Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book PC Review – Running in the Free World
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious BookFebruary 7th, 2017 (PC)
The Atelier series has been on the rise these past few years, with more and more players starting to appreciate Gust's unique approach to role-playing game mechanics. Last year, Gust released Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita, an important step for the series as it introduced some mechanics that have been expanded and refined in the following entry, Atelier Firis: Alchemist of the Mysterious Journey, released earlier this year. The PC version of Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book only hit Steam a few weeks before Atelier Firis and it's a solid port of a game's that's somewhat worse than its successor.
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book stars Sophie, a young girl who takes over her grandmother's atelier. With the power of alchemy, Sophie wishes to help the people of her hometown, but her life takes a strange turn when she encounters Plachta, a mysterious book that talks. Having completely lost her memories, Sophie vows to restore them and eventually turn her back into the powerful alchemist she once was.
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book's story is strongly focused on human relationships, mainly on Sophie and Plachta's friendship but also on Sophie's relationship with the townspeople she wants to help. The relationship between the two main characters is very well done, and it manages to carry the whole experience, as the story, as a whole, is nothing spectacular. There are other personal narratives in the game, but they're not as strong as the one involving Sophie and Plachta, and this is a bit disappointing, as other characters have interesting personalities that could have been explored in a better way.
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is the second game in the series that completely does away with the typical time limit, allowing players to spend as much time as they want exploring fields for ingredients, experimenting with alchemy and more. Sadly, the lack of time limit also creates some pacing issues, as most of the important events all happen during the weekend, potentially making the rest of the week feel dull and empty. Once players get a feel for this progression system, it becomes less bothersome, but the first few hours can feel pretty confusing for those who played previous entries of the series that featured a very strict and, at times limiting, progression system. In this regard, Atelier Firis is definitely superior, taking the best of both approaches to offer a much more compelling experience.
Alchemy also received a major overhaul over previous entries in the series. In Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book, players can choose which cauldron to use, all of them coming with a different grid where players can place ingredients to increase the item's quality. With some bonuses requiring specific colors as well as shapes, it's easy to spend huge amounts of time to produce the best possible items by taking advantage of this system. Unfortunately, alchemy has also become slightly more frustrating, especially for newcomers to the series, as recipes aren't exactly handed to the players. Experimenting with ingredients is made easier by the reference book, which gives some guidance, but a little more of it would have been welcome.
Battling monsters is usually not the main focus of the Atelier series, and Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is not that different in this regard. The game employs a turn-based system where player and enemy take turns to unleash regular attacks, special attacks, use items, which can finally be used by all characters, and defend. Unique to Atelier Sophie is the Stance system, which gives two characters using the same stance the chance to support each other with an extra attack or a special defensive action, depending on selected stance. The battle system also features a special gauge that allows characters to unleash a powerful special attack once filled to 300%. While the battle system works well, players cannot choose who unleashes the gauge powered special attack or any other follow up attack, so it can feel a bit limiting. These limitations become even more aggravating when encountering a difficulty spike, which can be overcome, most of the times, by simply crafting more powerful items. As the game's ability system is unlocked only after a few hours, it's pretty clear how traditional RPG features like battling monsters and getting stronger are not the focus in Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book as they aren't for the rest of the series.
As mentioned earlier, Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book on PC is a solid port, with the game looking better than it did on PlayStation 4 and characters looking especially good. Sadly, graphics options are very limited, allowing players to only choose resolution up to 4K and shadows quality. With no slowdowns or performance issues on most configuration, the PC version of Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is the one to get to enjoy the game at its best. Soundtrack and voice acting are also of good quality and in line with the rest of the series.
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is the beginning of a new narrative arc and as such, it comes with some features that have been improved in the following game. Even though some of its mechanics have been expanded and improved by Atelier Firis, Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is still an enjoyable game, mostly thanks to the development of Sophie and Planchta's friendship and the engaging alchemy system. Some issues here and there, such as the weird pacing and difficulty spikes, however, prevent it from being the best entry in the series.
Reviewed on PC (code provided by the publisher). You can buy it for PlayStation 4 via Amazon.
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is a solid, yet not perfect, beginning of the new saga, sporting enjoyable characters, that sadly don't get the development they deserved, outside Sophie and Plachta, and interesting mechanics, such as the new alchemy system. Some of the new mechanics, such as the removal of the time limit, do create some pacing issues, but the development of the main characters' relationship is so good that it's easy to look past this issue. Just don't expect to play the best Atelier game ever released.
- Sophie and Plachta's friendship
- Engaging alchemy mechanics
- Good looking characters
- No time limit...
- ... which creates some pacing issues
- Characters other than Sophie and Plachta don't get enough development
- Seemingly random difficulty spikes
- Discovering recipes can be difficult for newcomers