Atelier Sophie Hands-On: A Welcome Refresh
As the Atelier series begins a whole new generation on fresh hardware, it brings with it a lot of firsts for the series. It’s the first multiplatform release for the series, releasing physically and digitally on PlayStation 4 and digital only for PlayStation Vita. It also brings a whole series of changes that shake up the Atelier formula from anything Gust have done before.
The biggest change Atelier Sophie presents is the switch to a time system that feels much more like Story of Seasons than what Atelier fans are used to. Time is measured in hours instead of days, so simple recipes may only take one or two hours to complete while more complicated recipes can still take up the majority of your day. A five day week system is also in place and some characters might be involved in unique events that only happen at the weekend. Finally, a weather system has been introduced that can affect the types of items you’ll be able to find out in the fields.
These are big changes for a series where the fundamentals haven’t changed all too much in the last six iterations and it does take a little to remember that they’re all there. Whilst playing, I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t able to enter a location in town I needed to go, only to come to the obvious realizations it was nighttime so the shops in town would have closed for the evening. If you’re worried about how this will effect your time management then stop worrying now. Time limits are gone again from the series and the pace you play at is completely down to your personal playstyle. In fact, there’s not even a month indicator on the screen, with the only information present being the date, time and which day of the week it is.
The way alchemy traits are dealt with have also been revamped. After choosing your items, you’ll see a 4×4 grid appear. Each of your items has its own Tetris like shape in this grid and by filling as many squares as possible, you’ll receive a higher quality item once you’re finished. Overlapping items in the grid will cause the overlapped item to disappear from the mix. Sometimes this might be necessary to get the result you need or you might simply have too many items at the time to properly fill the grid at the time but either way with time and practice you’ll be able to achieve the results you’re after. Starting off you’re limited to what you can do with traits but as you progress, you can create your own alchemy cauldrons that come with their own effects as well as expanded grids. While I didn’t feel there was anything wrong with how traits were handled previously, if anything, recent titles have had the easiest implementation of them so far, this seems to tie with Atelier Sophie moving away from just text expansions for a more visual ones. Now when you’re out gathering, you’ll see pictures of each item you collect.
While Atelier Sophie moves the series forward in some ways, in others it feels closer to its roots than ever before. It’s a pleasure to see the series mascots Punis return as well as Pamela. The town of Kirchen Bell and it’s surrounding areas are vibrant, full of colour and I’m reminded more of Gust’s PS2 adventures than the more recent PS3 ones. The immediate cast is likable and entertaining with plenty of silly moments you’d expect from an Atelier game. Many of the changes make Atelier Sophie feel like it progresses more naturally. Time progressing by the hour feels like a much more natural fit, having characters change their availability around town depending on the time or day makes a lot of sense. Recipes are no longer found in batches via an old book but by what Sophie herself sees and does. An event in town may trigger some inspiration or simply finding a new ingredient could give you a new recipe.
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book will be released on June 7 in North America and June 10 in Europe for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita.