Atelier Sophie is one of the more recent entries in the “Atelier” series of games from Gust. The Atelier series of games has been a favorite of mine since Atelier Iris came out for PS2. Admittedly, I haven’t played one since Rorona, which I’ve been meeting to correct. In Atelier Sophie you play out the life of Sophie Neuenmuller, a budding alchemist. Sophie’s alchemical expertise more often than not results in explosions; she has a serious learning drive to improve her abilities. One day, she discovers a reference book her grandma left behind, and after writing an alchemy recipe in it, it starts talking to her. The book, named Plachta, reveals a case of amnesia, and it turns out that writing recipes down in the book will reveal more of Plachta’s memories.
The basic gameplay is split between two different aspects: alchemy and combat. While the alchemy is the focus of the game, the combat is more so an intermediary step in getting the materials you need to make new products. Ideas for recipes can be gained from completing certain tasks, such as gathering certain materials, talking to people, or examining objects. Once you have your recipe and materials, you mix them together using a sort of Tetris-style grid, in order to boost or alter effects. Collection of necessary ingredients is handled by traversing through monster infested plains and dungeons, picking up anything you think might be useful, up to a set carry limit. The combat hasn’t changed much since the series induction, with a turn-based battle system with a few changes between installments. In this case, you can bring up to four people with you into battle, and can switch between defensive and offensive stances. Depending on the stance, certain chain moves will occur once conditions are met.
For those who have played some of the more recent Atelier games, the time system is still in effect: harvesting and combat will take so much time, and days and months will pass as you gather/fight/travel/synthesize. One major thing to note is that there are no real deadlines, so the passing of time is only really relevant to events that have a limited period or time when they appear, or for altering harvesting results and monsters that appear in the field. Requests are still available at the local restaurant, where the owner will give you tasks that you can complete for money. Some have certain limits for the number of days you have to complete them, while others are universally acceptable. In addition to the high paying requests, you can also drop some cash in order to hear “rumors”. These rumors can be anything from helpful tips to alterations of harvest quality or type.
While I am really grateful to see that the Atelier formula hasn’t kept the date limit like in some of the other games, Atelier Sophie does suffer from two major flaws: urgency and plot relevance. While I love exploring and stocking up on as much as is humanly possible, which wasn’t as much an option in some prior games, the problem with Sophie is that you’re given “too much time”. While you can spend as much time as you want out in the field or crafting materials, the fact that hours, days, months can pass by without you really doing anything gives a sort of disconnected feeling from the game, as if the characters only really age or grow when it’s convenient. In conjunction with this, the plot feels almost secondary to the crafting system. More than once I crafted some sort of necessary item to progress, only to think “okay, not right now, I still have more stuff to make”. While the aspects revolving around the main story don’t seem to be particularly cohesive, that doesn’t necessarily mean it would feel the same to everyone. If you, like me, always have to fully stock your inventory, craft everything possible, including variations, and explore every nook and cranny of newly discovered dungeons, the storyline will feel almost like an attachment, rather than a main focus. If you play a game for story, and aren’t hung up on total exploration and perfection, the actual story will feel much more relevant for you.
Characters are interesting for the most part, if not a little typical, and will generally provide of few interesting quirks or character traits that will make you at least partially invested in them. One great aspect is how you interact with characters, regardless of whether or not they are NPCs or recruitable characters. Interact with characters, learn more about them, and perhaps even recruit them to your party to give you an edge in battle. Characters all have different equippable gear and items, allowing for a certain level of strategy to be involved when choosing your teammates. Additionally, after a certain point in the story, you can create and tweak an artificial body that you make for Plachta. How you craft Plachta’s form will reflect in the stat growth and abilities Plachta possesses.
From a broad overview of the game itself, as a standalone, I’ve been quite enjoying my time with Sophie and her gang. While it may not have been what was intended, I have set my own direction and play style, and I’ve rolled with it much to my satisfaction. As a part of the “Atelier” universe, I can honestly say it definitely isn’t my favorite (that honor belongs to Atelier Iris 3), but it’s definitely one of the games and much rather come back to repeatedly. It’s important to note that Atelier Sophie on PC is a port, and has had a few issues making the transition. While at first run I didn’t notice much of an issue, the more I played the worse the loading times and framerate drops became. At one point I started saving, went and got a glass of milk, and came back in time to see it finish. The worst part is that these loading and lag slowdowns were so inconsistent that half the time everything was smooth as butter then suddenly slow as molasses. At least if it were consistent I could at least expect it.
While some aspects may seem potentially annoying or daunting, such as the passage of time (and the fact no one has an open store at one in the morning) or the intricacies of the alchemy system, these aspects grew on me the more I kept playing. I learned to adjust my in-game schedule in order to view character events, and the alchemy system is something meant to start off as a looming presence that you slowly become familiar with. Overall, Atelier Sophie is a great addition to the series, and while it does have its flaws, does its best to try and overcome them. Although the PC port could run a lot smoother, the majority of the transition went well, and is still an enjoyable game to play.
Koei Tecmo Games
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Article by Richard