So I may have already covered this one in a quick review a while back, but that was as a package with the others in the series. So with Sophie 2 coming up, I figured I’d hop back into the first, finish it up, and give it a full proper review.
So I don’t know what it is with this particular entry and the Atelier fanbase. I see some say that it’s one of the best starting places for the entirety of Atelier and then some say it is one of the worst entries. I found myself more in the middle. Atelier Sophie introduces some good elements that have now become the norm (the removal of time limits for example), but also has a few missteps along the way.
I’ll start with the game’s best feature: its crafting. If you are unfamiliar with the Mysterious subseries, the crafting in this one is done Tetris style. You don’t look at a menu and select ingredients for combining, but rather physically place those ingredients on a grid and rotate them, shape them, and select just the right patterns to fill that grid or otherwise get the result you want – like a certain trait, quality level, etc.
It’s a seemingly simple setup, but as with other games in the series, it becomes very involved very quickly. Soon you get different cauldrons with different grids and unique features, transferable traits across numerous different ingredients, and this massive web of stuff to craft that leads into other stuff to craft and so on. It’s an insanely detailed system on its own and a ton of fun to play with if you like to min-max, but it is also important to note that it is only as complex as you want it to be.
You certainly can sit there and spend hours getting all the recipes, the best ingredients, and finding that perfect combination, but if you want to sit back, play some casual Tetris, and craft some neat stuff – you can just as easily ignore the more intricate elements and even drop the game’s difficulty so quality levels won’t matter as much in battle. Sophie is very accommodating in this regard and as someone that likes a mix of both, I found the normal difficulty to be the perfect balance there.
It’s some top-tier stuff regardless and one of the major reasons why I love this series so much. However, in Sophie’s case, I have to admit I was a bit disappointed with the gathering. The actual crafting? Great. The act of going out and getting all the ingredients? Kinda basic. The environments are mostly these super-small, repetitive things and the gathering spots are just little sparkles on the ground with little indication as to what they contain.
And yeah – the graphics in this game are not helping there either. Sophie was the first in the series to be released on PS4, but honestly, it looks like a game designed for the PSP. The textures are super low-res, the environments (especially in-town) are blocky, and the whole thing just looks dull. Well, aside from the character models – which are very nice in comparison and it actually makes for this weird contrast.
The combat is a bit better, but again, nothing too out there. It’s your traditional turn-based JRPG combat with skills, chain attacks, usable items, and the basic attacking and defending. This is coupled with a four-member party and a somewhat sizeable cast to rotate members from. The enemy designs are varied enough, but as usual with this series, a lot of the later variations are simple reskins of earlier ones.
Overall though, I would say the combat is satisfying enough. It’s not the best I’ve seen from the series, but it feels nice to return to the usual turn-based battles after the last couple Ryza games and their action-based systems. That and it is never not fun to spend all this time crafting some mega bomb and bust it out in battle to wipe an entire squad of enemies. There is good synergy there between the two systems, given that a lot of the item traits are effects for when said item is used in battle.
Moving on to my main complaint though: the game loop – which also seems to be why the reception behind this game is so split. Unlike the more recent Atelier games, Sophie is VERY freeform. Like, there are entire sections of the game where the plot is simply not there and you’re just going through a loop of learning a new recipe, gathering the materials for it, and then crafting it.
On one hand, yeah – this does give the game a more laidback feel to it. This kinda applies to all games in the series, but Sophie is by far the most extreme example that I’ve played. The freedom to go around and do what you want and when you want is nice in a way, but I also can’t deny it makes the experience feel a bit aimless – like I’m just going through a process over and over with no end in sight.
What makes it worse is that when you DO want to actually make some progress, you’re oftentimes not told what exactly that progress entails. Sometimes the next story event trigger is on a random NPC, but there are no markers to indicate this. Sometimes it’s a specific recipe or alchemy level, but again, a lot of the time you’re left without instruction. I ended up forming this mental checklist of NPCs and locations to go to in the hopes that one of them would trigger an event.
And no, the fact that these events are often tied to certain days of the week and at certain times of the day does not help either. For example, I had a couple items I could not craft late into the game because I was still missing the recipe for a crystal ball – a recipe supposedly unlocked towards the beginning. I actually did not figure out until right before the final boss that I had to talk to an unnamed NPC that only appears at night on a bench in the corner of one area of the city. The tooltip for this recipe simply said “talk to a fortune teller”, so all that other stuff I just had to figure out by chance.
I’m fine when games leave a good amount up to player’s to figure out – and maybe I’m just spoiled by the excellent balance in the latest Atelier games – but when it’s literally the entire game loop, it does bring down the experience a bit.
And no, if you’re wondering if the story is any good, it absolutely is not. The characters can be interesting at times (mostly hit or miss), but given how the game loop works here, the story is hardly present until much later on and by that point it simply does not have enough time to develop something beyond your usual JRPG fare. Maybe the sequel can clean things up a bit, but Sophie has easily one of the least engaging storylines I’ve seen from this series.
Granted, as someone that has played a lot of these by this point – I can’t say it was unexpected. The crafting, the setting, the combat – that’s always been the good stuff and the story usually takes a backseat, it’s just a little bit further back in Sophie and takes a good twenty or so hours to really get started. The entire thing takes around 30-40 hours to finish and double that if you’re a completionist though, so it is at least a fairly decent sized Atelier game.
And I gotta give a mention to the soundtrack. The graphics may be iffy, but the soundtrack absolutely slaps. Great battle themes, great field themes, great opening theme – a good range of tracks there to match both the laidback stuff and the serious stuff, even if the latter is more limited this time around. Still, I have never been disappointed by an Atelier game’s soundtrack and Sophie is no exception.
Now as for the “DX” part of the game. I haven’t played the original, so I won’t be making direct comparisons, but there are some new features worth noting. For one, all of the DLC is included in this version. Perhaps the most notable of this would be a sidequest that has Sophie discovering her grandmother’s old clothes and kinda diving into her past a bit through them. There is also an additional epilogue after the story closes to tie the game more into the next in the subseries: Atelier Firis. Granted, Sophie 2 comes out soon so that will probably be a better followup anyways.
The DX version also adds some nice quality of life features, such as battle speedup and a photo mode. Still, I wish the battle speedup was even faster and the fact that there is no FOV option is a bit disappointing too given just how close the camera is here. That and the game could really use an auto mode for its dialogue, a feature present in Ryza that is somehow missing here despite this version coming out after.
Otherwise, the PC port is your typical Koei Tecmo port. It runs fine at 1440p and 144 fps on my 1070 Ti without any major drops, stutters, or other such issues. The graphical options are practically nonexistent though, so don’t expect much there. And definitely don’t expect much in the way of keyboard and mouse controls. Controller works flawlessly, but the mouse movement here just does not feel right and the default layout on keyboard is clunky too. 100% a game I would recommend a controller for, but that’s pretty much the usual for this company anyways.
While not as strong as other Atelier games, I still had a good bit of fun with Sophie. It is by far the most laidback of the series, with an almost entirely freeform game loop and little in the sense of direction beyond that. This is good in that it gives you a lot of freedom to figure things out and take in the setting gradually, but it does make for a very subpar story and some frustrating moments when you are searching for direction. Still, the crafting is as good as it has ever been and the combat is nice too, even if a bit basic. I wouldn’t say Sophie would be my first recommendation for series newcomers, but if you are already into it – it is at least worth a play and I am looking forward to how the sequel will compare.
Quote: Atelier Sophie DX, while not as strong as other Atelier games, is still a good bit of fun. Solid crafting, decent combat, nice setting – it has all the basics on lock even if the approach is different.
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book DX retails for $40 USD on Steam and is also available on PS4 and Switch.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.