Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is the seventeenth main installment in the Atelier line of JRPGs. As such, it's understandable if someone new to the game is a little taken aback or even discouraged from delving in so far into the title. Well, as someone who never got too into these games before, I'm here to tell you that now's the time to check this series out if you haven't already.
Not only does Atelier Sophie mark the franchise's debut on the PlayStation 4, it also kicks off a new story within the series. And though there are nods and winks to past titles, specifically with regard to cameo appearances from previous protagonists, this seventeenth entry is a fresh start that's inviting and fun to play.
A Talking Book with Amnesia? Yes, That's the Plot
You play as the titular Sophie, a novice alchemist who hopes to one day be as good with the magic arts as her deceased grandmother. Sophie is a mostly likable character, though she can be kind of annoying at times. Still, she means well and tries to see the best in all of the other characters, so it's hard not to cheer her on as you play.
One day, Sophie stumbles upon a book filled with blank pages. After writing a recipe on one of the pages, the book begins to talk to Sophie. As it turns out, the book belonged to Sophie's grandmother. Also, the book has amnesia. Yeah, this is the kind of story we're dealing with here. But actually, it's not exactly bad, because the absurdity of it all is right in line with what you'd expect from a JRPG. And it helps that Atelier Sophie doesn't take itself too seriously and instead provides a lighthearted tale with plenty of comedic moments.
It's Not the End of the World
Sophie takes it upon herself to help the book, whose name is Plachta, regain its, um, her lost memories. She can only do so by writing new alchemy recipes in it, and these are unlocked by performing different tasks such as defeating a lot of enemies, synthesizing spells, harvesting ingredients, and taking on stronger creatures. What separates Atelier Sophie from other JRPGs is the game's emphasis on alchemy. Exploring areas takes a backseat to the actual recipe crafting gameplay, and unlocking these recipes is your main objective if you wish to help Plachta reclaim her lost past.
At first, there are only a few areas for you to explore in search of ingredients. The more you play, the larger the map gets, and the more resources you're able to come across. Of course, newer locations are also filled with tougher enemies, so battling is by no means ruled out. In fact, some ingredients can only be obtained by taking down monsters, so be prepared to duke it out often. These areas aren't traditional dungeons, either, but rather open spaces where you can harvest ingredients while battling roaming creatures.
Aside from Sophie's home and the world map, you can also visit the town market. There you'll find even more ingredients for your recipes, but you'll also be able to purchase weapons and armor. And if you hit up the local cafe, you'll be able to take on optional quests to earn extra cash. These side quests aren't too taxing, and they often require you to go to a specific location on the map and defeat a certain enemy or craft and deliver an item.
Admittedly, Atelier Sophie can get repetitive because you spend a lot of time doing the same things and visiting the same places. It isn't long before you settle on a routine that consists of harvesting, battling, and synthesizing. Still, there's something really enjoyable about the pace of the game. Unlike so many JRPGs, there really isn't a sense of urgency. Instead, you play at your leisure, making for a chill, laidback experience that's kind of refreshing for the genre.
Though most of the game is pretty easygoing, battles can certainly get tough. Your party, which consists of Sophie and three partners, has access to all kinds of offensive and defensive maneuvers. You can use melee and magic attacks, healing spells, buffs, and so on. You can also perform link actions, which aren't too complex. Basically, offensive links allow your party members to deliver team-based combo attacks in unison. Meanwhile, defensive links let characters jump in harm's way to protect their buddies on the field.
A Nice Entry Point for Atelier Newcomers
Seeing as how Atelier Sophie is the first game in the series to hit the PlayStation 4, it's kind of a shame that it doesn't look better. Aesthetically, the game is actually quite nice to look at. Everything is brightly colored, and the main character models are solid. But it would've been nice if the newer hardware's power was utilized more.
Even more underwhelming is the musical score, which consists of generic, forgettable themes. The voice acting is a bit too stereotypical, too, with performances ranging from decent to weak and never sounding at all original. There are also moments where there's no voice acting, and you're forced to read the text. Because these moments come out of nowhere — likely due to localization-related reasons, as was the case with Trails of Cold Steel — it's a bit jarring.
Clearly, Atelier Sophie is nowhere close to being a perfect game. That said, it's an undeniably fun game, and its relaxed pacing makes it easier to jump into than most other JRPGs. If you've been curious about the Atelier series and haven't played one of the previous games, Atelier Sophie is as good a place as any to see what this series has to offer.