It all began with the promise of boob jokes. Somehow this was the most important fact I gleaned from the RPGamer review of Ar tonelico 2. Thankfully, what I actually got was a wonderfully imaginative game, with brilliant music that perhaps tried to stretch a bit too much beyond the limits of its budget. Inevitably this lead me to look for more games from this mysterious developer, and I ended up picking up Mana Khemia for PSP and Mana Khemia 2 for PS2 as they were released. Thusly, I had arrived at developer Gust's bread and butter, the Atelier series.
However, it wouldn't be until Atelier Rorona for the PS3 that I became fully invested in an entry in the series, thankfully right as the Gust went back to its roots, and away from the more standard JRPG tropes they had wandered into in the Ateleir Iris sub-series. It was an interesting experience, one I loved even with its often brutal time restrictions on completing tasks. I finished it and started its sequel, Totori, and found it to be far superior in many ways. Then, sadly, I got distracted by other RPGs and it went unfinished. I kept buying new entries to support the series, but there always seemed to be something else to play, some shiny new game drawing my attention away from the charming series. Finally starting up the most recent entry, Sophie, near the end of 2016 I decided enough was enough, 2017 would be the year I gave the series its due.
Thus begins the Year of Atelier, or perhaps we'll call it the Atelyear. I've gotten off to a late start to actually writing this first entry (which seems fitting), but I will be playing and discussing numerous entries from the whole span of the series history, hopefully actually finishing more than a few of them. Sophie seems a fitting game to start with, as it is the first entry to appear on the PS4, and the first entry to appear on the Vita at the same time as console the version, complete with cross-save capability, which has made playing it quite easy. The game doesn't have a ton of changes, but one of the key ones, removing time restrictions, means players are free to explore the world at their own pace. The primary plot, involving a former alchemist who has become a talking book, opens up as the player advances Sophie's knowledge of Alchemy by exploring the world for new materials, creating new items, and getting to know the various party members and townsfolk in the game's lone city. Locations in the world are relatively small but there are many of them, and tracking down specific materials can be difficult at times.
In addition to exploring and item crafting, the game contains traditional turn-based combat. The combat, while simple and fun, can become tedious if taken in too frequently. The game features a nice system where characters can take actions in defensive or offensive stance, but too many battles boil down to just spamming attacks. This lead me to pick hard difficulty (which can be changed at any time) to give battles some more meat.
While I like the idea of playing at your own pace in theory, the game can feel directionless at times. With many locations to explore and requests to take on, it's not always clear what will work best to advance the story. At least the main characters are mostly well written and voiced, especially Sophie. They help give the world context inbetween the infrequent main story beats. All in all I'm having a really good time with it, and look forward to seeing where the cast ends up by the end of the game. My adventures in this item crafting series will continue in March with more Sophie, its sequel once I complete it, and a jaunt back to Mana Khemia on the PSP. See you then!