their teenage years should be fine with this game.
I would describe Atelier Sophie as playing like a cross between Dragon Quest and Animal Crossing. The game-play involves guiding Sophie through various fields in order to collect an assortment of materials to be used in alchemy. Virtually everything that happens in the game centers on the alchemy. Alchemy is used to create a wide variety of items that affect your performance in battle, advance the story, and develop your relationships with people living in your village.
Much like in Animal Crossing, you’ll often have people request you to create something for them. Delivering the item they request will both improve their opinion of you, and help advance the story forward.
There are also plenty of side quests available, which will earn you rewards and Cole (money) for completing them. This, and gathering materials for alchemy purposes, is reminiscent of the Dragon Quest series. And, there are barrels!
Despite some similarities in how they play, Atelier Sophie still very much stands on its own, and never feels like an imitation of either game.
I must begin by saying that this is the first, and currently only Atelier game I have ever played. This is the 17th game in the Atelier series, thus it has quite a few other titles that it very likely draws inspiration from. Having not played any of the previous ones, this game is being reviewed entirely on its own merits with no comparisons made to previous games in the series.
Atelier Sophie is filled with characters full of personality. While this game is not pushing the bar on graphic fidelity, all of the characters still look gorgeous and are beautifully animated. They are expressive and a joy to talk to. Much of the game is voice acted, and you have a choice of using the Japanese or English voices. And you can’t go wrong with either choice, both sets of voices sound appropriate for the characters; I never encountered any cringe-inducing moments due to awkward voice selection.
None of the characters ever came across to me as being overly annoying either. There wasn’t any character that I dreaded seeing appear on the screen, even the ones that have some rather unusual passions and interests. Much like in real life, you can be quite surprised by what someone’s interests are, and this game shows that as well with several characters having some unusual or un-expected hobbies.
The town you live in is bustling with life and even deep into the game, you’ll still be exploring the town and talking to people to see what they are up to.
You’ll have plenty of opportunities to help the people of your village too, you are most definitely not a mere visitor passing through, this town is your home, everyone knows you, and you know them. And you’ll be able to actively help them pursue their goals, for better or for worse…
If you enjoy an active and lively town to inhabit, Sophie definitely delivers.
Atelier Sophie features a much different style of story than your usual RPG. There’s no earth shattering catastrophe here that you are setting out to prevent, there is not an evil being plotting the destruction of the world that you are on a quest to foil. You are not on a quest to save the world, you are instead helping Plachta, a mysterious flying book that you encounter, recover her memories, and helping the people of your village.
Both of these things are done through the very thing Sophie is trying to become skilled at, alchemy!
When you aren’t visiting with villagers, your primary activity will be exploring the surrounding landscape in search of alchemy materials.
Initially, your choice of destinations is limited, but you’ll steadily unlock additional locations to visit as the game progresses. Each provides access to new materials with new traits for Sophie to find. By the end of the game, you have a pretty respectable chunk of land that you can traverse. Traversing the map is easy, simply select your destination, and Sophie automatically runs to the location you wish to go, stopping only for the map events you might encounter on the way, portrayed as red dots on the path. These red dots usually result in a small reward, but sometimes powerful enemies suddenly ambush you, so there is a sense of mystery when you encounter one.
Within each field, you’ll not only encounter items to collect, but monsters as well. Battles are your traditional menu driven turn-based fare, but there is some depth to be found to it. As the game continues, you gradually unlock additional features to the battle mode, such as chaining attacks together and unleashing special super moves. Your characters choose a stance to stand in during battle that either allows them to do extra damage, or focus more on defending themselves. And these stances have a big impact on what kind of moves get chained together. The chained moves can also increase offense against an enemy, or help strengthen your party’s defenses. There’s a lot more to consider than if you want a particular character to reduce their incoming damage or not.
Character growth is also handled in an interesting way in this game. Traditional leveling up only takes you so far. The level cap in this game is fairly low. Rather than grinding out levels, alchemy is your main form of development. Every piece of equipment you wear can be affected by alchemy. In some cases, you’ll directly create some gear in the alchemy cauldron, in others, you’ll provide parts to someone else to craft something for you. You can create these parts through alchemy and infuse them with special properties that will aid you in battle. You might build a sword with incredible attack power, or you might create armor with resistance to a status ailment. It will require a great deal of clever alchemizing and manipulating of materials in order to get the traits you want on the end product. Fortunately you can transfer characteristics from one ingredient to the next, allowing you to create combinations that can result in some truly amazing items.
Alchemy itself is handled by placing your alchemy components on a grid, in which colored spaces on the board serve as a multiplier for pieces laid over them. The idea is to fill as many spaces of the board as possible and obtain the largest bonuses for the desired characteristics of the alchemy in question.
While it’s simple to get the basic idea down, mastering the system takes a lot of patience and practice. But you’ll definitely have ample time to practice, as alchemy is a fundamental component of the game, and this is a screen you will be seeing often.
One area that Sophie is a bit lacking is the fields in which you explore. Many of them have a similar look of being a small outdoor field, especially in the early areas. Even as the game advances, most of the areas still have a similar look to them. There’s not a big variety of climates, and you can start to get tired of being out in the woods or meadows surrounding the towns. And the fields are all pretty small, sometimes being just 1 small map. Many areas do have sub-areas you can visit, but these sub areas usually look about the same, and are still very small, adding only an extra screen or two to the area. There really is not a rewarding sense of exploration when it comes to the maps. Very few times will you encounter a special hidden treasure hidden in a crafty place. Very occasionally, you can see some subtle changes in a map by special events found through the Rumors system, but these typically relate to a special enemy or item appearing that you wouldn’t normally see.
The game also has a definite lack of boss fights. While many maps do have a formidable enemy on them, there’s very few major story-driven battles in the game. If you are looking for compelling narrative and a focused goal, you won’t find that here. While there is a plot, it moves along fairy slowly and your progression isn’t determined so much by overcoming fierce challenges that test your skills, but more by how much alchemy you performed and how many people in town you talk to.
Sophie’s home town of Kirchen Bell is the only village in the game, and you’ll be exploring it repeatedly as the game goes on. Players looking for fresh areas and new faces to interact with will be disappointed. This game is more about building relationships with the people you know than meeting new faces.
Graphically, the game is not pushing the limits on graphic fidelity. As mentioned previously the characters are colorful and expressive, but there is a bit of a lack of detail to the textures.
The visuals are not bad, and they give a very anime styled look to the game. But some fine tuning of the textures and more attention to detail could have certainly enhanced the games presentation and overall experience. All in all a small price to pay for an otherwise great experience, but one that is noticeable.
Atelier Sophie is a delightful experience full of light-hearted charm. The characters are likeable and you’ll soon find yourself immersed in Sophie’s world and the people that inhabit it. The game does a great job of blending narrative, alchemy, and exploration into an adventure that is quite down to earth. Sophie is one of the most relatable protagonists I have seen in a game, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching her character development as she learned the ins and outs of being an alchemist, and dedicated herself towards helping her villagers.
With a variety of fields to explore, and a “Requests/Rumors” system that serves a similar role to side quests in other games, you can get a lot of mileage out of Sophie. It’s amazing how much variety can exist within the simple humble village of Kirchen Bell.
While the lack of a focused story and clear direction can be a little jarring at first, give Sophie a chance and let yourself become drawn into her world. Once there, you won’t want to leave.
My final rating for this game is a solid 9.7/10