Too Long; Won’t Read
If you’re new to the Atelier series and looking for a good place to begin, look no further – Atelier Sophie has everything you need wrapped neatly into one package, with quirky characters and a light-hearted story that doesn’t go too deep down the niche rabbit hole. It is perhaps one of the most accessible Atelier games in the entire series, and because it is relatively new, it is also available on a wide variety of consoles, with clean graphics and modern mechanics. If, on the other hand, you are a veteran to the Atelier series, Atelier Sophie may be a somewhat jarring experience – quite a lot of the systems have been drastically altered. Most of these changes are decidedly positive, but some are difficult to get used to and irritating if you’re accustom to the “old” way of doing things.
In general, however, Atelier Sophie is perhaps one of the best all-around Atelier games currently available. It features a large cast of characters, a relateable heroine, innovative synthesis systems, a large world map, and despite a free time system that allows you to do what you want, when you want, regular events will maintain a sense of progress and purpose.
Atelier Sophie follows the adventures of Sophie Neuenmuller (what a mouthful) – a cheerful, hardworking, but rather disorganized alchemist living in the quaint city of Kirchen Bell. Despite being a particularly talented alchemist, her start is a rocky one. She lives alone, orphaned at a relatively young age, and tends to make a lot of messes and mistakes. Even so, she dreams of one day becoming an alchemist as skilled as her grandmother with the goal of using her abilities to help the townsfolk.
Sophie is clearly struggling, though that doesn’t dampen her enthusiasm in the least. It is only when she encounters a mysterious book that her future begins to unfold…
The story of Atelier Sophie is very character-focused and generally light-hearted in nature. You will spend a great deal of time getting to know the townsfolk, some of which will also join you on your adventures. The cast is generally varied and characteristically quirky, some to better effect than others. They are scattered throughout the only town accessible in the game – Kirchen Bell – and each character has their own routine that makes them feel more alive than usual for most Atelier games.
Though there are quite a lot of side quests and events for essentially every character that you meet in the game, the “main” story focuses almost entirely on the mysterious book that Sophie discovers near the beginning of the game. It is a story of a teacher and an apprentice, of two friends with extremely different personalities, and – too a lesser degree – learning of both the good and bad of alchemy and saving the world from those that would seek to abuse it.
Admittedly, the story is not this game’s strong point – it almost never is in the Atelier series – but the gameplay mechanics make up for any weak points in the script by far.
The world of Atelier Sophie is fairly large, though each singular map is extremely small (which is typical for Atelier games). As such, you’ll be travelling through a large number of small areas all across the board. There is also only one town in the entire game – Kirchen Bell, where Sophie and her friends live. This is somewhat of a shame, and greatly limits the feeling of travel and exploration, but Kirchen Bell itself is a quaint, pretty town with a number of areas to explore, and Sophie is very grounded in her life there.
Despite the fairly small size of most maps, there are some dungeon areas that are quite a bit larger, and all areas are well made and varied, with lots of different types of terrains, enemies, and weather. This makes exploration a real joy, and makes unlocking a new area both worthwhile and exciting. Though the graphics are nothing spectacular, the maps are set out well and the colors are all very vibrant and eye-catching. One of the strengths of having such small maps is that there isn’t a single area that feels empty or dull.
In general, the world of Sophie feels somewhat more alive than most previous games – perhaps because the scope is so small. Every character in Kirchen Bell lives and breathes, with their own routines, their own goals, their own history. Though the story is sometimes on the shallow end, it doesn’t detract from the peaceful sense of living in a very close-knit community.
The battle system in Atelier Sophie is somewhat of an oddity. At first glance, it appears much the same as the previous games, with the usual commands to attack, use skills, use items, and flee from battle. Where it startles (and perhaps disappoints) is in the fact that it isn’t entirely turn-based – or at least not in the traditional way. You punch in the commands for all your party members at the start of the round, and they execute those commands as they reach their turn. This means that you won’t immediately execute a command, but will set it in a queue to be executed when that character has its turn.
This is very unusual, and a lot of the fanbase was understandably upset with the change. It takes some getting used to, and requires a fair amount of careful thought to fully master. Personally, though unusual, I didn’t particularly mind this change – it was challenging and new, and there are enough other interesting mechanics to make up for any clunkiness here.
As you progress through the game, you will unlock more abilities to use in battle – such as the “Break” system, which greatly weakens enemies (or your own party members, when used against you), making them vulnerable to attack. There is also a chaining system that is essential to the game, allowing you to pull off powerful combination attacks and over-the-top finishers.
Furthermore, there are two “phases” which you can use in battle – attack and defend. Depending on what phase your characters are in, their support actions will either support your units or deal extra damage to your enemies. It is necessary to think carefully about which phases to use ahead of time.
All of these mechanics together add up to a well-balanced and interesting combat system. The way commands are queued is certainly jarring, but it is perhaps the only downside to an otherwise innovative and complex system.
The alchemy system in Atelier Sophie is truly enjoyable – without a doubt the best in the series (with the exception of Atelier Firis, Sophie’s sequal game). It can be extremely complex – obviously well thought out and layered with details. You will be using cauldrons, each with its own special effects, that contain a grid upon which you will be placing your ingredients. Depending greatly on the size, color, and quality of your ingredients, as well as the order in which and where they are placed, you will be able to create extremely powerful items. There is a lot to think about, such that you will be constantly forced to strategize ingredient choices, cauldron choices, and placement options. This means that, even after making an item fifty times, each time will be new and fresh.
Synthesis, as with most Atelier games, will take up the bulk of your time. Luckily, with this new and innovative system, it will never get dull.
The music in Atelier Sophie is beautiful, with a slightly modern flair to many of its pieces. It showcases a large variety of tracks, many of which change and morph depending on the time of day and the current weather. The way the music is constantly shifting with your surroundings makes the world feel like a living thing, and greatly improves the experience.
Atelier Sophie is a quality game, and there is no reason not to invest in it. If you’re new to the series, this is perhaps the absolute best place to start. If you’re a veteran, many of the changes made here will breathe fresh life into the series. Atelier Sophie feels new and shiny, layered with a number of complex systems, fun characters, and a vibrant world. As a whole, it is perhaps one of the best Atelier games of all.
I’ve also created a complete recipe guide at: Atelier Sophie: Recipe Guide
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