By David Fernandes / June 22nd, 2016
You know the drill already, each required item for a recipe takes in values such as quality and size and each ingredient come with a randomized trait from the items gathered outside the town that can be carried over with the item you used to craft with. Besides sprucing up the UI and providing more useful tutorials, it has stayed relatively the same, and that’s okay, don’t fix what ain’t broken. That said, they have changed how you proceed in unlocking traits and effects for the crafted items with a new minigame type system. Each item used gives you a number of blocks to use with the cauldron providing a chart that allows you to fill it up with those blocks. Either filling the empty spots or combining the same item shapes increases the value of the attribute in the adjacent empty slots for another item block to take advantage of getting higher properties. Filling the chart up as much as possible and controlling the percentage of property value between the elements seen above the chart is key. The higher the item value in quality, the easier it is to obtain higher chain numbers in those attributes and size determines the amount of blocks the item provides to cover. This expands as you obtain and craft more cauldrons with different levels of advantages, like for example allowing you to flip the shapes in reverse to help in filling the chart with higher quality items but with distinguishing patterns.
With the removal of the time aspect, Shallie didn’t replace it with anything adequate to supplement this radical departure, and thus made for a rather easy and unbalanced game in my eyes. It’s once again gone, but in its place they added a new day and night system along with weather and weekends/monthly changes playing a role in scheduling. Monsters and items in locations are altered or only appear during these occasions; combining the rumors you can buy at the cafe, it emphasizes planning, which existed before Shallie, and I find it welcoming. While not a giant game changer, Gust managed to bring new life to an already working formula, return a bit of its strength from its predecessors and spice things up which were becoming rather formulaic.
Gust said in interviews they wanted to return to a lighter more sweet and innocent tone seen in the Arland games for its narrative, while combing elements of both it and Dusk when it came to gameplay. However, one of the biggest disappointments to come out of Sophie’s gameplay department was its combat system. With the Dusk series, they added more strategic elements with either character position or freely switching out party members to support a fast paced and engaging system. Here they made a more simplified version of that and somehow made it quite limited and dull in comparison, which is a real shame. You’re back to using only four characters, with the party members being switched out before battle, and the chain gauge is back but now works with the new “Stance” mechanic. When a percentage of the gauge is met, the next character in the turn order with either Attack or Defend stance will issue that support when the former’s turn is done.
Unfortunately it never evolves outside of that, besides getting a few more options on how to utilize it with the number of the Stance chosen, like three in attack and one in defend, to dish out a very potent attack. There are only a few challenging enemies in the game, let alone bosses. As such, it becomes a bit trivial to use defense and instead just go all out in my experience, since all characters can carry and use crafted items and dying just sends you back to your Atelier with a few lost items. So the battle system is serviceable but nothing compelling, and while other new additions streamlined things, the game needed a bit more nuance to help make this entry far more memorable.
I’ll just cut to the chase, even with one quick glance you can tell the game will not win any awards with its graphics and texture work, as it’s as basic as you can get. It is a low budget series and will most likely continue as such. The character models at least show the jump in the hardware as they’re crisp and vibrant, as well as the world they inhabit, with nice attention to detail and each character standing out. My only gripe is that only half of them really capture their illustration to the tee and aren’t as expressive during cutscenes. While the music is still up to snuff, and having day to night version of tracks out in the field is a nice touch, only a few of them stood out. Which is a little depressing, as the last three soundtracks were phenomenal. Outside of graphical fidelity, the game runs fine at a steady fps, the load times are brief and the localization was competent.
Despite its imperfections, I found myself enjoying my time with Atelier Sophie and found it an enriching ride in its own right. Its not a game changer, the story is nothing to write home about and its combat system suffers, but its alchemy system more than makes up for it. The characters are likable with adequate character arcs, the music is still decent and fitting of its simpler lighter tone, and there is a bevy of content with a heavier emphasis on girth when it comes to the optional side quests. It took me over 50 hours to do nearly everything the game had to offer. If you’re a fan of the series, you should at least check it out with lower expectations. For those new to the franchise, this is a great place to start for what’s to come for future installments.
Review copy provided by publisher.
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