Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
The Atelier series of games has always been a personal favourite of mine. Dating back all the way to 1997 on the PS1, albeit Japanese only release, the Atelier series has held a rather unique approach to a crafting/combat RPG. The games in the Atelier series are generally grouped in sets of three, and will have a connected theme and style. Originally released in 2015, now rereleasing as a “DX” version, we have Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book DX.
A bit of a disclaimer for those who’ve already played the original version: I did play Sophie when it initially released, and while the details in my mind are a little vague as it has been a while, there aren’t a whole lot of differences between the DX version and original game. If you’ve already played the original, and bought the DLC for it, you won’t really be getting much new. That being said, if you’ve only started your delve into the Atelier games recently, picking up Sophie DX, or the “Mysterious DX” triple pack, may be a good choice. That’s the blunt part for previous players, so let’s get into the details for those more new to Sophie.
The storyline for Sophie revolves around the titular character, Sophie, practicing alchemy after her late grandmother has passed away, leaving her on her own. As she is trying to make a recipe for some medicine to help out a local villager, she writes the recipe down in a reference book her grandmother left behind. A little bit of light show later, and the book starts floating. And talking. Turns out, the reference book is named Plachta, and it wants to be used to create even better alchemic items. New goal for Sophie: fill up Plachta with alchemy recipes to gain Plachta’s knowledge.
So, how does one go about learning Alchemy? Well first, let’s take a look at what Alchemy is: the power to transmute materials into other materials or items. So the first thing you’re going to need to do is gather those materials. While you might be able to find a few items floating around Kirchen Bell, Sophie’s home village, most of what you need will be farther away. Unfortunately, the world outside the walls of town isn’t too safe, as vicious, and maybe cute, monsters roam around. While Atelier Sophie definitely has the focus majorly on the crafting component, that doesn’t mean there won’t be combat involved. The basic flow of gameplay will be traveling to locations to pick up materials, returning to synthesize items, figuring out new recipes from Plachta’s hints, and then doing it over again.
The first part is to think up new recipes. Thankfully, Plachta will give you some hints as to what will spark that new idea, all of which is available in a sort of growth chart you can check in “Recipe Ideas” in your main menu. Sometimes the recipe idea requires you to talk to someone, gather a certain item/material, craft an item with certain traits/effects, or defeat a certain monster. So now that you have an idea, sometimes woefully cryptic, off you go to the outside of town to wherever you need to be to come up with a new idea or gather the materials you need. So you bring along up to four friends with you out into the field to get what you need. To get there, you need to travel on the world map to a series of nodes, which will both consume LP and progress time. Thankfully time doesn’t have any pressing concerns, as there is no time limit, but I will explain a bit about how that works later. The LP on the other hand, basically functions as numerical stamina: the further you travel, the more it decreases. At certain levels you will start to see a decrease in party member stats in battle, so pay attention to that.
While actually exploring the areas you travel to, there will be enemies floating around, as well as harvest points where you can pick up items. Monsters can also drop items upon defeat, as well as money and experience, so you shouldn’t necessarily avoid them, if you can beat them. Gathering is simple enough: go interact with harvest point. They will appear on the mini-map as green dots, while enemies appear as red stars. Do pay attention though, as you only have so much space to collect items before you have to return with them or discard some. Your Atelier has tons of space though. Seriously, if you can manage to fill out the Atelier inventory, that’s probably a few hundred hours worth of just harvesting. As you gather, or fight monsters, time will progress, and monsters and harvest points may change, especially between night and day. Be careful because enemies get more powerful at night. While I don’t have a particularly good grasp of how much stronger they get at night, but that could explain why some of the bosses beat me senseless one time, then got demolished the next…huh, well, hindsight is 20/20 I suppose.
In addition to what I mentioned about gathering, there is also a “Gathering Level” that goes up to five. The higher the level, the better quality items you find, with better effects. The downside is that enemies also get stronger. While the day/night system never really put me off slapping a monster at night, the gathering level could be the difference between a level 8 and a level 18 enemy. And considering your own level caps out at 20? That’s a big deal. If you find yourself wanting a higher level for better items, simply gather and beat monsters until it goes up. Worry not if it takes too long, as you can make an item later to speed up, or slow down, the process.
Since we’re already in the field anyway, let’s take a look at combat. Atelier Sophie has changed up the combat from the previous titles, and will probably be different from future titles. Combat is turn based, with turn order dictated by a characters speed. You can tell where a turn will happen after selecting an action based on a dynamic bar that appears on the left side of the screen. Like any good RPG, you’ve got many of the basic actions in battle: Attack, Skill, Run, Item, and Defend. All those should probably be pretty self explanatory, there are a few intricacies going on. First up we have the concept of stances. While selecting an action, you can choose to be in either an offensive or defensive stance. Offence focuses on attack power, while defensive focuses on defence.
If you’re like me and believe that the enemy can’t kill you if they’re dead, just keep in mind that a late game boss hit one of my party members for 130 damage in offence stance, and only about 27 damage in defence stance. Atelier Sophie also has “chain attacks” and “chain guards”. Basically, there is a “unison gauge” that fills up as you perform actions and get attacked. The higher it is, the more likely your teammates are to help you out. In Offence stance, this is mostly follow up attacks and moves with special effects as follow up attacks. In defence stance, you can still do follow up attacks, but can also guard your teammates. Note that each character can select a different stance, so you can split between offence and defence. New to the DX version, you can speed up battle up to 2x speed, making the battles o by a lot faster if you’re trying to farm a certain material or experience.
Now that you’ve collected some items, it’s time to actually make something! Off to your Atelier you go, walk up to your cauldron, and you can start the synthesis process. First you select what you want to make from your list of recipes, then you have to select the ingredients. Items you synthesize will usually have different effects, which are based on the “value” of the selected materials. These are shown on a bar at the right side of the screen, and each effect is tied to the materials you select for that specific category. Next is Quality, which is determined by either a “rating” or a numerical value later in the game. This value can get up to 999, although you probably won’t be hitting that until the post-game, and is a modifier for the abilities tied to items, or the equipment specs. Once you’ve selected your materials, you have to Tetris them into your cauldron of choice. The cauldron will have a grid you need to slot the materials on, where there are bonuses that will enhance the value effects when you put a material on them. After finalizing your positions, you create your item! Unless your quality is too low. After making the item, you can attach traits to the item. These traits are carried over from the materials you used during synthesis, and depending on alchemy level, you can put up to three traits on an item.
That’s it for the main bulk of the gameplay, so what else is there to do around town? Well, you can interact with residents, accept quests and rumours from Horst, and improve your bond with your party members. This is also where the time system comes more into play, as certain NPCs will only be around or available during certain days of the week or times of day. The time system also determines when items will become available in shops again after purchasing all their stock. In addition to that, you can register items with one of the characters ad they will produce more of them for you to purchase at set time intervals. Requests and rumours will probably be a chunk of how you earn, and spend, cash. Requests will task you either with providing items, or hunting a certain monster. Monster hunting requests have a time limit in days, but are so long they aren’t really a practical issue. Rumours can be anything from causing certain traits to appear on items, to summoning super strong optional boss type monsters on the field. Let it be known that your money will probably fluctuate between “lots” and “none” throughout the entire game.
In addition to the base game, there was also DLC available for Atelier Sophie. The DX version comes complete with the DLC, including the harder despair difficulty, the post-game “dungeon”, new traits for items, a few new cauldrons, the ability to speed up battle, the ability to run on the field maps, and I believe a new outfit. That’s about it for “bonus content”, so if you’ve already purchased Sophie and the DLC before? Probably not a whole lot to make you consider the DX version. If you didn’t get the DLC or finish Sophie, and you want to, you may be more inclined to pick this version up.
So how does it stack up for newer players? Well, the graphics for the fields feel a little dated, but the character graphics still look pretty sharp. The DLC soundtrack items come with the DX version as well, and since the music for the Atelier games hasn’t let me down yet, and Sophie is no exception, it should be good to still listen to. Gameplay is a bit of a mixed bag. My first Atelier games had a huge focus on the combat, with the alchemy being a supplement. In Sophie, it’s the opposite: the alchemy is the focus and the combat kind of exists. Really, the combat is there just to spice up the game really. Trust me, when you hit late game and start making items five points down a synthesis chain so you can put a “Power to Destroy Gods” on an item you are trying to make, while also trying to recursively make Geist Aizen to hit quality 999 for the best gear, it gets a little…heavy.
On the other hand, I basically ran through the game on normal, and beat the last boss with low quality early game armour and two tier 3 and two tier 2 weapons (out of 5 tiers), so it isn’t like it’s impossibly difficult. It was a little dumb end game because there’s a small difficulty spike, which wouldn’t be noticeable if I had actually kept up with my equipment crafting. You also will notice your wallet will have a constant hole in it, because once you start consigning items for duplication, it costs a lot. Pro tip: you earn more exp and money on despair, and gold Punis are still easy at that difficulty.