The Atelier franchise has been growing in popularity over the years, especially since Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout. Now, following Atelier Ryza’s sequel, Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is receiving the direct sequel treatment.
Newer fans only primarily aware of Ryza are not too knowledgeable of previous entries, so this new sequel with a different protagonist is likely not hitting the same waves of mass appeal that Ryza did for uh…reasons. With that being said, I believe the original Atelier Sophie deserves attention prior to its sequel release because not only is it an excellent entry in its own right, but it’s also undeniably welcoming to new fans.
For some personal background, the Atelier franchise has always been arduous to grasp the synthesis mechanics of. In fact, despite having played the games for close to a decade, the only title I’ve genuinely understood is Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout.
To be blunt, the tutorials across this series are never all that great, and even understanding moderately deeper layers to synthesis requires experimentation. Sophie used to be one of the many entries that never clicked with me for those very same reasons. However, I recently rebooted my Vita copy and found myself entranced after a few hours, suddenly beginning to understand the truthfully simple concepts that governed progression.
Firstly, for those unfamiliar with Atelier, it is worth noting that Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book contains no overall time limit for essential tasks. Earlier titles in the franchise have wielded that facet, like the Arland trilogy and the first two entries of the Dusk trilogy.
The time limit is essentially a double-edged sword as it aids in making breakthroughs more rewarding but at the cost of more induced stress during gameplay processes. It’s definitely not for everyone, so these newer games adopting a time limit free system for necessities is welcoming for newer players. Still, some sidequests are timed, but those are merely supplementary and nothing more.
While a few Atelier titles have legitimately tense narratives at some point throughout their duration, Sophie is mostly slice-of-life, aiding in its omnipresent sense of internal alleviation. These games tend to calm people down, and Sophie is no different. At its core, this is a low-stress adventure that nicely contrasts with more intense JRPG journeys and could easily find a way into your continually evolving gaming catalog. The characters Sophie herself meets are also pleasant, building a collective sense of community permeating the town.
However, none of this is to say that the game is simply a low-stakes, borderline passionless experience, as you do go adventuring beyond the confines of the hub area, gathering synthesis materials and battling monsters.
The security of Sophie’s hometown stands out more when going to these new areas and seeing the unmitigated wondrous brutality of nature accompanied by threatening beasts. Granted, this title is relatively low-end on the difficulty scale, but the effects provided by the almost jarring jump from friendly NPC banter to combat is a neat divergence in tone.
Perhaps the most vital note regarding this game and really every Atelier title is the synthesis. I’ll be blunt, to this day, I still don’t understand the synthesis systems of the Dusk and Arland games, but I’ve recently begun to understand Sophie’s primarily thanks to its presentation.
I’m not alone in finding synthesis perplexing throughout the series. It’s not well explained, and self-experimentation can only take you so far when even the inherent basics seem contrived. However, Sophie’s depiction of its synthesis system is, I’d argue, the first significant step towards greater divulged transparency for pronounced understanding.
In its basic, purest form, synthesis in this entry can be perceived as a more controllable deviation of Tetris. Each ingredient has its own colored blocks, correlating to a different effect that becomes higher in proficiency the more it impacts identical colors on the board. Obviously, more goes into it, especially when more skills are unlocked later on in the game.
Still, the primary principle is simply getting ingredient colors to align with the alchemical colors for more potent results. I found this visual representation to be far easier to understand than earlier games, at least for newcomers, since it’s in your face without severe parsing. Ryza is still the easiest for me to understand, with it essentially being the Sphere Grid/ Crystarium from Final Fantasy X/Final Fantasy XIII, but Sophie is not far off regarding accessibility.
Lastly, Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is the first entry of the Mysterious trilogy, making it an ideal entry point. You can simply jump in here and not require any prior knowledge for story or character comprehension, aside from a few cameos.
Ultimately, any Atelier game has a learning curve, thereby requiring some dedicated time to dive into. Still, if you’re a JRPG fan, that idea shouldn’t rub you the wrong way. For as much as the Atelier series is growing in popularity, it is still rather niche, so if you’re intrigued by the concept of this game, be you a newer franchise fan or not, I implore you to give it a try.
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book is currently available on PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam. It is also available via the Atelier Mysterious Trilogy Deluxe Pack on the aforementioned platforms minus Vita. The Deluxe version adds more content, though it’s still the same game at the end of the day. Each of the hyperlinks leads to the Deluxe version since that release boasts more content, providing a greater bang for your buck.
View our review for Atelier Mysterious Trilogy Deluxe Pack.
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