Considering how many Atelier games have come to Vita, it may be a surprise to some that this is my first forage into the series. The truth is, I was never sure just how well the crafting system would jell with my gaming style. However, after playing Return to PopoloCrois on 3DS for Infinite Frontiers, I thought “Hey! Maybe this gathering and crafting IS something I can get behind”.
You’re gosh-darn right it was.
Atelier Sophie is a fine example of the JRPG breed, with all the tropes and highlights of the genre: a semi-generic story about someone/something that suffers unexplained amnesia on the one hand, and a fantastic battle and crafting system, awesome music, great character development and gorgeous graphics on the other.
You play as Sophie, a mediocre alchemist with potential to become better. Suddenly, you find a mysterious book in your Atelier (see how the naming of the game is spot on?) and, well… the book can talk. Plachta, as the book is called, will be the catalyst for all kinds of adventures in the town of Kirchen Bell and beyond.
The story isn’t really that much cope, if I’m honest. Then again, the whole JRPG genre has been a bit stagnant on the story front for a while. Character development, however, is great: you feel connected to Sophie, her plight to help Plachta recover her memories, and Plachta itself.
It’s a strange dichotomy, for sure. But it serves the game well enough.
The real hero of the game is the crafting system, as it is usual in the Atelier series. This being the 17th entry, Koei Tecmo have really perfected the balance between depth and accessibility. There are many things that factor into the success (or otherwise) of your synthesis, but they are presented to the user gradually, and become second nature surprisingly quickly.
Not only do you pick ingredients that have certain affinity to this or another element, but the way you place them on a “panel” also alter the bonuses you get by crafting them.
It sounds a lot more complicated than it really is, and while it may seem overwhelming at first, it’s a great example of relaxware: you can really lose yourself in the seemingly mundane tasks and escape reality for a while.
Hot on the heels of the crafting system as the hero of the game is the battle system, which incorporates a mechanic that reminded me of “Bravely Default”: you can either take an offensive stance or a defensive one, each with perks and downfalls. This really comes into play when battling enemies that use charge-type attacks, as you can try to knock them out before they get their turn, or buckle down and take a defensive stance and try to attack on the other end of the turn.
The variety of enemies and allies is a bit below what I’d have expected from such a long-running series, but it’s way above the average of today’s “let’s just change the color” attitude that some developers seem to prefer.
If you’ve paid attention to the screenshots I’ve been posting, you’ll see that, at least “on paper”, Atelier Sophie looks really good. The same can be said of the game in motion: While the environments can appear a little empty sometimes, they always look far from drab and they contain a hint of realism that is very rarely found on a game whose art is so obviously anime-inspired.
The graphics engine for the Atelier games has really been optimized for Vita at this point and Sophie runs beautifully well. I experienced no frame-drops outside of a couple of scenes inside the Atelier, and everything from traveling across the overworld to battles and exploring/gathering ran buttery smooth.
The music is another highlight of the game, as it presents a cute-but-not-overly-sugary accompaniment to the adventures of your protagonists. The acting is particularly fantastic, with Christine Marie Cabanos’ portrayal of Sophie being the highlight of the game. This should come as no surprise, though, as Christine is a Sailor Moon veteran and also a member of a family that I hold near and dear to my heart: the Neptunia series (in which she plays Nepgear).
All in all, my first Atelier experience has been a great one, and I can say for sure that it won’t be the last.
A lackluster story can’t keep down what’s otherwise a fantastic game, with a deeply satisfactory crafting system, good characters, great music, even better voice-acting, and one of the best Vita JRPG engines this side of the Sword Art Online series.
A must-have for fans of relaxware, Atelier Sophie has synthesized its way to my mysterious book.
- Title: Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~
- Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games
- Developer: Koei Tecmo Games
- Format: Physical / PSN Download
- Memory Card Space Needed: 2.0Gb