Review: The lackadaisical alchemy of Atelier Sophie
Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it. Each entry in the Atelier series has been progressively more lenient on the player. Deadlines have become more lax since Atelier Rorona; requirements for endings are less demanding. Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is the most gentle entry in the series. Yet, in so doing, feels as though it has taken away much of what makes the series so unique.
Atelier Sophie begins as most of these games do, with a bang. Sophie is a dreadful apprentice alchemist and the concoction she’s creating blows up in her face. It feels as though this is done more to establish a sense of tradition than anything, as she’s immediately able to synthesize some Berg Medicine for a visiting friend. Still, she is an inexperienced ingénue, which is why she so readily accepts a talking book with no memories as her teacher. In exchange for Plachta’s education, Sophie not only learns alchemy, but also the influence it can have over people’s lives.
The moment Sophie and Plachta join forces is the instant Atelier Sophie turns into the most unbalanced entry in the series.
The moment Sophie and Plachta join forces is the instant Atelier Sophie turns into the most unbalanced entry in the series. There’s no consistency. There’s no plausibility. The storyline comes in and out as you acquire recipes or perform requests. The recipes themselves aren’t obtained in a logical manner, from books or assignments. You have to unlock each recipe one-by-one, sometimes stumbling upon ones that suddenly advance the story so far ahead that you’re underleveled and floundering, before rubberbanding to the overpowered other end.
You do what you want, when you want in Atelier Sophie. Time matters, but it doesn’t cause you to miss out on events or head toward a bad end by dilly-dallying. It influences which ingredients and enemies you’ll find in an area. Visiting a place often is the only way to improve the quality of items you find there. Which is fine, though indicative of the game’s repetitive nature. After all, collecting a certain number items or defeating set numbers of monsters can help advance the story. One of the only reasons to return home is to rest up, as characters get exhausted from spending too much time in the field without taking a rest, and perform alchemy.
The alchemical system feels like another attempt to fix a formula that didn’t need fixing. Previously, Atelier games had you add items to a recipe, each one with its own traits. These would be carried over to the final product, adjusting its quality and nature. Now, there’s a puzzle minigame where each ingredient has a specific size and shape. It’s not only about picking the right item, but also hoping it fits properly to make the perfect product. It’s far more complex than it needs to be and, while it does make sense for alchemy to require so much thought in a game where the heroine is an alchemist, it shouldn’t detract from the rest of the experience.
On the other hand, battles have suddenly become the most uncomplicated part of the series with Atelier Sophie. They’re turn-based, as usual, with four party members joining each fight. Each one can attack, use items or perform a skill. There are special skills as well, triggered by certain actions. Unfortunately, unless you’re at a point where the story abruptly propelled you past your comfort zone, there’s no need for any of it. Aside from a few select bosses, I turned on the auto battle function and let everyone always attack. It would have benefitted greatly if the battles had required as much strategy as the alchemy.
Atelier Sophie is a mess of issues, with big problems flanked by smaller ones.
Atelier Sophie is a mess of issues, with big problems flanked by smaller ones. Your characters’ level cap is 20. Their individual stats for attack and defense can be upgraded, making things far more complicated than necessary. You have to rely on rumors to find items to acquire and bosses to fight. Even one dungeon relies on rumors and you have to keep waiting and hoping for the gossip that gives you the chance to get there. It’s an entirely uneven experience, all in an attempt to make things more casual and relaxed.
Perhaps the worst part is that once you’re done with Atelier Sophie, you’re done. Every entry in the series since Atelier Rorona has offered motivation for multiple replays. Some games were so difficult that you had to go through a second or third time to earn that best ending. Others had post-game dungeons or endings tied to friendship levels with specific characters. Atelier Sophie offers none of that. There’s no post-game content; there are no character-specific endings.
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is the easiest entry in the series, much to its detriment. The lack of structure can send you far too swiftly through the story. The battles are so simple, you can abandon strategy. Gathering is tedious, since you’re now forced to spend as much time possible in a place for the best results. Yes, it works, but there’s no satisfaction from a job well done. Simplicity has killed this entry in the series, as this casual encounter is too lenient for its own good.
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