Atelier Sophie Previewon April 26, 2016 by Oscar TK
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is the first Atelier game on PS4, which is a pretty big deal. It’s also the first game since Atelier Shallie closed out the Dusk trilogy. It’s a fresh moment in the Atelier series, but is Atelier Sophie as fresh as it needs to be?
We’ve played the first couple of chapters of Atelier Sophie‘s English build, which is a good few hours into the game. I’m happy to report, then, that it seems pretty safe to say that Atelier Sophie is the best entry in the series yet. Befitting the first game in the series to come to PS4, it seems like a great jumping on point for newcomers, though long time fans will recognise how far the series has come.
Atelier Sophie is hardly Final Fantasy XV when it comes to next-gen graphics, but that’s not something a lot of people into Japanese games like this will be fussed by. Instead, it takes the next-gen approach of a lot of other Japanese titles do, translating Gust’s stunning and colourful visual design into smoother high-resolution, and providing a slicker gameplay experience with minimal load times. It looks fantastic to see how far the series has come, filling up the TV screen wonderfully.
The “time limit” game structure of past entries in the series has gone. It’s not the first Atelier to do this, though the time of day and calendar do affect the game, such as what monsters or items appear in the gathering areas. The structure of the game’s progression happens through the “recipe idea” system. Since her gran’s death, Sophie has taken over the reigns of her Atelier, though her alchemy knowledge is very basic.
That’s why there’s a recipe idea list in the menu, structured as a flow chart. This prompts you on how Sophie will get an idea for a new alchemy recipe, and will suggest you explore certain things, be it inspecting a wheat field in a gathering area, to collecting a certain ingredient for the first time. Collecting an idea will then unlock a hint for the next one, and so on. Certain tiles are locked off. These are Plachta’s memories, the talking book that hangs out in Sophie’s Atelier. Oh? Didn’t I mention? Sophie’s recipe book is a magical talking book who has amnesia. She’s the titular mysterious book. Helping her fulfill her purpose in life, by filling her with recipes, you help her unlock her memories, progressing the game with new bits of story, new recipe idea paths, and new gathering areas. Together, Plachta is helping Sophie better herself as an alchemist, and Sophie is helping Plachta regain her memories.
Tying the game’s progression directly into the act of Sophie learning alchemy is a wonderful idea. It’s really effective at immersing you in the idea that you’re exploring the world, and learning alchemy as you do. It’s a wonderful combination, and is one of the best and most unique game structures I’ve seen in a while. Unlocking the recipe ideas tied to Plachta’s memories are usually trickier than the regular ideas, and it really pushes you to try out new things. It’s the perfect fit for structuring an Atelier game.
The core of the game is, as usual, alchemy. For those unfamiliar with the Atelier series, the gameplay revolves around combining ingredients to make brand new items. Ingredients can be purchased from merchants throughout the town, but more often than not you’ll need to venture out to Gathering Areas and collect the ingredients yourself. They can be lying around on the ground, in chests, or dropped by enemy monsters. Running through the same areas multiple times increases the rewards you can find, but also makes the areas more dangerous. Even in some of the earlier areas some quite dangerous enemies can spawn, so you need to keep your wits about you. As usual, hitting an enemy with your staff will initiate the battle with you at an advantage.
Atelier‘s combat is turn based, with your party’s actions appearing in a list of tiles along the side of the screen along with those of the monsters, representing time during the battle. Different types of attack can take up a different amount of tiles, and you need to manage taking out monsters in the most optimum way possible. Besides the usual options, Attacks, Items, Skills, and the rest of it, you can also change each character’s stance between Offence and Defence. The stances tie into this game’s version of the Chain system, a meter that can fill all the way up to 200%. This allows party members to team up with one another to either block an enemy’s attack, or jump in with a follow-up attack, as long as they are both in the same stance. When the Chain level reaches max, they’ll perform a more powerful support move. Effectively using the chains, depending on the enemies your facing, can end up making each turn a flurry of strikes, quickly taking out enemies before their moves roll up on the tiles. There’s not really any loading going into battles, and it all can happen quite quickly, which is excellent for a game where you will be faced with battles pretty much constantly.
Alchemy itself is pretty simple. You interact with your cauldron at the Atelier, and then you’re given a list of all of your recipes. These are marked with either a Circle, a Triangle, or a Cross. Cross means you can’t make it with your current ingredients. Triangle means you can make it if you create materials with ingredients you have. Circle means it’s good to go. Some recipes require specific ingredients, and others require an ingredient from a category, such as “water” or “fuel”. Once you’ve chosen your ingredients is where Atelier Sophie gets interesting and shakes up how the alchemy works this time around.
You’re presented with a synthesis puzzle board, and you need to place the ingredients on it. Each ingredient has a Tetris-like shape, and a colour. Placing the colours in the correct places on the glowing titles will give you bonus points in the bonus provided by that ingredient. If you can place them in a way that gets you a lot of points, you can increase the effect of the bonus, for instance snagging a medicine that gives HP Recovery S as opposed to the standard HP Recovery XS. It’s a great little system that adds an element of skill to the alchemy process, and getting better bonuses feels much more directly rewarding as a result, which hasn’t always been the case with some of the other entries in the series.
Atelier Sophie might not be a game that’s reaching any surprising new heights on PS4, and it won’t really be pulling in many people who aren’t already ready to be interested in the series. But looking at the game so far it seems they’ve taken the opportunity to polish up what we already love about Atelier, and provide one of the best Atelier experiences from pretty much any way you look at it, from the gameplay to the story, and even the way it all flows and is structured. The English dub is also pretty good too, though the Japanese voices are available in the options if that’s more your thing. If you’ve been on the fence about the Atelier before, then this definitely looks like the right time to get into the series, and fans too should be delighted by the improvements on offer here.