Editor’s Note: This is a review coupled with a video review. You can watch the video review above, or read a transcript of the video below.
Hello everybody, my name is Tyler Valle and this is Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book, developed by Gust and published by Koei Tecmo for the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita. If you’re not familiar with the Atelier franchise that’s now spanned across three generations of PlayStation consoles, don’t worry, neither was I.
Atelier is a series that fully embodies the moe genre of anime, into a series of video games. In each game you play as a little girl who’s attempting to become a powerful alchemist but starts the game as somewhat of a…well…loser. You’re not very good at your job, but you have a lot of heart and the talent to become the alchemist of your dreams, and while there may be other stories being along the way, the main driving force of your journey is to improve your alchemical skills and be the best.
Even though the main characters in the games change frequently, their personalities are relatively the same, though they are tweaked slightly to ensure that the fanbase doesn’t get bored of them. Each girl is kind, lighthearted, earnest, loving, ditsy, and above all else, cute. Oh, should I not have called them cute? Is this what the Australians meant when they rated Atelier Totori R18 for it’s high impact violence and sexual references? I’m sorry.
Each game is unique in how alchemy works, but they do carry over many elements to each game. So while the actual alchemy of Sophie may be different, everything else should be relatively the same.
Atelier Sophie, and yes that’s the way you pronounce Atelier, (it’s not Atelier) can be split into two sections, adventuring and alchemy. Adventuring consists of going out into the wilderness to gather ingredients from the ground or from monsters. Those ingredients can then be used in alchemy, allowing you to create anything from medicines to bombs. As you progress up your list of recipes, you’ll reach certain recipes that, once completed, will continue the main story. There are plenty of different recipes to choose from and each has their own way to be unlocked in your book.
Once you start making things in alchemy, you’ll choose the ingredients you want to use and then will be taken to a grid where the items are laid on said grid. While you are able to place any item on any square you want, you will get bonuses for certain actions, such as using the same color or grabbing as many of the large orbs are possible. If any of your placements overlap, the originally placed ingredient’s bonuses will be nullified, so it is important to be careful where you place your items on the grid.
When you complete alchemy recipes you gain experience that goes towards your alchemy level, a separate level for Sophie that allows her to create even better items and will unlock bonus effects that can be placed on the items you create. These include effects such as “improve armor plus 10” or “permanently increase HP by 10”. This allows for even more creativity when you’re working hard on your alchemy.
Combat in Atelier Sophie is your usual turn based combat, nothing to special about it and honestly, and that’s just fine for me. I actually lament the fact that we don’t have many turn based JRPG’s anymore, instead opting for action style combat, while that does work in certain games I love cough Type 0 cough Crisis Core (Note: This might be better just as part of the video).
There are plenty of party members that you will gather along your journey to help you cut down any monsters that stand in your way, but as long as you know what you’re doing, you can get pretty far with your basic party.
Arguably the strongest point of the Atelier franchise are the characters, each usually brimming with personality. They generally are the ones who drive Atelier forward, even if the gameplay can feel lackluster at times. However, I feel this is Atelier Sophie’s weakest point, none of the characters in the game have allowed to me to feel any semblance of a connection with them. I’m not sure what do with them nor am I aware of why I’m supposed to care about them beyond the game saying “these are Sophie’s friends, care about them please.”
None of the character interactions feel natural, as every character almost feels like they are a stereotype of their supposed role within the game. Maybe it’s just me? Like I said, I’m not too familiar with the franchise, so all I can do is compare the characters in this game to characters from other JRPGs I am a fan of. The major problem I have is that everyone acts so strange, it kind of shows that they don’t have a personality. Let’s use the first five characters you really interact with in the game as an example:
- First, there’s Sophie. Her personality is that she’s kind of scatterbrained, though that’s only told to us by the fact that there are a lot of books in her alchemist hut. She’s a novice alchemist who’s not very good at her job. She optimistic and seems like she wants to be depended on.
- Next is her friend? Monika. I got nothing. I literally have no idea why this character exists in the fashion she does. Her personality can be summed up as “seems nice and is optimistic.” Meaning she’s almost exactly like Sophie, except she’s not an alchemist nor scatterbrained.
- Third up is Oskar, he looks like a dork and likes to talk about plants. He thinks he can talk to plants and–I mean he has a hot mom–yeah that’s about it.
- Fourth is Julio, another character with no personality who joins your party for no real reason. He’s a knight who’s searching for an alchemist who can help the kingdom he hails from. He finds Sophie (by coincidence) and decides he’s gonna help her with her alchemy. His character traits consist of being quiet and not having real motivation for following around a little girl in the forest at night.
- Finally is Plachta, a book with no memories who eventually becomes a doll with no memories. As you discover and complete alchemy recipes, they are written in Plachta’s pages, which slowly allow her to gain her memories again. Due to not having memories, her character is sort of a blank slate. When her tiny bits of character do shine through, she can be enjoyable, but that’s usually just her being upset that people think a book that talks is weird.
One of the reasons why I enjoy Japanese games as much as I do, is that many of them are really driven forward by the characters they create rather than the action driving the characters forward, like many western tales. Games like Yakuza or Valkyria Chronicles are fun and filled with action sure, but it’s the characters that people love. You may be able to recreate Yakuza with a completely new cast, and it could work. But to steal a term from wrestling, the moment you saw the return of Kazuma Kiryu, you’d mark out. That is the strength of many Japanese games.
Atelier Sophie’s characters just aren’t 3 dimensional enough for me to care about them, and that’s a shame. The story, what little there really is, plays out almost like you’d think it would. However, if you’re been watching or reading my review, you should know by now that I’m not going to talk about the stories, because I assume that many of you are like me and would prefer to go into a game’s story completely blind.
Honestly the best thing I can say about Atelier Sophie is that the game may be one of the best looking games of the year, due to its style and graphics, though that should be no surprise to anyone familiar with Gust’s work. They always make their games look great, and Koei Tecmo, while there have been a few hiccups on PS4 and PS VITA, they are fully capable of producing fantastic games with the hardware they are provided (if only that could transfer over to their PC ports). Even though this video is only 720p at 30FPS, which is a limitation placed on us by the video capture feature of the PS4, let it be known that Atelier Sophie runs at 1080p with a smooth as silk 60FPS.
I’m willing to say that the Atelier franchise may just not be for me, I much prefer my JRPG’s to be fantastical journeys through equally fantastical worlds while I grind to level up to get ready to fight the big bad villain while their theme song chants their name. Atelier Sophie is like a slice of life anime with some combat and magic. While I may not be the target audience for this game, I can’t deny that it’s a well made and fun game to play.
If you liked the previous Atelier games, you’ll like this one I guarantee it, I’d almost recommend it to you based solely on the fact that it runs so well that it becomes even more frustrating that so many games released today can’t seem to truly push the Playstation 4 and VITA hardware to their full potential
Atelier Sophie is a good game, just not a game for me personally, but I got to admit, I do love alchemy now. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go and build some bombs so let’s wrap this up. My name is Tyler Valle, and make sure to check out Niche Gamer for all your gaming news, previews and reviews, and make sure to subscribe to us on Youtube as I slave away to provide you with new video content.
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a digital code provided by Koei Tecmo. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.
The Verdict: 8
- The only world I can use to describe (Atelier) Sophie is beautiful, oh and the game looks amazing too!
- The combat is turn based, and I really love that. More games need to bring this back gosh darn it.
- Alchemy is challenging to do well and makes you feel great when you get it right.
- While this may be subjective, I’d much prefer to play a JRPG with your average “Go fight the big bad” storyline.
- The characters are all pretty bland in my opinion, though once again, you may totally disagree.