Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is the 17th game in the series. Budding alchemist Sophie has inherited her grandmother’s equipment. She discovers a talking book, Plachta, who holds the secrets to her grandmother’s research, but unfortunately has amnesia. Perfect. Like other games in the franchise the story is secondary and relies more on character interactions. They’re likable for the most part despite clichés aplenty. It’s nothing as exciting as saving the world, but the mystery surrounding Plachta’s origins is interesting to say the least. Along with this, the voice cast is pretty great and it’s actually in English, which may seem like a strange note, but it’s becoming increasingly rare for Japanese RPGs.
The core of Atelier relies on alchemy. Three other characters can accompany Sophie in her quests around the world map, plotted with various dungeons and fields. Explore, collect materials, fight monsters, and repeat. The battle system itself is a pretty standard turn-based setup. Aside from selecting attacks, or items, there’s an offensive and defensive stance to take note of. If the timeline on the left indicates a strong attack from the enemy, it’s a good strategy to switch the party into a defensive guard. There’s nothing groundbreaking behind the combat, but it’s fine for the most part. That said it’s definitely a lot harder to grind than other RPGs. Plus the menu system is a bit cumbersome.
For example, party members can be equipped with usable items, such as healing salves, or bombs, within the hub town of Kirchen Bell. If the party ventures into the field, and looses all charges from that item, well, that’s it. It can’t be replenished, or even switched out for another item in the field. Players have to go all the way back to Kirchen Bell in order to equip new items. This in turn makes it harder to continually fight monsters for experience, creating a constant loop of traveling back and forth. It gets smoother as the game progresses and items become easier to manufacture.
On the plus side to going back to town new events will unlock as time progress. Everything Sophie does in the game passes time from literally traveling, to fighting monsters, to picking up items. New formulas and character events will appear, progressing both the inventory in Sophie’s alchemic knowledge along with the plot. Even with this in mind, it’s hard to keep track of everything.
For instance, a certain character may have something new to say, but there’s no indication that he/she does. A simple exclamation point, or marker would have communicated this perfectly. Instead players will have to rely on checking everywhere in town as they reenter Kirchen Bell continuously. Between the item slots and unclear objectives, well, it all starts to feel like a hassle. One that gets smoother as the game progresses, but it fells like a terrible deterrence for new players.
Visually this writer loves cel-shading in games as it genuinely stands the test of time compared to more realistic graphics. That said, as pretty as Atelier Sophie can be the design in general feels lacking. The characters and monsters are great, but Kirchen Bell and the field environments feel sparse. The series has always kind of a niche budget title, but it’s still disheartening to see the series jump on the PS4 so nonchalantly. It’s not a gripe everyone will care about, but it’s worth mentioning at least.
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is a good RPG, but a let down for Atelier fans. It plays the game safe without any striking changes, which is disappointing for its first entry on the PS4, not to mention it being the 17th in the franchise. The gameplay loop and the story start off slow, but become increasingly addictive as the game progresses, followed by another downward spiral. It’s a fun, but uneven, lighthearted adventure all in all.
Score: 3/5 Stars
Special Notes: The publisher provided a review copy. This article was originally published on June 7, 2016 via my Examiner account before the website shut down. Check out the supporting video review on the accompanying YouTube Channel, ReActionExaminer.