The latest entry of Koei Tecmo and Gust’s long-running RPG series, Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book, has arrived, bringing an all-new alchemist to train in the arts of creating elements while partaking in hundreds of turn-based battles. But is a new protagonist and a fresh plot enough to bring back players for another toil and troubling adventure, or is it just a rehash of what we’ve already seen before?
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book
Developed by Gust Co. / Published by Koei Tecmo
Available on the PS3, PS4 and PS Vita. Reviewed on the PS4.
*Review code provided by Koei Tecmo
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book tells the story of the latest apprentice alchemist, the titular Sophie, who has inherited her grandmother’s shop. With limited knowledge, she gets by with one or two recipes, but upon discovering a mysterious and sentient book, Sophie and her friends must try to restore its lost memories in order to find out what secrets and hidden truths it holds.
The storyline in Atelier Sophie is standard JRPG stuff, taking a while to go anywhere as it develops pretty slowly. The colorful cast of characters are nice, but the plot is full of typical anime banter, and doesn’t offer anything memorable or unique enough to set it apart from the pack or other entries in the series. If you’re a fan or JRPGs or the series then it’ll be satisfying enough, but don’t expect a mind-blowing tale here.
In regards to gameplay, this entry follows in the steps of its predecessors in being an exploration focused RPG with item creation elements. As before, players must venture out of the confines of the town and into the field to gather ingredients in order to create increasingly high-level items. Scavenging and collecting items takes time, which affects the game’s day/night cycle, and the locations you’ll be visiting also have enemies that patrol them, which lead to combat encounters.
Players are freely allowed to venture outside of town at any time, and due to the time cycles, different ingredients and enemies will appear at the same locations, requiring adventurers to revisit places to get specific stuff for their recipes. Once all the gathered ingredients needed are rounded up, players get to cook up an item with a neat mini-game in which items are rearranged in a grid to maximize their potential while leveling up their alchemy skills. This is turn allows players to complete side quests that involve the collection and turning in of items.
Combat is also a big part of the game, as players engage in battles when exploring. These encounters play out like typical JRPG turn-based battles, with the team using normal attacks, special offensive and defensive abilities that use magic points, defense to nullify some damage, and the ability to run away from hairy situations. The biggest difference here is that players can select from offensive and defensive stances in order to boost their respective attack or defense values, and players can also fill up special meters by attacking in order to activate special combo moves that’ll add more damage without taking extra turns. Hitting enemies repeatedly in a turn can also stun them and cause them to miss their upcoming turns, allowing players to strategically choose their targets and disable the most powerful enemies to get an edge in battle.
While it’s a common combat system, it’s definitively one of the best parts of the game, and it’s pretty entertaining. Carefully managing characters and leveling up is fun, and due to the fact that fighting causes the passage of time, it also adds a strategic element as players have to keep an eye on their energy levels or risk being underpowered. There’s also the occasional boss battle too, requiring players to strategize some more to overcome the tougher foes or grind a bit to get their stats up.
Overall though, it’s your standard grind and gather experience, as players complete side quests, create new mixes and items, and fight monsters until the flying book unlocks a new memory and pushes the plot forward, and then do it all over again to unlock the next piece of hidden memory. It’s pretty repetitive and slower to develop plot-wise thanks to doing the same type of tasks over and over again, but thankfully the combat is satisfying and the alchemy leveling up system is compelling.
Ultimately, Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book doesn’t really try anything different, and that’s fine, because it’s a solid game. While the plot isn’t that interesting and the overall gameplay is repetitive, it’s still a fun JRPG while an entertaining combat system and item creation mechanic. It’s not terribly deep, but fans of the genre and the long running series will look forward to the newest apprentice’s adventure.