on June 8, 2016 by Mitch Jay
I’m first treated to a stunning opening animation that I’ve since watched more than once and whilst it’s not my favourite in the series, it’s still something that gets me excited for what’s next. I’m then introduced to the optimistic and peppy Sophie, an alchemist who’s taken over her recently deceased grandmother’s atelier, as she tries to fulfil the role left to her so that she can admirably help everyone in her village. Jotting down alchemy notes into a book left by her grandmother ends up breathing life into the book, known as Plachta, once again who’s been passed down as a tool for alchemists so that the world’s alchemy knowledge can be put into one book, ready to help out the next generation of alchemists. Plachta has lost her memories however, so Sophie sets out with her friends in an attempt to help her remember what she’s forgotten.
If you’re already a fan of the series then you know what you’re getting yourself into and you won’t be let down with Atelier Sophie, unless you’re a big fan of the time limit system which, thankfully, has been removed here as it was in Shallie. The calendar and time mechanics are still there but now they only affect items you can gather and enemies you can fight, so you can take all the time in the world doing what you want to do which is a relief and something I’m really happy with. I feel like Atelier Sophie was much slower for the first few hours than other Atelier games but it’s worth sticking with and it’s not as if it’s an utter drag, although you might want to warm up to the idea of collecting things and slaying familiar monsters for a while – some of the things you have to do the collect memory fragments can be very vague and unless you work them out, you’ll be doing basic tasks to get memory fragments at a much slower rate to fulfil requests.
The turn-based combat is more or less the same as previous iterations in the series. You pick your party of four and can choose to attack normally, use a skill or item, or run away – you can now change between offensive and defensive stances where you’ll either inflict more damage or be able to minimise damage taken. It’s solid, accessible and easy to understand, and the only problem I have is the intrusive notices that tell you when your turn has begun or when the enemies turn has begun, as I felt this sometimes interrupted the flow of combat and easily could’ve been handled in a far more subtle manner.
It’s not quite an Atelier game without the series’ mainstay synthesising mechanic, is it? Atelier Sophie has created a new yet familiar mix once again where you need certain items to create other items, and you can transfer traits and qualities to the new item that can range from giving it more uses, selling for a higher price or enhancing another one of its stats. A new mechanic is that once you’ve begun synthesising your chosen item, you play a mini-game that sees you place your chosen items that’ll be mixed together on the grid in an attempt to match up that items colours with the colours on the board. It’s straightforward although arranging them in a way that nets the best results can sometimes leave you thinking and fiddling about for a while, but doing so will net you the best possible version of the item you are trying to create.
Atelier Sophie is nowhere near pushing the power of the PS4 but its art style is as beautiful as expected, and it’s an absolute delight to look at. The creative and colourful character design is superb, the CG images are undeniably gorgeous, and the environments can sometimes be breathtaking. It’s hard to not enjoy how relaxing, chill and peaceful Atelier Sophie is, and it’s not hard to find yourself smiling as the game has the lovely ability to simply make you feel good. Those looking for some of the most impressive graphics around may not find that here, but the art is up there with the best of them.
Other than the catchy OP, I remember recognising the lively voice of Christine Marie Cabanos who voices our main protagonist. Ryan Bartley voices Plachta in what seems to be her voice-acting role and what a great debut it is, so hopefully I’ll hear more of her in future! There’s no performance that I was disappointed with, but Atelier has thankfully always provided fantastic English dubs. It also boasts excellent music and, like I do with some others in the series, I’d happily own the OST for this as it would be nice to kick back and relax with – don’t worry though, the battle themes are suitably fierce.
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book benefits from not having a restrictive time system and I like how they’ve implemented the calendar and time mechanic in this installment, and although the game can sometimes be rather repetitive and slow, it’s worth sticking with and fans should definitely be buying this, but it’s also a great starting point for those looking to get into the series – there are some familiar faces for long-time fans though, but not being familiar with them already won’t hamper your experience if you’re a new fan. I’m already looking forward to the next Atelier game, and it really is one of the most peaceful games to play.