I cannot express how excited I was to find out that Gust is working with Koei Tecmo to bring the latest in the Atelier series of games to Steam. I have followed the series since the very first entry of the Atelier Iris series came to the US in 2004. Atelier Sophie: Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is the latest entry in the Atelier franchise, and while it was already on Playstation 4, it’s finally releasing on Steam!
Atelier Sophie puts you in the role of a novice alchemist named Sophie Neuenmuller who discovers that she is the owner of a magical book. This book contains a soul trapped within it of a young woman named Plachta, who becomes Sophie’s mentor and teaches her the knowledge of Alchemy that is contained within her pages. Alchemy is the bread and butter of the Atelier series and is a little more freeform than previous entries in the franchise.
Instead of buying recipe books like in the previous entries, a new Alchemy system was put in place that allows you to choose how you grow and progress with your alchemy talents. Alchemy in Atelier Sophie is similar to previous games; you follow a recipe and provide ingredients to fulfill the recipe requirements. If you use better quality ingredients you will get a better quality item, with higher capabilities and better abilities and skills associated with usable items.
Alchemy now also has a puzzle element that allows you to place ingredients strategically on a board to amplify the item’s effects and synthesis results. Recipes are gained by doing a variety of things out in the world, like gathering, talking to people, and fulfilling various requests. While going about her daily life, Sophie will get recipe ideas, which can then be created and will enhance your Alchemy skills.
Alchemy seems simple on the surface, but it takes a while to truly master it. Three hours in I had no clue how it worked, and slowly gained understanding through trial, error, and fumbling about. The tutorials really don’t help because the concept is so abstract that it requires you to experiment with it in order to understand it properly.
Equipment in Atelier Sophie works differently than in previous games as well. Instead of Sophie being the only character to be able to use items, (like previous protagonists) certain characters can use certain types of items while Sophie can utilize all types. Equipping Items is determined by an item’s cost, as each character has a limit on how much they can have equipped.
Alchemy is also used in the Doll-make feature, which allows you to create costume gear for Plachta to wear. The costuming can affect Plachta’s stats and, depending upon the ingredients you use, can change her attributes which changes her capabilities.
Battles are similar to previous games and are in a turn-based combat format. You can see the order that each character and enemy will attack, and you take turns issuing commands to your characters while the enemy issues commands against you as well. Each character has access to items and skills, and become stronger the more you level them.
Atelier Sophie introduces Stances, which change your party capabilities. In an offensive stance, you can perform support attacks, and deal more damage overall to enemies. In the defensive stance, you have a higher defense and can utilize the support guard, which allows characters to protect one another from attacks. Using stances effectively can turn the tide of battle in or out of your favor, so paying attention to the enemy’s actions and your party’s health is important.
Immediately upon firing up the game, I discovered a bug in the controller support for Atelier Sophie. Some of the key-bindings are switched around for gamepad use. For example the A button on an Xbox 360 or Xbox One controller is meant to be the action button. Instead, the A button is the cancel button, and the X button is the action button instead. These bindings are not the only ones switched around, and it takes a bit of getting used to. Considering the in-game text shows different buttons for the action I can’t help but wonder if it was not an intentional issue; it seems more like a bug and less like a feature.
I reviewed this through a pre-release version of Atelier Sophie provided by Koei Tecmo, so the bugs will probably be worked out by launch day or shortly thereafter once they figure out what needs fixing.
Atelier Sophie feels more like a classic Atelier game than any of the dusk series of Atelier titles. Atelier Sophie has a time mechanic that determines monster appearances, what materials you can gather, and more, depending on the time of day or the weather. There are also five-day weeks, which at the end of the week provide weekend events that change what NPC’s are doing. NPC’s and party members can be found doing different things around town during the weekend, so keeping track of the day and time can be extremely important.
In-Game months consist of six five-day weeks, and the date can be seen on the calendar in your Heads up Display. The longer you are outside of town, the lower your LP gets, which lowers your stats. Exploring a single area longer provides the opportunity for better materials (through exploring it over and over) while also increasing enemy difficulty. This provides a degree of risk and reward that can be challenging and frustrating.
Traveling across the world map is similar to previous games, but in between destinations you can find events or items such as Cole (which serves as the currency in the Atelier series) which gives you an incentive to explore a bit more. Also returning from earlier entries is the concept of requests, which allow you to perform tasks for townspeople in return for money. You can also purchase rumors which allow you to learn information in exchange for your hard earned cash.
Sadly Gust has brought back request deadlines from previous games, something that I was glad they got rid of in Atelier Shallie. Now you must complete requests by their chosen deadline, though some requests do not have a deadline. Atelier Sophie has a new reward system for Requests called Vouchers. In addition to getting money from requests, you can also get vouchers which can be turned in for items and other rewards.
There are four different difficulty levels in Atelier Sophie, scaling from Easy all the way to Despair mode, depending on your experience with Atelier games and your level of masochism. The difficulty changes how much money you make on requests, and how much XP you get from bosses and enemies. Additionally, it also changes the rarity and quality of items you gather.
Even on the lowest difficulty, I find that the decay in LP makes it difficult in the early game to explore for very long considering how low LP causes your stats to be lowered. Another frustrating aspect of Atelier Sophie is the fact that unlike the Dusk series, Items can run out and require you to re-synthesize them, requiring you to constantly be gathering for new items. Luckily you can use the duplication shop to register items you have made, so you can buy them later instead; preventing you from having to make the item if you have the money to purchase it instead.
Atelier Sophie is a refreshing, challenging experience regardless of its shortcomings. It feels more like a classic Atelier title, with difficult mechanics that challenge your brain; while also providing a cast of characters that include people from previous games such as Logix Ficsario from Atelier Escha and Logy: Alchemist of the Dusk Sky, or Pamela Ibis, a popular character from the earlier titles in the series, even going back to the original Atelier Iris.
There is so much to Atelier Sophie: Alchemist of the Mysterious Book that part of the fun is discovering its inner workings. In some ways, I feel that Atelier Sophie devolved from the Dusk series, but overall I find that as a previous fan of the series it is a very fun, interesting successor to the series as a whole. If you are new to the series, Atelier Sophie will easily capture your attention, while easing you into alchemy and everything the game has to offer.
With that being said, there is plenty of difficulty and content for both new players and series veterans to sink their teeth into. I was very pleased with Atelier Sophie, and it fits perfectly in my Steam Library.
A Steam product key for Atelier Sophie: Alchemist of the Mysterious Book was provided by Koei Tecmo for the purpose of this review