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Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book (PlayStation 4) artwork

Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book (PlayStation 4) review

"A Relaxing JRPG To Soothe The Soul"

Atelier Sophie is the latest game in the long running Atelier franchise. As the title suggests, players operate an atelier and make items with gathered materials. The games feature JRPG staples, such as turn-based battles and a colorful cast of characters, but the emphasis is clearly placed upon item crafting and slice-of-life moments spent with friends.

Like past games in the series, Atelier Sophie opens to reveal a young girl hard at work in her shop. What sets Sophie apart from past games is that its protagonist isnít suddenly presented with a boatload of debt to pay off, or forced to work against a strict time limit to complete quests for a governmental body. Instead, Sophie is learning how to toil as an alchemist while keeping her grandmotherís atelier open. She soon stumbles upon a talking amnesiac alchemy book named Plachta, and must fill its pages with recipes to restore the memories the volume once contained.

Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book (PlayStation 4) image

While Atelier Sophie does feature an overarching narrative, the true strength of its story lies in its ability to tell a number of smaller, more intimate, stories. In between adventuring and item crafting, Sophie hangs out with her friends and forms stronger bonds. The game shines during these moments, selling the idea that youíre playing a slice-of-life anime where life moves slowly and even the littlest things somehow feel extraordinary.

What makes these interactions so interesting is that Atelier Sophie brings back a modified version of the time mechanic featured in past games. There are no deadlines, beyond those that apply to certain side quests, but each character moves on a defined schedule. For instance, Sophieís best friend, Monika, hangs out around church on Sundays. She may ask Sophie to attend next weekís service with her. If Sophie remembers her commitment and shows up, Monika will become friendlier towards Sophie and may even unlock new skills that can be used in battle.

When Sophie isnít interacting with the kooky inhabitants of her town, sheís making items in her atelier. These moments make up the meat of the game, which features the same complex item synthesis systems that returning fans will recall from the Dusk trilogy. Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea greatly simplified alchemy, and Sophie takes that streamlining process a step further with a more visual system that has each ingredient taking up spaces in a 6x6 or larger grid. As each item is placed in this grid, and depending on the element with which it is paired, the resulting itemís elemental strength and correlating enhancements are increased. Thereís a lot of flexibility, especially once Sophie obtains new cauldrons and begins using higher quality ingredients.

Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book (PlayStation 4) image

Speaking of ingredients, item gathering is much smarter in Sophie than it was in past games. In Shallie, item availability and rarity were tied to a seemingly arbitrary happiness meter that went up and down for reasons that were never fully explained. This time around, items on the field can change based on the time of day and weather. Also, as Sophie collects more items in any one field, the monsters grow stronger, but the rarity and quantity also improve. Atelier Sophie requires an interesting balancing act, because pursuing better items means running the risk of getting destroyed by monsters.

You can bet on getting destroyed by monsters rather often, even if you're cautious. Atelier Shallie presented plentiful opportunities to gain combat experience simply by completing quests. Shallie and allies became far more powerful than monsters in a short amount of time. Leveling is much slower in Atelier Sophie, however, and the game requires players to take more advantage of combat items and abilities in order to survive some of the more intense encounters.

The major addition to combat this time around is the stance. Each character possesses offensive and defensive stances that can be selected during their turn. If two characters select offensive stances, those two characters may be able to follow each others' regular attacks with support moves that deal additional damage to the enemy. If all four characters are linked offensively, some major damage can be dealt, but Sophie and other weak characters are left open to potential reprisal. The defensive stance comes into play here, as stronger characters can link defensively with Sophie to protect her from powerful attacks.

Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book (PlayStation 4) image

Atelier games are generally strong mechanically, but a major draw also lies in their presentation. Like every installment before it, Atelier Sophie is a real looker. While the environments are largely simplistic and betray the game's multi-platform existence, the character models are gorgeous. Iím convinced that no other development team translates concept art to in-game models better than Gust does, and Atelier Sophie is further proof of that theory.

Though Atelier Sophie is an excellent game, it will likely appeal to a limited audience. Itís slow-paced and content to focus more on hanging out with friends than on the dash of adventure that's available on the side. Under that slice-of-life veneer, however, lies a complex and flexible item synthesis system that demands serious investment from players. If you're intrigued by the idea of spending hours gathering components just so you can make one item, youíre probably an Atelier fan already. If you havenít yet tried the series, though, know that Sophie is also the most accessible entry yet in terms of story and mechanics. So grab your cauldron and start brewing some rare items!


Phazonmasher's avatar
Freelance review by Zachary Walton (July 04, 2016)

Zach Walton likes JRPGs, visual novels, horror games and anything that gives him an excuse to drink.

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