You know you must be doing something right when you've kept a video game series running for almost two decades. Although the games wouldn't release outside of Japan until 2005, the Atelier franchise was first spawned with Atelier Marie: The Alchemist of Salburg on the original Playstation on May 23, 1997.
Creating new stories around new characters with each entry, this long-running chapter in the JRPG format has always sought to make each new game a unique one for its followers. And while Atelier Sophie doesn't feel like the most diverse entry in the series as a whole, this title still has a sufficient amount of adventure to please fans of the genre.
Atlelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is a Japanese role-playing game created by Gust Co Ltd. and published by Koei Tecmo. Centered around a young and aspiring alchemist, Sophie Neuenmuller wants nothing more than to follow in her grandmother's footsteps -- by helping the local townsfolk with whatever goods her inexperienced hands can create for them. However, when she stumbles upon a mysterious book in her workshop that she doesn't recognize, Sophie is shocked to discover the novel can speak, referring to itself as Plachta. Unable to remember anything about her past life, Sophie sets out on an adventure to help the spellbound Plachta reclaim her distant memories.
With a heavy amount of exploration in the game's focus, it's nice to see the world provided is one of a bright and vibrant color palette. The graphics in this game utilize an anime style for its characters and the numerous locations the player gets to explore -- and while that's certainly not ground-breaking for the genre, the vivid paint style of it all fits nicely with it all. No character, enemy, or town you happen to visit feels out of place, demonstrating how this game was designed to be a puzzle of picturesque.
In addition, Sophie herself is a very likable protagonist worth following throughout this little adventure. In her journeys helping the townsfolk, she tries to better her talents in alchemy every day, and it eventually begins to show in how the townspeople slowly respect her talents and indicate how proud her grandmother would be of her efforts. Her bubbly willingness to do anything and everything for friends and strangers alike helps craft her into a spirited heroine worth sticking with.
What serves as the biggest surprise, on the other hand, is how enjoyable the alchemy and combat segments were throughout the campaign. While combat starts out a little slow fighting weaker enemies, it gradually grows a lot more fun and engaging as the characters in your team progress together. With the ability to chain attacks in conjunction with one another and utilize the weapons you've crafted using alchemy, everything gained from both combat and exploration of the levels feels well gained once you've taken down some of the tougher bosses throughout the campaign. All in all, it's a lot of fun.
This game isn't without a share of flaws. As much fun as it can be exploring the game's world and finishing quests, they can get fairly repetitive. Some quests revolve around doing the same thing numerous times, such as fighting a certain type of enemy or collecting a certain material someone has requested, and it can get a little dull and tedious.
Additionally, regarding the main quest in helping Plachta restore her memories, there isn't always a clear path on how you're supposed to be doing it. Sometimes it revolves around practicing a lot of alchemy and creating specific materials, other times it revolves around completing side quests. The problem with this is that it's almost never both. Instead of allowing you to progress through the game at your own pace by completing side missions and alchemy at the same time, Atelier Sophie forces your progression to slow significantly by restricting the ways you can earn experience points.
Lastly, aside from Sophie herself, some of the side characters are a little too one-dimensional and uninteresting. This is especially true for character Oskar, who portrays the stereotypical fat "Mamma's boy" and is more irritating than anything else. Thankfully, you can ditch him out of your combat team, but you still have to deal with his grating nature in the narrative.
Overall, if you aren't already a fan of the Atelier series, or even a fan of the JRPG genre in general, this game isn't going to win you over. Yet, if you love buying up the latest games from Japan, and lavish in the cheesy dialogue that often comes with them, you'll definitively feel right at home with Atelier Sophie.
Even with its problems in gaining experience from missions, this newest entry in the series keeps things fresh and engaging with new characters and fun activities to perform throughout its 20+ hour campaign length. With a bubbly heroine worth following, a mysterious adventure worth exploring, and plenty of alchemy worth performing, The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is a definite page turner for those already invested in anthology.
[This review was written based on a press copy of the game Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book provided by publisher Koei Tecmo.]