Back to form.
As someone who has been following the Atelier series since the PS2 generation, I was left rather disappointed by the last entry to the long running series, Atelier Shallie.
Not only was the localization a mess, but it also featured numerous bugs- including one which actually hard-froze the game when trying to access a mechanic through the menu.
That wasn’t all, as it also did away with time limit system that was more or less the driving force of the game’s pacing, and replaced it with an awkward debuff mechanic that felt more annoying than anything else.
Suffice to say, I felt the developers at Gust really dropped the ball, and luckily it seems that they’ve picked it up once more as the latest title, Atelier Sophie, is a vast improvement.
Voice Acting Selection: JPN/ENG.
Played: 25~ Hours
The curtain opens to Sophie, a granddaughter to a famous and talented alchemist, inheriting the shop after her grandmother’s passing.
In her pursuit to better her skills as an alchemist, she finds a reference book which comes to life when she writes some recipes in it.
Luck would have it that the book was once a human being who has lost most of her memories, and Sophie vows to restore her new friend to her former self.
It’s a rather simple story, and as is typical for an Atelier game, it’s a very laid back plot full of slice of life moments.
There aren’t any all-powerful manifestations of all the evil in the world threatening to destroy the universe. It’s a tale about a girl trying to keep a promise she made to a new friend, all the while caring for her loved ones in her hometown.
Meeting new people and learning about who they are and what drives them takes center stage in the narrative, and for an Atelier game I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.
As for the gameplay, the Atelier games have always been made of equal parts alchemy, combat, and character interactions.
The trend continues in Sophie, but in this entry the alchemy system has been refined to add a bit more strategy than usual.
Sure, the player is still tasked with gathering items in the field, but now during the crafting process, each ingredient must be placed individually on a board of varying shapes and sizes based on the cauldron used, as well as end result in question.
It feels like more than just a simple mini-game, and amounts to something like a puzzle onto itself, as making proper use of the board can serve to increase the quality of the item and can potentially even add incredibly powerful traits to them.
The turn-based combat is much less exciting but solid overall, as it opens up gradually as the plot progresses but it does take quite a few hours to really get going.
That is generally my biggest concern about Sophie, as it is rather slow paced with the exclusion of the time-limit system once more.
Since there were no goals or hard deadlines to meet, I just passed my time doing whatever I felt like, which felt a bit aimless and boring at times.
Luckily, the characters were all charming in their own way, and I had a good time watching them interact with one another.
There were also plenty of jobs to handle for rewards, and of course I spent hours synthesizing the most ridiculously overpowered items/equipment, which has always been my favorite aspect of the Atelier games.
The overall experience ends up being a much more laid-back one, and lacks that micromanagement of time that I thoroughly enjoyed in the previous entries, but at least in this instance, it isn’t replaced by something utterly insufficient and annoying.
This being the first Atelier title on the PS4, I was curious how well the game would perform, and I’m happy to report that this is easily the best looking and performing Atelier game to date. The trademark Atelier cell shading looks sharp and colorful, and I wasn’t able to notice a single framerate drop throughout my lengthy playtime.
Gust’s first foray on the PS4 with their flagship Atelier title is a rousing success, and even though I lament the removal of the time limit mechanic from the series, it still proves one of the strongest entries the franchise has had to date, and one of the best RPGs available on the PS4.
Fun Tidbit: The Japanese voice selection features full voice acting for all events while the English voice overs only offers partial. I hope one day they’ll opt not to cheap out on the localization costs.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.