We were recently given the chance to check out Gust’s newest entry in the long-running Atelier franchise, and the first title of the franchise to appear on PlayStation 4. Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book. The game aims to provide a solid jumping-on point for those new to the series, beginning an entirely new overarching storyline that does not require knowledge of previous events. How will the new title stand up?
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book places you in the role of one Sophie Neuenmuller, an orphan who has inherited both her home and love of alchemy from her grandmother. Her grandmother, before passing, was a well known alchemist in their town of Kirhen Bell, and thus everybody came to her for help and medicine. Helping out so many people and witnessing their gratitude is what makes Sophie want to become an alchemist, and hopefully become as talented and helpful as her grandmother was.
She has many childhood friends in Kirhen Bell, all of whom help push her to achieve the dream. She will make countless other friends and acquaintances as she journeys along the path to her dream as well.
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book sets you to collect ingredients and create products through alchemy. You will travel through various locations in the world to gather different materials, such as grass and gems, and then you will utilize them to create your items.
In prior titles, you would need to buy recipe books in order to discover new alchemy techniques, however Sophie thinks up new recipes on the fly by doing various activities, such as defeating certain enemies, locating new materials, or even investigating unique parts of the town.
Once you’ve obtained your ingredients, you will get down to the alchemy itself. As in previous titles, you will select the recipe, then choose from the various ingredients that fit the requirements (for example, a recipe requiring “Water” can actually use any sort of liquids, oils, or even monster slimes). Here is where things get a bit different, however.
What is new to this game is the puzzle-like gameplay aspect. Each of your material is represented on a grid of squares by Tetris-like shapes, and you will need to fit them into the grid at different alignments in order to receive various stat bonuses. It can be a bit tricky to grasp at first, however, once you get the hang of it, it does add an engaging layer to the alchemy system.
Once finished, your items may be used for a variety of things. Some will simply be created to deliver to clients, while others can be utilized in battle. Certain materials can also be utilized to craft new weapons and equipment for battle.
And yes, as with any JRPG, there is combat in this title. Some may be worried that, with the focus being on collecting alchemy ingredients and creating various products, the combat would fall by the wayside. Those worried, however, can safely lay those fears to rest, as the combat feels almost as unique and polished as the rest of the game. Your party can consist of up to four members, with one taking point, two in the middle, and one bringing up the rear. In typical turn-based fashion, you can assign them various commands to take on your foes.
The more unique part of the system comes in the “Stance” system. Each of your characters has the ability to enter either an offensive or defensive stance, and, when a certain gauge is filled by delivering or withstanding enough attacks, they will be able to perform support actions to help an ally. What actions depend on the character’s stance.
In addition, the game will warn you as a foe prepares to unleash an especially powerful blow, thus allowing you a bit of time to either increase your defense or attempt to take out the enemy in one quick, final round. This all adds up to make combat more than just serviceable, and actually enjoyable.
Art and sound
The art of Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book, is richly detailed in both character art and CGs, with the in-game 3D models perfectly capturing the style of the 2D designs. Environments are more basic when compared, however do tend to feel a bit barren and underpopulated. The monster designs are cute, although basic, with the largest bosses being the only ones that show any major unique flair.
In terms of sound, the music is varied, with equal parts anime-esque orchestral scoring and intense RPG guitar shreds. You can assign additional music to various parts of the game, such as enemy battles or specific areas of the town, even allowing you to utilize music from previous Atelier games.
Finally, in terms of voices, those who prefer to play their JRPGs with Japanese dialogue will be pleased to hear that it features dual-audio. Those who wish to utilize the English dub will find a decent dub, although a few voice choices did seem pretty off.
The systems of Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book naturally connects narrative and gameplay, and is sure to keep players engaged with all of the different aspects of the game. You may need to figure out how to create an item, such as cloth. In the case of cloth, the only hint that stands out is, “Discoverable by investigating animal fur,” which will naturally lead you to facing down furred beasts. Once you manage to gain some, Sophie will be able to figure out the recipe.
The game also thrives on the idea of “slice-of-life”, throwing aside the typical tropes of a party of chosen heroes fighting to save the world.
When all is said and done, Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is a title that oozes JRPG flair, but also keeps from falling into the tropes. Fans of the genre will likely get sucked in quite easily, and it does succeed quite nicely at the goal of being a good jumping on point for those who haven’t played any of the other titles of the franchise.
Final score: 4.5/5