As far as I’ve read, the Atelier series is a series of games developed yearly by Gust Co. Ltd dating all the way back to 1997 on the PlayStation, with the first instalment of the series being Atelier Marie: The Alchemist of Salburg. Now, I’ve not played Atelier Marie, or any other games in the Atelier series for that matter, but I’m going to assume from what I’ve read that all of the games in the Atelier series revolve around alchemy. Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is the first game in the Atelier series that I’ve had the chance to sit down and play and, to be honest with you, I’ve enjoyed the experience that I’ve had with it.
One of the things that quickly struck me about Atelier Sophie is just how familiar, yet different it feels to other games of the genre. I’m a big JRPG fan — Final Fantasy, Pokémon, Chrono Trigger, Mario & Luigi and the first two games in the Paper Mario series have always been some of my favorites. All of those games I’ve just mentioned have one key similarity. It’s not the fact that these games all share a turn-based battle system, but rather that the games always have an overdramatic storyline, antagonist, and goal (which I’d never complain about). Atelier Sophie does a great job of being different in this regard with the main qualms in the world being those of a much smaller scale. I mean, it’s a JRPG, so all of those things do play a part in the game at some point, but from what I’ve played, they’re much less of a deal than they are in your typical JRPG.
The plot of Atelier Sophie is pretty light-hearted and has a much less serious tone than I’ve grown accustomed to when delving deep into a new JRPG adventure, so it was nice to see the game follow a much less dramatic storyline. The story revolves around our protagonist Sophie, an aspiring alchemist who’s passion is deeply inspired from her late grandmother. Sophie’s grandmother was pretty much the go-to person in their village for cooking up potions and things of the sort for people that need them. Since her grandmother is, y’know, in the ground, Sophie has the goal of becoming as skillful in her alchemy as her grandmother was so that she can be as helpful around the village. Aw, that’s nice, isn’t it?
The game opens with Sophie at her cauldron practicing alchemy when Monika, a girl that lives in the same town as Sophie, comes through the door and asks Sophie if she can cook up some Berg Medicine for an ill man named Mr. Horst. The pair then scurry through Sophie’s grandmother’s alchemy book to see if they can find a recipe and, when they do, it’ll be time to cook, which acts as our tutorial for item crafting (or synthesizing, as the game likes to call it).
Items can be synthesized whenever you have access to an Alchemy Cauldron. Well, you need the appropriate ingredients, of course, but if you have the ingredients, you’re good to go. If you’ve got the ingredients you need, approach a cauldron and select a recipe from Sophie’s cookbook (or something) and, from there, you can select the specific ingredients you want to use in your synthesis. In other words, it’s typical RPG crafting mechanics: get items and, if you have the schematics, bash items into one-another to form other items.
Once the Berg Medicine is synthesized, Sophie presents her masterpiece to Monika, which is then followed by the pair wandering over to Mr. Horst to give it to him. Why he needed the Berg Medicine, I don’t know. I mean, the dude didn’t even look that unwell; he probably could’ve just sorted himself out with a bit of ibuprofen. Once Mr. Weakling gets his beloved medicine, the girls split up and Sophie returns to her humble abode only to find that her recipe book is floating around her room. If that doesn’t excite you, the book talks! Yeah, typical JRPG stuff. What good is a JRPG without some weird, speaking, inanimate object?
The book explains that her name is Plachta, and yes, she’s a book that talks. So she’s a special book and she explains that she can’t remember any of her past, why she’s special, and what she is (other than being a book). She doesn’t have any prior memories of anything, other than that she has a firm grasp on having a background in alchemy. She’s an alchemy book. Yeah. So, what else is explained is that the only way that Plachta can regain her memories is for Sophie to jot down new alchemy recipes inside of her and, in exchange, Plachta will assist Sophie in discovering the location of a device known as the Cauldron of Knowledge, the key to becoming an expert of alchemy. As Plachta has no memories, she can’t remember where it is, so once her memories start coming back, they’ll begin their journey towards it.
Like other JRPGs, Atelier Sophie has a turn-based battle system. Before every encounter begins, you have the chance to make the first strike on your enemy and attacking them by swinging your staff at them, in a similar way to how, in Paper Mario, you have the option to jump on an enemy or strike them with your hammer before the battle begins. Once the enemies choose their desired moves, you can select what actions your party will take. The order of what characters will do what is displayed on the left-hand side of the screen, and the order changes depending on what actions are being performed.
There are two types of battle modes, known as stances. Offense and Defense stances can be switched between by pressing either R1 or L1. Offense increases the damage dealt to enemies, and gives you the ability to use Support Attacks. Defense decreases the damage you will take when hit by enemies and grants you the power of Support Guard, an ability that allows your party to protect one another when enemies begin to attack. Each Support action will be used automatically once the Chain Link Gauge, which is filled gradually by performing moves, is completely filled to 100%. If you choose the correct stance after checking what moves your enemies have lined up, you’ll gain an advantage over them. After each battle enemies drop various items that can used for various different things throughout the game. Typical JRPG stuff. Solid.
The hub-world of the game is displayed through the means of the World Map. On the world map, you can select which location you wish to go to which then allows you to explore that designated area. You can also save on the World Map, as well as changing the BGM and returning to the game’s title screen. The Town Map is a map specifically for the town in which Sophie and people around the town live. The Town Map can be used to quickly travel to specific locations in the town and can also be used to view which characters are where in the town. Characters usually always appear in the same places, but they will appear in unexpected locations on occasion, and special events may be available during these times.
To go along with that, time plays a big part in Atelier Sophie and time passes whenever you do anything as Sophie within the game. Moving and synthesizing, among other things, all slowly contribute to the passing of time. The time of day changes what items can be collected, what enemies are present, and other variable factors. A week in-game consists of 5 days: Sprout, Bud, Flower, Fruit, and Seed. Fruit and Seed are the weekend days, meaning people around towns will be doing different activities on these days than they would be doing otherwise.
Another typical RPG trope that Atelier Sophie follows suit with is the side-quests system, and there’s two main types of side-quests. Requests are side-quests given to you by various townspeople, and you will receive Cole, the currency in the game, as a reward upon completion. Some side-quests have a deadline, and a deadline warning will be presented to you when the deadline is nearing. Rumors are side-quests that allow you to pay money in exchange for information such as where ingredients for synthesizing are available and where certain monsters will appear. When information relating to a specific gathering field is purchased, it will be displayed on the World Map. Some rumors expire as time passes, whereas some rumors are permanent. Requests and Rumors are updated and refreshed every so often, so it’s best to keep checking back frequently to keep up to date with all the possible side-quests available.
When it comes down to the visuals that Atelier Sophie has to offer, they’re not too bad. They’re not breathtakingly beautiful, but they’re not bad by any stretch of the imagination. The characters are well modeled. All having fantastic, emotive animations is, pretty much, everything they do. The main thing that brings the wow-factor to the visuals of Atelier Sophie is just how fantastic the environments look. Every environment you’ll encounter in this game is incredibly vibrant, being rich with character, which is further enhanced by the characters and enemies that inhabit those environments, depending on which area you’re in.
Now, on the other end of that, I thought that the sound in Atelier Sophie was absolutely fantastic. I think it’s just how basic and calm all of the sounds are within each and every location I went to that made the sound really stick out for me. Matching that, the voice acting is awesome. Well, the Japanese voice acting is, anyways. I don’t know if it’s just me being the anime fan I am, but I’m always of the opinion that if you have the option for Japanese voices with English subtitles, do it. I flicked the switch to hear the English voices and played around for about 30 minutes, and in that time almost every single voice I heard just sounded bored and monotone in comparison to the energetic, passionate voice acting that can be heard in the Japanese voices. I don’t do dubs.
Anyways, when it comes down to the question of “is this game enjoyable, and should I play it?”, I think that the only viable answer is “yes!” I’ve spent about 12 hours of my time in the world of Atelier Sophie and I have to say that I’ve enjoyed the majority of my time there. Maybe it’s just because I’m a massive fan of JRPGs and fantasy settings, but Atelier Sophie is a nice, calming alternative to a lot of JRPGs that I’ve had the experience of playing, thanks to the game placing less focus on an overdramatic storyline. I think the main gripe I have with Atelier Sophie also stems from that, though. There have been times where I’ve been adventuring around for a good while doing the same thing over and over again: fight enemies, collect resources, return home — rinse and repeat.
Another thing that I wasn’t too fond of was the crafting, or synthesizing, system that can be found here. While it does a little mini-game-type thing to the typical RPG crafting mechanic, it doesn’t add enough. If anything, it just adds a couple of different steps to the crafting system whilst not actually changing anything, yet giving off the illusion that it does. One more gripe I had was that, although the game is focused around a much less serious story than other JRPGs I’ve come across, it feels as if there is almost a lack of story in some parts. A lack of story leads me to wonder why I’m doing what I’m doing from time to time, which sometimes lead me to forget about what the end goal of the adventure actually was.
All things aside, I really did enjoy the time that I spent within the world of Atelier Sophie. The Atelier games have been ones that I’ve seen on store shelves and that I’ve thought looked cool and interesting, but I’d never looked into them or given them a chance. After playing Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book, I can say for sure that this series is one that I’m going to go back through and put hours of my time into.
It’s kinda like Breaking Bad, with less drugs and a floating book, if that makes it sound appealing to you — kinda.
A PS4 review code for Alteir Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book was provided by Koei Tecmo for the purpose of this review