It always blows my mind how many different Atelier games there are and this will be the 5th Atelier I’ve reviewed (check out the Arland Deluxe Trilogy here and Atelier Ryza 2 here) With the Atelier series 25th anniversary coming in May 2022 Koei Tecmo have made a page with all the info (check that out over here) There’s already rumours that the next title to be announced at TGS this year will be a direct Sophie sequel. Atelier Sophie is the first game in the Atelier Mysterious Trilogy and the original release was all the way back on the PS3 and Vita with a port to the PS4 so how does the DX version now hold up? With high hopes let’s stir some ingredients and see what happens!
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book DX has a really nice start where after the anime introduction and title screen you’re lead directly into the game. The camera swings around and off you go. It’s a shame that after this little flourish very little is either surprising or unique. Atelier Sophie is a very basic Atelier JRPG where the core loop consists of gathering, combat, travel, alchemy and very occasionally some story and interaction.
The combat is very basic turn based JRPG fair with minimal special attacks. You will unlock the ability to chain attacks and can switch between offensive and defensive follow-up movesets but this boils down to mashing through attacks and occasionally throwing items. Even the break mechanic feels like an afterthought, with its usefulness quickly becoming redundant. There are moments where you’ll consider using effects but battles devolve to button mashing where the follow up attacks chip away at health and you either gain huge chunks or 1 exp.
The alchemy in Atelier Sophie is an interesting minigame where each ingredient has a shape and you need to match them with the colours on the board to boost the effects and quality. Unlike other Atelier games in Atelier Sophie you’ll be swapping cauldrons (essentially the boards for the pieces) to better fit the pieces and dialling up the challenge for better results. Unfortunately the combat is so grindy and reliant on certain items you’ll be heading back home to make the same healing and attacking items over and over watering down the enjoyment.
As you gather items and kill monsters you’ll slowly build up enough memories to progress in the story but you’ll need to do a lot more than expected. The difficulty curve is very wonky and you’ll be bumping into combat encounters a lot higher than you can handle before the story gets anywhere or your equipment is ready. There’s various vendors to progress your equipment but you’ll find yourself taking on a few ‘boss’ style fights before you even need a new staff.
Atelier Sophie disappointingly doesn’t have much of an interesting story to prop up the grind. The best beats are at the start where you’re introduced to various characters and they are one by one introduced to the talking book Plachta. After this promising beginning, every moment is spent answering café requests for jobs and boosting through to the singular ending. It would be nice to be spared the multiple ending grind but the ending for Atelier Sophie is very run of the mill.
The writing is enjoyable for the most part with some character interactions (especially with Tess) being a lot more interesting and unique but just as many of them will be so bland you’ll be skipping through. It doesn’t help that the character designs are almost split 50/50 between cute colourful creations and fanservice cringe. The entire design concept throughout floats between really nice layouts and fiddly dullness in such an inconsistent way. It’s a lot of sorting and tinkering to enjoy the goodness here.
Thankfully Atelier Sophie does continue the running theme of Atelier games by having fantastically inoffensive and enjoyable music. The sounds and voice acting is really good and although nothing is particularly standout nothing grates regardless of how much you re-hear it. You’ll be exploring Atelier Sophie with the usual day/time system in place and although this changes the music, lighting and refreshes the monster and item placement it feels strangely trivial.
There are quests in Atelier Sophie that require you to complete them in a time limit but you can entirely skip them for gathering and alchemy quests. You’ll still get paid and use the money for rumours that vary from basic tutorials to turning gathering items in an area to one specific item. There’s no real time limit in the game (aside from one specific quest) which makes it feel as redundant as the jump button. You can jump but there are invisible walls all over and you won’t be able to clear anything no matter how much you run around.
This review copy came with Atelier Sophie The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book DX Digital Art Book and I have to say this is the strangest addition to any JRPG. You can enjoy a few of the more relaxing audio tracks while scrolling through 3 chapters of artwork for the game. There’s nothing particularly revealing from the concept art, final character designs are exactly as they were originally sketched with few exceptions. Oskar went through a few changes to get there but his character’s role is so obsolete you’ll likely swap him out first chance you get. The classic promotional Gust artwork is all here and I guess that’s nice to look at? You can’t screenshot anything so it’s an oddity that I’m not sure is going to appeal to anyone but the diehard fans who want an elaborate PS4 screensaver.
It boggles my mind how the fanbase apparently reveres Atelier Sophie as it feels like half a JRPG. There’s 50hrs+ to the game but it’s almost entirely spent grinding and rolling a dice on strong combat encounters that will either get you powered up or entirely wipe your party. Moving around the world map is simple enough and it’s all very easy to read and play but it’s just incredibly basic. I found myself making the most fun playing it like Elite Dangerous and having a podcast on as I just went through the motions to push through to the next areas.
The core loop of travel, exploration and heading home for a potential cutscene is enjoyable enough but with the lack of interesting story or change to the status quo you’re left with a real middling experience. It’s a shame because you can see what they were going for here and how it would likely be the building blocks for the trilogy going forward. There’s nothing that delights or offends long enough to be memorable meaning if you want a JRPG that feels like a lukewarm cup of tea then Atelier Sophie is for you.
5/10 – The mysterious book wasn’t that mysterious after all
Code provided by Koei Tecmo Europe Ltd. Check out their games here