Koei Tecmo’s Atelier series has been a staple on the PlayStation platform since way back on the PS2. The game developers at GUST Studios have been handed the reins and has committed themselves to rebuilding the series’ signature Alchemy system from the ground up. Their debut game, Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book, will be the fist in a planned long-running Atelier series on PS4. This highly anticipated addition to the series will mark a new start for GUST’s popular brand of role-playing games on next-gen consoles.
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is set against a vibrant background reminiscent of a medieval European town and follows the exploits of a young novice Alchemist, Sophie, who discovers that her grandmother has left her a living enigmatic Alchemist’s Reference Book. This Mysterious Book seems to hold all the secrets to the art of Alchemy, and vows to become Sophie’s mentor if she can help restore the books forgotten memories. As Sophie improves her Alchemy skills throughout the story, to show her appreciation for the books mentoring, she agrees to set out and uncover the strange tale of how her teacher lost its memories in the first place.
If you have played a JRPG in the last decade then you shouldn’t have any problems loading up Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book and getting right to the action. The foundation of the whole game is the town in which Sophie and her friends live. Sophie’s Atelier, the Cafe, the Cathedral and the Plaza are just a few of the places where the story will unfold as you talk to the townsfolk and old acquaintances of Sophie’s who will eventually join her on her journey. The Atelier in particular is where you will spend most of your time while in town as you will be charged with using your Alchemists skills to create concoctions to replenish your health, craft weapons and other items to assist you while out in the world. In addition, the Atelier will serve as the place to save your game, offer a place to sleep to speed up the passage of time and to check the status of your team and your next objectives.
Once you familiarize yourself with Sophie’s Atelier and the various stops in the town, it is time to venture forth out into the world on your quest to help the Mysterious Book to regain its memories. This is done by taking on quests that you can sign up for in the Cafe in town as well as searching the different areas of the world for the ingredients necessary to utilize your alchemists skills. Once you have met the requirements for the quests, you can return to town and claim your rewards. Completing quests will net you gold coins to spend on other things in the game and most times you will also gain knowledge that will lead to your helping the Mysterious Book regain a particular memory. These memories in turn open up new areas on the world map as well as the locations of special items that you will need later on in the game.
Battle in Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is turn-based, as you have probably already guessed. You build your team by talking with the people in the town and meet up with two old friends that join you fairly early in the game. Once you have your starting team together, head out into the world and stir up some ruckus. During battle, you have the option to take an offensive or defensive stance, and your choices from there are determined by this initial stance. An offensive stance will allow you to attack the enemies with weapon or magic based assaults while a defensive stance will allow you to heal yourself or your teammates as well as to provide cover for them in the event that they are in need.
You don’t often find complete items out in the world that you can use directly and why would you; this is a game about crafting your materials from scratch after all. You will find boat loads of materials such as plants, minerals, crystal shards, cotton, seedlings and much more which you will need in order to craft the items that you will rely on to survive out in the world. You can craft items such as bombs, healing tonics, weapons and so many other items that you will be absolutely astonished. In order to find the recipe to craft certain items, you must first get the “idea” to craft that item and you get the idea by venturing out into the world, discovering new places and talking to new people. Once you have fulfilled the necessary requirements to fully realize the idea, you must return to the atelier, write the recipe into the Mysterious Book and that will in turn cause the book to remember a lost memory and open new areas in the game as well as the location to special ingredients and items.
The crafting portion of the game is like playing a game within a game, if that makes any sense. Once you have gathered the necessary ingredients to craft the item that you need (recipes are kept under the “Synthesis” tab in the pause menu), you then are taken to a second screen that will allow you to place the ingredients onto a grid representation of the finished item as a whole. Each ingredient has three components that are represented as circles that will come in different formations that you will need to place on the grid to complete the concoction. Depending on the quality of the ingredients, its position on the grid and how it is combined with the other ingredients will determine how potent and effective the finished item is. It sounds confusion as I write it, I know, but once you have created a few items, it will all make sense.
The visuals in the game are all very appealing but there is an obvious contrast between the art assets that are used for the environments and those that are used for the character and enemy designs. The environments don’t look bad they just are kind of plain compared to the costume designs that are used for the characters and the designs used for the many different monsters that you will encounter on your journey. The outfits that Sophie and her cohorts wear are very colorful and elaborate affairs that are splendidly crafted and makes each character feel separate and different from each other. I just found myself thinking that these people really dress very fancy considering they are fighting monsters, working in the fields of a farm or working with metals as a blacksmith. Its not a deal breaker by any means and just an observation that a lot of time was devoted to designing characters that stand out.
While the whole premise of the game and the gameplay is very entertaining and does a great job of capturing the feelings that a true Atelier game presents, there was one aspect of the game that I felt could have been better implemented. Many of the places that you can travel to in the world are walled off from other areas and may contain two or more additional connecting segments. You are forced to revisit these areas as you unravel the reason for the Mysterious Books lost memories as well as to complete requests from villagers who need your help with one task or another. Having to retread and backtrack the same areas did get a little boring and may cause some players to give up way before the game really starts to open up. My suggestion is to just plod through this early stuff and your patience and determination will be rewarded.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time with Sophie in her quest to fill her grandmothers alchemists shoes. The story is really cute-sie and not very serious at all which is a nice change from all of the other dire-filled exploits of many other JRPGs. The music is very light-hearted and upbeat and helps to set a tone that is a breath of fresh air when you are tired of the usual video game fare. Finding out that GUST plans for this to be a multi-game franchise on the PS4 will definitely excite long-time fans of the series. If you have been wanting to get this game and were just waiting to hear if it was worth the price of admission, it certainly is so don’t wait a moment longer and run out and grab a copy now.
This review is based on a copy of the game provided by the publisher.
The Atelier series finally makes it to next-gen consoles
Challenge - 9/10
Gameplay - 7.5/10
Design - 7/10
+ Story is light-hearted and fun
+ Character designs are amazing
+ Turn-based battle system is familiar and easy to use
+ Music is very well done and fits tone perfectly
- Backtracking to in-game locations can be boring
- Environment designs could have used a little more TLC