What is Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book?
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is a cutesy role-playing game which focuses on the long lost art of alchemy, a magical form of cooking that can turn various ingredients into more useful items. Finding herself in possession of a talking alchemical text book with amnesia (as you do), young Sophie takes it upon herself to learn more about alchemy in an attempt to refill the book's pages, and help the young girl, Plachta, who's trapped inside, regain her memories. What follows is a heart-warming coming-of-age tale of a young alchemist and her kooky cast of friends, which range from a guy who can talk to plants, to a pious singing swordswoman, and an old guy who's VERY much into his dolls.
How do you play Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book?
Most of your time in game is split between exploring dungeons, forests and ruins, battling monsters and harvesting ingredients as you go, and combining said ingredients into new and magical items and equipment, via Atelier's trademark alchemy system. Essentially, you progress through the game by unlocking new recipes, and then creating said item, recording your progress in the magical book to help Plactha regain her memories. Recipes are unlocked by completing certain goals, like defeating a certain number of a certain type of monster, visiting particular places, or creating an item with a particular property.
While alchemy is a little complex, Atelier's battles are reassuringly simple. Turn-based encounters, where you and your enemies take it in turns to attack, defend and use special attacks, spells or items (including bombs you've synthesised yourself!), there's little to trip you up here. Team members can adopt one of two stances in battle, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The Offensive stance deals more damage to enemies, while the Defensive stance reduces the amount of damage you take - and each has it's own special Support move associated with it, which activates automatically, and sees team mates leaping in for an extra follow-up attack or stepping in front of an enemy's attack to act as a damage sponge instead.
When it comes to the alchemy itself, each item you pick up has different properties and effects, and by combining them together - by placing the Tetris-shaped blocks onto the grid in strategic locations - you can create customised items, such as healing potions that also cure poison, or bombs that leave the target with a damage-dealing burn long after the initial explosion has passed. Learning how the different traits, properties and effects transfer, and how best to manipulate them, does take a little bit of trial and error though - and being able to pick and choose the features of your finished items becomes especially important later in the game when quests start getting a bit more specific.
How easy is Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book to pick up and play?
In terms of accessibility, Atelier Sophie is fairly easy to pick up and play, although, as a role playing game, it's also pretty complex. While there are tutorials when you first start going, there's little in the way of hand holding as you progress, so you have to figure out for yourself what to do next, and how to make the required items. The logic and trial and error required to create particular items from the alchemy system is likely to be a bit of a struggle for younger players, who may not really 'get' the intricacies of the system. For example, to unlock the Natural Yeast recipe, you need to make a Bagel Sandwich with a Fluffy trait, but it doesn't explicitly tell you what you need to do to make it. Turns out, you need to fill the bar for the water ingredient, which you can do by carefully placing your ingredients to get a big bonus. There's a lot of trial and error, and plenty of venturing out to find better ingredients. The turn-based battles aren't too tricky though, giving you plenty of time to think through your options, and the game's range of difficulty levels let you tailor the game to suit.
For younger players, reading can also be an issue as Atelier Sophie can be quite text heavy, and while some sections are fully voiced, not everything is - including some sections that tell you where to go next, or what to make now, which makes things a little difficult to fumble through with minimal reading.
- "H-hey, um, Plachta right? There's something I'd like to ask you..."
- "Yeah. There was a strange book at my house, so I was trying to figure out where she got it."
- "If they don't like bitter medicine… I just have to make sweet medicine."
On the whole, Atelier Sophie is pretty harmless and inoffensive - there's no sex scenes, blood and guts or extensive bad language (a single utterance of b*stard is all there is). Violence is generally tame too, with character's attacking fantastical enemies (imps, ghosts, dragons) with swords, staffs and guns that hit with colourful explosions and light effects. Enemies simply fade away when defeated, sometimes leaving behind fur, bones or slime that can be used in your alchemical creations. Likewise, sexual content and innuendo is limited to moderately revealing outfits and that's it - one character, technically a doll, is depicted in a low cut top and thong-like bottoms as part of her armour.