Press round-up – Winter 2018

Atelier Lydie & Suelle Firis

As I said last time, most of my English reviews will now be published on VGChartz. Once again, it is a significant opportunity for me so I definitely want to play that card to the maximum. In order to organize things on this end, I’ll write a report like this every new season to recap every article. That said, I will have a few blog-exclusive PSVita reviews coming, so stay tuned for that also.

Review – The Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel III (PS4)

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Massive JRPG, Trails of Cold Steel III kept me busy for something like 130h, making it one of the longest games that I’ve ever played (excluding the 400h on Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer, but that’s another story). Characters, storytelling, combat, strategy… Falcom’s talent fully gathered in one memorable adventure, its only problem being the subpar graphics considering it’s a PS4 exclusive now.

Review – Great Ace Attorney 2 (3DS)

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The second part of the non-localized historical spin-off of the Ace Attorney series. This entry send us back to Sherlock Holmes’s London, where defense lawyer Ryônosuke will have again to find his way to the truth in tricky cases. A lot more exciting than the first one, Great Ace Attorney 2 sheds light on many unanswered questions and features crime cases full of humor and also incomparable atmosphere.

Review – Death Mark (PSVita/PS4)

Death Mark Akazukin

Well, you probably know this one. This is the updated review of one of my top games of last year, a horror story that I think is not going to be matched any soon. This article draws a brief recap of the sixth chapter, appeared in the PS4 version and given as free DLC on PSVita.

Review – Atelier Lydie & Suelle The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings (PS4)

Atelier Lydie & Suelle

Hugely anticipated as far as I’m concerned (since Atelier took back the GOTY spot last year), this newest Atelier game kinda fell short of the great expectations I had for it, because of its appalling level-design, the irritating DLC policy and the flat story. A serviceable Atelier game, but far from the best entries.

Review – Sword Art Online Fatal Bullet (PS4)

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Another new installment I was eager to experience, I even bought the digital premium edition with the season pass. No regrets, but the feeling that BandaiNamco is unable to make a SAO game without silly mistakes in it. The renewed gameplay is cool, gun-friendly world of Gun Gale Online is fun to roam into, but little presence of SAO characters makes it feel like a different IP.

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My games of the year 2017 (GoTY 2017)

Best Action game

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Fire Emblem Warriors (Switch)

For a first Switch game, Fire Emblem Warriors has been an awesome pick. Omega Force delivers here one of the best Warriors game ever : the ferocity of the fights blows everything that has been done before, and general direction was quite good. Loaded with the best characters and clever maps, it was an amazing experience all the way.

Runner-up : Nier Automata (PS4) & Senran Kagura Peach Beach Splash (PS4)

Best Shooter

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Call of Duty Modern Warfare Remastered (PS4)

Generally I don’t agree with the « it was better before » whole narrative. But when it comes to FPS, well, that works. The multiplayer in Infinite Warfare is garbage, so you ought to come back to what’s good. And here we must admit that « before », Call of Duty mutliplayer was remarkably well-designed and provided a lot of fun. What else then than embracing this excellent remaster?

Runner-up : none

Best Fighting game

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Tekken 7 (PS4)

While having an underwhelming solo, Tekken 7 does things right on the important part : online. Matchmaking is effective, music options very nice, costumization as good as ever, moves are over the top and gameplay still is an absolute reference for the genre. Clearly a must-have to enjoy figting once a while.

Runner-up : none

Best Racing game

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Gran Turismo Sport (PS4)

Gran Turismo Sport scared me at release : without any solo championship, I wondered if the IP wanted to commit suicide or something… Fortunately, solo leagues came via update about a week ago, a necessary addition to the driving challenges, which are a cool part but insufficient alone. With trickier driving than before, GT Sport has of course a dream-like concentration of models and an awesome photo mode for car lovers.

Runner-up : Wipeout Omega Collection (PS4)

Best RPG

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Atelier Firis, the Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey (PS4)

I spent January 2017 on Atelier Firis and that was absolute delight. The series had recovered everything that had made it great (limited time, alchemy challenges, hidden bosses…) while adding a massive innovation : an astonishing open world that transformed management. 70 hours of exploration, wonders and surprises. Atelier Firis is probably going to be unique.

Runner-up : Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel III (PS4)

Best Puzzle game

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Shin Yomawari (PSVita)

Unable to trigger another revolution (because basically copy/pasted from the original), Shin Yomawari still gets its deal of searching and puzzles. Gameplay is a bit more irritating than the in first one, but the game is loaded with intense secquences than will put you on edge.

Runner-up : none

Best music

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Great Ace Attorney 2 (3DS)

No hesitation in this category this year : I’ve been listening to Great Ace Attorney 2’s OST for 4 months now! Capcom’s game is never ending greatness for your ears, the entire soundtrack going from good to magnificient. Joyful melodies, dark themes, epic orchestrations, there is nothing that Great Ace Attorney 2 doesn’t do well.

Runner-up : Ys VIII Lacrimosa of Dana (PSVita)

Best narrative

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Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel III (PS4)

I’m still shaking. My heart almost couldn’t take it at the end of Trails of Cold Steel III. Falcom obviously wanted to make it spectacular, so that the slightest information on Trails of Cold Steel IV is pure gold. Of course, even before that, writers placed several key reveals and intense secquences. A clear intensification of Trails of Cold Steel story-telling.

Runner-up : Death Mark (PSVita)

Best atmosphere

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Death Mark (PSVita)

I cleared Death Mark over a long week-end. That was fortunate, because I couldn’t imagine myself dropping the game to go to work. I was completely hooked by Death Mark’s hypnotic atmosphere. Experience’s game is the darkest I’ve ever played, it was even difficult to breathe given the fear of what could come out. Music and sounds reached perfection.

Runner-up : Shin Yomawari (PSVita) & Iwai Hime Matsuri (PSVita)

Best design

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Death Mark (PSVita)

Death Mark is memorable for a reason : its design perfectly fit the horror genre. The look of the environements alone scares you to the bone. Terrifying details are rife, atrociously mutilated bodies too. And I don’t even mention the Ghosts : after chapter 3, I couldn’t even turn off the lights at night…

Runner-up : Nier Automata (PS4)

Best game you might never play

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Great Ace Attorney 2 (3DS)

Notice that I won’t mention Death Mark here. I’m confident that NIS America or some other company will bring it to the West. Regarding Great Attorney 2 though, that seems toasted… A shame, because that second part of the Victorian spin-off had super great story and humor.

Runner-up : Iwai Hime Matsuri (PSVita)

Most disappointing

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Cyberdimension Neptune 4 Goddess Online (PS4)

Compile Heart needed to fix years of IP mismanagement with Cyberdimension Neptune 4 Goddess Online, and they failed miserably. This Action-RPG is poor in every departement and doesn’t inherit the Neptunia spirit. The Neptunia IP is weak now, the lack of ideas eventually ended up being lethal. Tsunako is being out-fashioned by Nanameda Kei, and producer Mizuno is ridiculous compared to other teams at Compile.

Runner-up : Nights of Azure 2 (PS4/PSVita)

mini Platinum-trophy Game of the year

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Atelier Firis, the Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey (PS4)

The king of RPG-Management was back this year. I could feel once more the delight of adeventure, the heat of battle and greatness of never ending frontiers. The alchemy challenges in an open world is something that had never been done before, like a wave which you need all all your might and wits to resist to. The Golden Age of Atelier was back.

mini gold trophy Legend of Heroes Trails of Cold Steel III (PS4)

mini Silver_Trophy Death Mark (PSVita)

mini-bronze_trophy Ys VIII Lacrimosa of Dana (PSVita)

Review – Atelier Firis, the Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey

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Yearly series are not seen very well those days. The annual cycle is said to hinder innovation, making experiences generic. Still, many developers like Gust refuse to rethink their calendar. Then, is the Assassin’s Creed-like “pause” necessary ? With Atelier Firis, Nagano’s developer proves that wrong.

Firis is a young girl working at the mine. Nothing illegal, the girl simply has a gift to discover the best ore. Living in Etorna, underground town 100% focused on mining, Firis accomplishes zealous work. Still she comes to feel a growing need for adventure, and soon asks to go outside. Reluctant to see his best employee leaving, the elder throws an insane challenge : she has to become a certified alchemist within one year. But there Sophie suddenly barges in the town and teaches the basics to Firis. The latter now has knowledge to start her long journey. From this point, the player is as amazed as Firis herself at discovering the outside world, for Atelier Firis is now big large open world game.

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Atelier Firis is subtitled “The Mysterious Journey” and this is for a reason. Like I said, it’s a full-fledged open world in which you can wander as you wish, with very limited indications and a really rough world map in hand. Before she can apply for the national alchemy exam, Firis must receive 3 recommendation letters from other certified alchemists. Those ones have their atelier in towns, which are sometimes lost very deep in the game areas. Better still, there are more than 3 of them : depending on their choices when exploring, two different players are likely to do very different walkthroughs! Each time you meet one of those alchemists, they’ll ask you to create more or less complex alchemical objects from the material available in the nature around you.

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When you first come to a new area, the map is blank and you have to discover the local geography as you go. You don’t know where the villages are, where the exits are and you do find sidequests at every corner! Most of the playable characters don’t even join your party automatically : you have to find them by exploring the whole world and meet certain conditions to have them join you. Caves have no map at all and you need to remember the path you’ve taken when going back. It is pure, intended and great exploring that drives the player to search, think and… choose. Should I head towards that big city to the East, go South to explore the forest and find more quests, or turn back a bit to avoid missing things? It’s a permanent dilemma you feel in how you should proceed and how you should organize your time.

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Time. This is the big thing that will shape your experience in Atelier Firis : adventure in limited time is back. You’ve got 360 days to get the letters and show up at the exam center. Hours go by as you walk or every time you perform an action such as collecting resources, destroying a rock, fishing or create stuff in your atelier. Now try to answer the question of the previous paragraph : clock is ticking, the pressure is already there… After 2 years trying to open the series to newcomers, Atelier is back to its fundamentals, to the hardcore item/time management that brings that unique pleasure.

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An additional parameter to take into account is your LP, the moving points. LP diminish as you walk (and dive if you run away from fights). Watching this indicator is important in order to rest when needed, for low a LP figure make you collect less resources. LP at zero means Firis faints and you lose an important amount of time until she recovers. In the same way, if your party loses in combat, most of the collected material is lost. Then you regularly need to improve your gear, which will have you spend entire days in the atelier since those recipes are quite demanding. Stock management changes dramatically in this episode since some ingredients are found only in certain parts of certain areas.

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That makes it even more crucial to think and rationalize every trip because useless moves are a danger in limited time. You must bear in mind (or note down) where you can find the key items because the encyclopedia (fairly well-made for that matters) won’t tell you the specifics. To ease the player’s burden, the devs did implement checkpoints where you can teleport yourself instantly : this way, you can go through the areas quickly when visiting a 2nd time and beyond. The day/night cycle, as well as changing weather, is implemented and will impact the sidequests : some NPCs will only be present between 10 am and 6 pm for example. Similarly, some quests only happen during snowstorms, etc.

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There you’ll ask me : where is the bloody atelier? Pretty much everywhere, in fact. Firis owns a portable atelier that she sets up like a tent next to campfires. In alchemy itself, once again numerous parameters are to be taken into account, which should please brainstorming fans. In the Atelier series, the value and power of an alchemy object is determined by its quality (figure and letter on the top) and the traits on it. There are two types of traits : inner traits and inherited traits. Inner traits becomes better as you choose ingredients with the right color code and the best coefficient for that color (which is called 成分 in Japanese).

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Inherited properties comes from the base items you use, with a maximum of 3. But there’s a snag here in Atelier Firis : you can’t get the three at the beginning. Every alchemical object has some sort of charge level you must gradually improve to get 3 free slots to put traits. That means you have to remake every weapon, every armor, every bomb, every potion countless times to get the best of them. A very questionable choice that slows the player down considerably.

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Luckily enough, catalysts will ease the pain. Catalysts are substances that add positives effects when mixing your ingredients : save a few hours, improve the coefficient of a certain color, make an extra item, and free 1, 3 or 3 slots for traits. When mixing, ingredients take Tetris-like forms and all you have to do is to cover the lines on the grid. You can run out of good catalysts pretty quickly so there’s still a lot of tedious work remaining (good luck to make a good bow, for example).

The recipe system is kinda annoying too. Despite the (partial) return of alchemy books, Firis will still have to seek enlightenment in order to get the know-how. Like in the previous one, they unlock once you’ve completed a set of actions like using an particular object, producing another, beating some type of monster, etc. The issue here is that the learning come be really long in some cases, with few hints to guide you. As a consequence, you can lack necessary items at some point of the adventure. Armors are incredibly difficult to develop, not to mention the reviving Chalice which you virtually can’t get in the first 30 hours!

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On the more positive side, Atelier Firis introduces super-alchemy : complex recipes that take a lot of time and not 4 or 5 ingredients, but a hundred of them! The thing also has a target quality so you have to proceed while calculating an average quality. Collecting the right amount of resources here takes quite some time and organization.

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Once you’ve come to the last city with the 3 letters in your pocket, you can head to the exam center. That was a fairly amazing sequence, very unique and surprisingly detailed. There are three types of tests and a surprise challenge that will remind people of Arland. In short, you must show your knowledge of alchemy, of the world around you and your understanding of quality and power mechanics. That was not easy at all and definitely makes a good innovating that should please old-timers.

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After the degree, the game is cleared but not over. It enters a new phase in which time isn’t limited any more. Gust finally finds the right balance between old and new : no need to choose between limited and unlimited time, let’s have both! Without a time limit, the player can freely focus on doing its best to complete current side stories, dig new quests, fine tune his gear and deepen the bonds with other characters. There are a few challenges that leads to various characters endings, a dozen of them to be precise.

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Here again, Atelier Firis is impressive by the volume it features. There’s as many things left to to after the story as before, maybe actually more. Dozens of hours after dozens of hours, the game looks infinite as new challenges keep popping one after another. Final proof that Gust has perfectly grasped what an open world should provide to the player. The number of quests nears a whopping 400! True, most quests are divided into tiny sub-quests (which inflates the number), but what you should keep in mind is that you’ll be real busy in Atelier Firis for at least 80 hours. Many of those quests feature advanced alchemy challenges and drive the player to explore even more, to the edge of world. Distant and sometimes very well hidden areas have a few bosses of formidable strength, and seriously more impressive than in Atelier Sophie. Of progressive difficulty, the challenge here is way more compelling than in the last game, the fights far more awesome, and even reminded me of the Arland trilogy. One of the bosses is called The One form the Deep Waters, obvious reference to the dragon in Atelier Meruru.

Yet fighting isn’t the focus in Atelier Firis since there is no boss in the main story. All the bosses previously mentioned are optional and left there as a trial for completionists. Gust therefore chose to lay a base of gameplay centered on management and exploring. But battles of course occur time to time, and the system used is back to very simple actions : attack, skills and objects. The Chain gauge actually borrows Atelier Shallie’s system, as assists are triggered when it reaches a certain percentage. At 130%, you get a first special blow from the last character that has played, and at 150% the character you choose unleashes its ultimate attack. Worryingly, the drawbacks of Atelier Shallie are imported as well, that is to say that the percentage will decrease every time you receive damage, which often leads to missed opportunities and less exciting combat.

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The best is yet again to rely on high statistics and high end gear, and Atelier Firis brings good stuff for alchemy fans here. Let’s remember that the principle in Atelier games is that the player creates himself everything he needs to attack and defend (bombs, potions, weapons & armors, etc.), while optimizing the quality of the equipment to extremes. Like in Atelier Sophie, you can find powerful passive skills on material early enough in the game, like “saving skill” which increase the skill power while reducing its cost. But in Atelier Firis, extra rare properties of bombastic naming are within reach too. For example, 溢れる力 (HP+35), not to mention 生命の力 (HP+50), are collectable in the last areas right at the start. The increased chances to get overpowered traits re-balances the game, as well as the fact that each character can now equip 2 weapons at the same time, and gives the player room for improvement in order to tackle the last opponents.

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Alas, Gust didn’t go as far as revolutionizing the graphics : the game looks barely better than Atelier Sophie, worse in some aspects. We’re still quite not at Atelier Escha&Logy level for example, which was looking fairly good on the PS3. The outside nature is somewhat prettier, journeying being the whole point, but some characters are still poorly made. It’s even worse for NPCs, who look like the same over and over. Animations aren’t as great as before either and for some reason, frame-rate has a real hard time in forests (!?). In pure technical aspects, it’s definitely under average and expectations. We’ll have to wait for Nights of Azure 2 and Blue Reflection to see Gust embracing modern engines. There’s one big red cart to draw : in 1.07, the Japanese version still suffers from critical bugs, like Firis not moving and disappearing quests… Let’s hope that KoeiTecmo Europe has that covered. Music makes a great come-back : the OST is great, lots of field tracks make exploring even more enjoyable with low tempo and then orchestral elan like we’ve always had and loved in the series.

With a massive amount of quests, surprises, bosses, hidden challenges in its brand new open world, Atelier Firis marks the biggest revolution in the series in years. In today’s gaming world overrun by linearity, the freedom and purity of the exploring in Atelier Firis are a real treasure. You can lament the old engine, the drawbacks of combat, the bugs, but Atelier’s golden age is back with Firis and nothing can be more delighting.

Enough of E3! Let’s talk about other games #2016

Atelier Firis (PSVita/PS4)

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After a rather average Atelier Sophie, Gust had to react and strengthen the series. Looks like they’re doing so, by the looks of the enhanced graphics, evolving and more convincing character design and the innovating game system. The adventure is no longer centered around one town and Firis’s base camp will be mobile. Moreover, choices you make on the world map will cause slight changes on the flow of events. NOCO and Yûgen seem to have sharpened their skills on those first characters, NOCO in particular taking a more mature/sexy orientation. Yûgen has this curious character called Ilmeria, who makes me think she can be a Meruru successor in some way. I must admit that the improvements are stunning so far.

Kangokutô Mary Skelter (PSVita)

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A Compile’s Dungeon-RPG that I am eager to play, partly because the devilish art direction is conducted by Kai Nanameda, already behind Trillion, God of Destruction. This DRPG takes a survival approach by its ghostly Nightmares who will hunt you down so fiercly you’ll have to run away. Several jobs have been unveiled, as well as a Genocide mode in which the girls gain immense power when in contact with ennemies’ blood. On the contrary, licking the blood will heal them, but remove the Genocide state. A gameplay balance in which risk-assessment will be key.

Sengoku Otome (PSVita)

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Weird background for this game since taking its origin from a anime itself coming from a pachinko! Sengoku Otome is kind of the Oda Nabuna game we never got : this fighting game which seems to play like Senran Kagura features girls representing general from feudal Japan. The ambitious Tokugawa Ieyasu becomes a shy pink-haired girl while Toyotomi Hideyoshi turns into a blonde loli. As much as I feel sorry for those great men, the paradox looks rather fun.

Root Letter (PS4/PSVita)

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A visual novel of fascinating concept. The player has had a pen friend called Aya, with whom he has exchanged 10 letters. In the very last one that he finds and reads years later, she admits committing murder. From there the game start as an investigation thriller, in which you have to find Aya’s former classmates to uncover the truth.

Black Rose Valkyrie (PS4)

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Compile Heart is going into something a bit different for this game, because one of the girls of Black Rose Valkyrie is a traitor. So while fighting against a fierce virus and monsters called Chimeras, the main character will also have to regularly question his allies, very much like in Lost Dimension. Reminding Galapagos’s works in a lot of ways, it also features costume break as it was in Omega Quintet.

Idolmaster Platinum Stars (PS4)

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Stunning by its sharp anime style, Idolmaster Platinum Stars will be my first step in that famous IP. Sure had to go into it one day. The player once more takes the role of a star manager and will have to lead his girls to the top of the entertainment business. You really start from scratch this time, because you pick the girls at the very beginning of their career.

Tokiden 2 (PS4/PS3/PSVita)

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Not much to say more about Tokiden 2 since I wrote a lot about the demo last time. It’s just matter to check how large the world really is and the improvements made to combat.

Caligula (PSVita)

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An RPG to have on your radar for its original base story : the students in Caligula are trapped in a fictitious ideal world created by a vocaloid called μ. Although the digital singer actually protects them from the wicked real world, those young men and women decide to stop living a lie ad will seek to destroy μ. Centered on the subject of digital worlds, Caligula benefits from genuine vocaloid songs.

Review – Atelier Sophie, the Alchemist of the Mysterious Book

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After the numerous complaints voiced against Atelier Shallie and the monstruous flop of the 3DS port of Atelier Rorona (11’000 units sold, 7 times less than Atelier Shallie which was already widely seen as a failure), Gust’s series had people worried. It turned out to be fine, since the developer was calmly preparing Atelier Sophie.

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I’m done saving the world”, such is Atelier Sophie’s motto. The game wants to put some distance with the Dusk trilogy and go back to a more innocent narrative like in the Arland trilogy. Indeed, you don’t feel any great ambitions when starting Atelier Sophie, which has next to no story focus for most part. Sophie is a young alchemist, and a bit awkward one, who’s gonna progress with the help of a mysterious book gifted with a consciousness. Sophie’s goal, so the player’s too, will be to recover the book’s memories by writing alchemy recipes in it. You progress from a recipe to another, while completing requests from other characters to whom you’ll get increasingly closer.

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The side characters will all have their own storyline, in average more developed than in Atelier Shallie (which was very poor in that department) but of disparate importance : Monica has a feeble background, like Oskar and Leon (who is a girl, despite her name). On the contrary, Harol, Cornelia, Fritz and Julio benefit from a consistent narrative, including some really fun or even moving sequences. Harol’s was particularly remarkable : young watchmaker too fond of revolvers to get to his work seriously, he progressively becomes obsessed with his past and the necessity to surpass his father. So better than the previous one in that field, even though the game sometimes gives to impression no to show or tell enough : Cornelia’s story for example, should have continued and lead to discover new lands.

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Last but not least of your characters, your book Plachta (pronounce “Plafta”) will take human form via the Doll Make system. Plachta’s soul is transferred in a life-size doll, that can be modified anytime. It simply consists of adding alchemy components to the doll’s limbs, the rarest ones giving higher boost in stats. When those stats reach a certain threshold, Platcha’s costume will change and she’ll be able to access a new class (wizard, valkyrie, etc.). But this option bears relatively low importance as the gain in stats represent only a small margin compared to the one provided by your equipement. It remains that Platcha’s arrival in your party radically changes the story’s direction because, ironically, you will go and save the world eventually.

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The alchemy workshop is more than ever the place to be, because not only will the game ask you to synthesize alchemy objects, but also to come up with the recipes! Indeed and contrary to previous episodes, there are no alchemy books in stores. Time to time, Shopie will have a genius stroke and note down a recipe. The player will have to trigger that by achieving some varied objectives, like inspecting the furniture, talking to a particular NPC, slay a particular beast or, far more complicated, creating an object with a given trait.

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Let’s put the head in the cauldron. There are several ones available, each represented by a checkerboard with some colored stars in it. Ingredients, which are represented by Tetris-like forms, are to be inserted in a way that the color stars can multiply and grow. The more and the bigger the stars are, better the bonus multiplier will become for the dominant color. With a multiplier important enough, the quality of the object rises and it can gain better traits. It is quite complicated in theory, but easier to learn empirically. Note that there are various sizes of cauldrons, and that some double your multiplier, sometimes asking you to synthesize in limited time! In short, a clever system but a bit less precise than Atelier Shallie’s.

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Alchemical creation is a bit more accessible than in the past, because powerful properties allowing considerable rise of stats are rife in Sophie’s world. Finding ingredients to have them attached isn’t hard at all. Up to you to combine them via intermediary objects like the gold string (formidable catalyst since it’s used to create itself, I call that the Gold String Loop) to give birth to even better traits like 全能の力 which raise all stats by 25 points! Once your weapons, armor and accessories possess such traits, your team is well-prepared for battle. As for interface, the touch pad of the PS4 allows you to quickly switch between menus and the encyclopedia (which has a very clear recap of all items, properties and their composition), so it’s extremely user-friendly.

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PSVita

But all those ingredients, you’ll have to go outside and pick them. The wild nature of Atelier Sophie consist of numerous areas to explore, full of plants, ore and the likes. Atelier Sophie is the first episode to have a day/night cycle : monsters, items, present characters, weather are going to change periodically. Times goes by, but isn’t limited. This newest Atelier takes the same principle as its predecessor : the player can take its time to clear the game and the various challenges. But the various places are quite tiny and level design extremely poor. Thus no occasion to be impressed : you battle, you pick the goods, you come back to town. Nothing more.

Now we’re talking about it, battles. These have been rather simplified, and even made more or less automatic. Each start of turn has choose a stance for each character : attack or defense. Regardless of that choice, all characters can use regular action such as attack, skills, object, run away or defend. The stance only governs bonus actions : a character I defense can cover an ally, while characters in attack stance can perform powerful link attacks. The more characters you have in the same stance, better the effect will be. This also depending on your chain gauge : higher the figure, more daring the actions become. When the gauge hits 300% and all the four characters are in attack stance, it triggers the ultimate attack of one of them. It’s roughly Final Fantasy XIII’s role system, ultra-simplified version and in which the player actually doesn’t decide much. I really miss Atelier Escha&Logy’s battle system…

ソフィーのアトリエ ~不思議な本の錬金術士~_20151216222457

PS4

Pretty much nerfed in the main story, the difficulty will rise at breakneck pace at the very end and after. You can still tweak the difficulty level anytime, from easy to despair (added by a later update), to have it match your playstyle. Veterans won’t break a sweat in hard or even despair during most of the story though, but optional bosses are another story : they are excessively powerful and can play 4 times in a row! While a can crush most of the bosses in despair with just the attack command (see above, it’s taken in despair but being only the 2nd dragon, it’s not much a of challenge), the two last enemies wipe my party out in 1.5 turn even in easy mode… in short, it’s fucking broken. That said, another growth menu that appear after the characters have reached maximum level allows you to add even more statistic points, vastly advantageous capabilities, upgrade your attack skills. But the progression curb being rather slow, you must play a lot after the main story to keep up. A disappointing postgame so, far form the replay value of the previous episodes.

ソフィーのアトリエ ~不思議な本の錬金術士~_20151216231021

PS4

As for aesthetics, we can’t help but notice the economic troubles of the series : the technical downgrade is brutal. Graphics are less detailed than Atelier Shallie’s, which runs on the PREVIOUS generation! The town and the dungeons are a pity… Even design issues are to be reported : monsters look blatantly the same and there are few (almost none in fact) unique and charismatic opponents, those who make great JRPG fights. Here again, even the disappointing Atelier Shallie had them. In battle, the game remains a lot prettier than the rest, so it’s not like it’s a complete disaster either. The music also seems a bit on the wane : outside Fritz’s theme, a ballad that fits perfectly with the medieval setting, and senka no ichigeki, which continues the great lineage of boss battle themes. Whatever, you ears will be able to feast with a music DLC, packed with dozens of Gust’s past tracks, which was free in Japan. You can thus instantly create yourself dream-like playlists.

Atelier Sophie Cornelia

PSVita

Yes, you could object that the project is for the first time multi-platform from the start : the PSVita version is available alongside the home console version, no need to purchase the “Plus” version anymore. Unfortunately, the technical efforts are insufficient for both. With a modeling close the the one of the PS4 version, the portable Atelier Sophie is impressive at first sight, the rendering of the characters is excellent. On the other hand, framerate suffers horribly… The Vita has a hard time displaying the battle animations, which is true have their lot of special effects, especially in joint assaults. True, it’s less serious than the abysmally terrible portable version of Nights of Azure, but it’s not the technical prowess of the “Plus” version either. Unless you absolutely need it to play on the go, it’s preferable to play it at home with a seamless experience.

Changing the approach alone is not enough, and Atelier Sophie is proof of that. The game system is still solid and allows you to achieve great things, but in a terrible technical environment. Ideas and humor certainly are there, but not in full force. We can sense the pleasure of battle, but only from time to time. A serviceable episode, but Gust needs to re-enhance the experience by investing time and money. For Atelier Sophie, the developer probably had neither of them.

Review – Atelier Shallie

Harry

Even the greatest series eventually fall. Atelier, which has brought some of the best RPGs of the PS3 generation, ends it without glory. Shallie’s lost focus and missed opportunities draw a hollow twilight for the Atelier series.

Atelier Shallie is the 3rd (and last?) episode of the Dusk trilogy started with Atlier Ayesha and Atelier Escha&Logy. That’s the first problem of this game, because it ends it in a rather awkward manner. None of the questions raised in the past two games finds a definitive answer : Linca’s story is barely hinted at, the truth behind the drought that plagues the world is hardly explainded, we are still waiting for an clear illustration of Alchemy’s past mistakes, and Ayesha and Logy are MIA.

Keith a

Story-telling is faulty too. This sequel looks more like a spin-off that borrows some characters from before. It’s composed of two separate stories : Shalistella’s and Shalotte’s (both called Shallie). Shalistella is your average Atelier heroine whereas Shalotte, more dynamic and lively, introduces a more moe approach. Unfortunately, neither side has been well executed, and the slim differences between the two adventures doesn’t make replay value very valuable. Shalotte got on my nerves after merely two chapters : she’s not half as good as Meruru for example. The Shalistella part ended up boring fairly quickly (she wants to save her village, nothing more). Generally speaking, the story never takes off and stays as a series of events half-serious, half-humoristic. The tone seems mainly light in the end, because any attempt of the game to get more serious sounds really off.

Milka i

Because of low stakes and an astonishing lack of intensity, but also surprisingly shallow characters. Of all the newcomers, Miruca is the only one that shows a bit of work : only her has a solid backstory and thus the only one you sympathize with. The others feel almost invisible given the low interest of the events they’re in. Wilbell, Escha and Keithgriff are back but their role is quite secondary and they add nothing but their combat capabilities in the end. Reyfer appears like once or twice, it was really unecessary to bring him back for 5 minutes.

In its gameplay, Atelier Shallie changes radically. First thing, it drops the limited time frame to go for a classic progression system in chapters in which you have all the time you want. There are two schools of thoughts on this «issue» : some (like me) reckon that time limit is Atelier’s trademark and that it’s part of the overall pleasure, but you could also think that those new to the series can enjoy it more. Choose your side! To make it further accessible, Gust opted for the Xillia method and now difficulty settings can be changed any time. Wise decision, because even though most of the game felt easy, difficulty surges at the very end. This episode adds a morale gauge, but after 70h and 2 playthrough, I’m still wondering what it is for and how it works…

A bit like Lighting Returns, you no longer get experience points in battles (or very few). XP should be gained by doing Lifetasks, objectives comparable to Atelier Ayesha’s. Some of those challenges are immediate (make a specific object, do a specific action, get some alchemy trait, beat X monsters, explore maps, etc.), but others are to be achieved on the long term. Even without the time parameter, management is still there because you’ll often have 10, 20, 30… tasks available at the same time, an varied enough. The ones you complete constantly trigger others, so it’s a never-ending managerial frenzy, let alone the fact that you still have to manufacture your gear from scratch. That said, there’s no denying that gameplay has grown poorer. Just one example that thunderstruck me : the characters decide to hold a cake contest at some point. So I do expect to spend some hours in my atelier making the ultimate sweet. Far from that, the event launches right away and a get the free trophy without doing any action… there I realise that clearly the Atelier I knew was no more. The exploration of the world map is also made boring by the infinite time, the rigidity of the progression system and the bland level-design. Exploring doesn’t have the thrill it used to.

Combat has also been revamped although there was no need to (see the above video). Atelier Shallie introduces a system called Burst : every time you hit an enemy, a burst jauge is getting filled. When this one reaches 100%, you can deal a lot more damage. You got it : it’s a Break system like there are everywhere since FFXIII. It brings nothing but wasted time between Burst sequences. Worse still, the enemy can slower your Bust jauge if you are hit too often, which in some cases (fortunately rare) is horribly irritating. Despite that little blunder, let’s stress that if you meet certain conditions, you can trigger the Field Burst, kind of magical circle that boost your stats for the time of the Burst : a nice idea to further vitalize combat. The rest of the fighting is directly inherited from Dusk, that is to say equally tactic and nervous to keep interest until the end. Be warned though, the game is fairly easy until the very end, even in hard. This being due to the multiplication of super-powerful healing spell that makes the manufacturing of healing items almost useless. It could however be corrected if KT makes the No Hope difficulty available at release, Despair being only for NG+.

Julie

The good news is that the game has been further polished visually, as it has been the case for 4 years. Although backgrounds are still mostly bland, the battles show artistic and technical mastery : modeling is refined to the extreme, the level of detail is more than satisfying and the animation wonderful! The various moves of the 8 characters are varied, and spectacular. On design, Hidari’s illustrations are as good as ever and the OST quality stays high, especially on battle themes.

Let’s finish on the only subject that was left untouched from Escha&Logy (wise choice) : Alchemy. It still has the skills divided into the 4 elements, save that they are even clearer and intuitive, which makes the system extremely precise and enjoyable without any loss in complexity.

Atelier Shallie bears all the signs of a game that was developed and released too fast : lack of overall content, lack of ambition but also launch hiccups that still make it crash 9 months after. Not a bad game, but it has lost the essence of what Atelier means and there can be no greater disappointment. We do have to wonder how an old and illustrious series like that could have been ruined and rent like a parking lot to a loan shark for subsidies.