Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book Review

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Title: Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Books
Developer: Gust, Koei Tecmo
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Type: Vita
Download: 2.0 GB
NA Availability: 
Digital Download

EU Availability: Digital Download
PSTV Support: 
Yes

How many Atelier games are on the Vita in English, at this point?  It’s a lot.  To take them in number, we have the Arland Trilogy, two games from the Dusk Trilogy (hopefully with Shallie Plus on the way), and this new game I’m about to talk about.  If you include the PSP version of Mana Khemia, a spin-off series from Atelier, we are looking at 7 different Atelier games in the West for the PS Vita.  That’s a lot of games.  Almost has the Neptunia and their 8 games beat.  Almost.

So, with Atelier, you probably know that the series has slowly gotten more user-friendly.  Games like Atelier Totori have very strict time restrictions, while Rorona Plus, Ayesha Plus, and Escha + Logy Plus have been increasingly casual on the time restraints.  The new game that comes out today is even more lax.  It’s so lax that story events aren’t restricted by time restraints at all.  Fans begged enough that Gust completely removed the time restraints.  Be sure to thank them later, if you’re one of those fans.

Today, we have the start of a new series in Atelier.  The newly-announced Atelier Firis is actually part of the same series as this game.  So, without further ado, here is my review of the PS Vita version of Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book!

Story

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Talking books are normal?  Only in Atelier

The story takes place in a small church town called Kirchen Bell.  A young woman named Sophie lives and works in an Atelier that her late grandmother ran as the town’s alchemist.  Inexperienced and still new, Sophie is trying her best to learn alchemy to become a reliable source of medicine for the town.  One day from coming home with new materials, she discovers a mysterious book in the Atelier, which starts to fly and speak to her, calling itself Plachta and that they have no memories.

With Sophie and her friends shocked at Plachta’s existence, Sophie agrees to help the magical book regain its lost memories in exchange for teaching her the art of alchemy so she can be a better resource for the town of Kirchen Bell.  As things go forward, they soon realize that the lost memories of Plachta lead to much bigger things than simple alchemy recipes.

The story is casual, fun, and cute, as Atelier is known for.  However, much of the latter parts of the game also comes to a higher level that other RPGs try to go for.  We aren’t talking about global-domination-threat like in Final Fantasy, but it’s more than most Atelier games try to go for.

Gameplay

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Making a cauldron inside another cauldron.  Makes sense

Atelier Sophie is a turn-based RPG heavily based around time management and item creation through alchemy.  Atelier fans know how it goes here.  You collect materials from dungeons and monsters so you can mix them together into new materials and items.  The same is shown here, though there is a fair focus on combat as well.

First, let’s discuss how time management has changed.  In past titles, every major story objective was timed.  You had until a certain day to get it done or you might get a game over.  This element was removed in Sophie.  You have all the time in the world to get story objectives done.  If you want to take 5 days, 5 weeks, or 5 years to do a single objective, you will not be punished in the slightest bit.  Time elements are instead pushed towards hours of the day and days of the week that dictate what types of materials and monsters appear in certain dungeons depending on what day or time of day you visit.

Progressing the story is in the form of unlocking Plachta’s memories.  Every memory is based on an alchemy recipe.  Just like other recipes unlock when you meet certain conditions, so do memory recipes.  The requirements change from memory to memory, though.  One memory may require you to fight monsters to fill the gauge while another may require you to donate money to the local church or fight a boss in a certain dungeon.  There are also a couple sections of the game that deviate from this to focus more on story to switch things up on you.

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Free money laying on the road.  If only we were all that lucky

Traveling and moving is done via the Town Map and World Map.  In the town, you have several locations and facilities you can visit, like the church to buy talismans, the blacksmith to create and upgrade weapons, the café to take on requests for citizens or listen to rumors that make special items and monsters appear, or the Atelier where you can save your progress, sleep to make time pass, or make items through alchemy synthesis.

The World Map, like previous games, showcases all of the dungeons you can navigate to.  You will only have a single dungeon available at first, but new dungeons appear from gaining Plachta’s memories as well as speaking to certain characters at certain points of the story.  By the end of the game, the entire map will be filled with dozens of dungeons for you to go to.

A new element they added to travel is fatigue.  Every character has an LP gauge when they leave town.  Every time you perform an action, LP is used.  The lower your LP gets, the weaker your character gets in combat.  You stay out of town too long and you can go from doing 50 damage per attack to 1 damage per attack.  You have to watch that gauge or you can get into a bad situation with monsters in some of the dungeons.

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4 against 1.  My kind of odds

Now let’s get to combat.  You have turn-based battles against enemy parties, and it’s pretty standard.  You have physical attacks, skills that use MP, and you get experience, items, and money when you win a battle.  That’s all the same.  What isn’t the same is how Sophie handles Team Actions.

In previous games, once you fought so much, you could do a quick-reaction support action, like taking damage for a party member or adding an additional attack.  This is all automated in this game.  Each time a character chooses actions, you can set them to an Offense or Defense stance.  If they’re in an Offense Stance, they’ll have a chance to do a support attack, and in Defense, they’ll have a chance to do a support defender action.  This also goes into attack chains, where the higher the chain goes, the better support actions can be accomplished, up to a full party team attack not unlike the All-Out Attacks from Persona 4.

The final aspects of gameplay I should go over are the Ability and Weapon/Armor Crafting.  The game has a pretty low Level Cap of 20.  Once you reach this, every “level” gives you Ability Points.  These can be used for abilities that range from upgraded skills to permanent stat increases to character-specific passive skills.  This can be critical for later bosses, like Monika’s ability that permanently reduces all damage she takes and increases her evasion rate or Sophie’s skill to increase the effectiveness of attack items.

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You never are explained why her Rapier waves like a door stopper

When you craft weapons and armor, you can pass traits onto them.  There are a lot of combat and stat-based traits to materials you find.  This can range from stat enhancements to reducing the MP cost for skills.  The better traits you have, the more likely you’ll be to succeed in combat.  Considering the difficulty spikes quickly in the game’s combat, you’ll need all the help you can get, apart from just the ability to swap the difficulty setting of the game on the fly.

The length of this game is pretty long.  I finished the story and saw the credits roll after playing for around 42 hours.  After this, you are able to use your clear data to unlock any events, recipes, and other base game unlockables.  You also gain access to a post-game dungeon and a post-game boss for you to further enhance your skills to take down.

Controls

First and foremost, Atelier Sophie is completely compatible with the PlayStation TV.  On top of this, there is a function that can be used with the R3 button, which will automatically center the camera behind Sophie.  A nice little addition instead of only making the game run on the PSTV.  Gust and Koei Tecmo always deserve props for catering so well to the PSTV community.

Moving around is done with the Left Analog Stick and you can rotate the camera with the right analog stick.  The D-Pad is used mostly for navigating menus.  The triggers are used to access the quick-travel menu in town, letting you go straight to a specific place instead of manually walking there (though that is also an option for you).  Finally, the face buttons.  X and Circle are used for interacting with NPCs, jumping in the field and navigating menus.  Triangle brings up the customization menu, and Square interacts with NPCs.

This is explained pretty well, so I have no complaints here.  The Atelier games are always easy to figure out.

Presentation

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Atelier, teaching gamers the benefit of reading books since 2004

Visually, the game looks outstanding, as Atelier Vita games always do.  When you display the game on the PSTV, it looks like you’re playing a recent console game, rather than a handheld game.  You have to give Gust props for always making the Atelier games visually beautiful, regardless of what platform.

Performance is what everyone is wondering about.  Gust is still improving as this runs a little better than the Vita version of Escha + Logy, but there are still a lot of frame drops in combat.  During battle animations and especially when a battle spawns, there are quite a few places where the frames will drop or the game will just freeze for a moment while it tries to use what it’s trying to trigger.

The other thing is the same song and dance as the previous games.  There are more voiced Japanese scenes than voiced English scenes.  With Sophie’s small 2 GB file size, there’s plenty of room to have a fully-voiced English translation.  Major scenes are voiced, but switch languages and you’ll see there’s probably 2 or 3 times as many scenes voiced in Japanese than English.  Which is a shame, as I really love the Nepgear VA’s work as Sophie.

Summary

Atelier Sophie is definitely one of the most user-friendly Atelier games to date.  On the downside, the Vita versions till suffers from occasional frame drops and an incomplete English vocal translation.  If you can suffer some drops in battle, this is a great game for Atelier fans and also a good starting point if you’re new to the series. 

8/10

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