The Atelier series has been going for well over 20 years now, touting 22 main entries in the franchise. Lately, Gust has been committed to bringing their 3D Atelier entries to modern platforms through DX (Deluxe) enhanced ports with extra content and new features. The latest Atelier games to receive the DX treatment are the Mysterious trilogy, Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book, Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey, and Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings. These three games have been updated and packed full of DLC such as playable characters, new vehicles, music, new gameplay elements, costumes, and more. Most notably, these DX versions mark the first time the complete Mysterious series is available on Nintendo Switch. The first entry in this trilogy is Atelier Sophie, which first released in 2016 for the PS4 and PS Vita.
Atelier Sophie is the tale of a girl who yearns to be a great alchemist like her late grandmother. The story is a coming-of-age tale, focusing on growth and finding one’s way after losing a loved one. As Sophie toils away by her lonesome in her atelier, she strives to prove her worth to the townspeople, as well as fill the rather large shoes her grandmother left behind. One fateful day, she finds a mysterious book tucked away that she’d never seen before. Noticing its blank pages, she decides to write a recipe for alchemy into it, triggering a reaction that causes the book to spring to life. Sophie swiftly learns that not only can the book fly, but it can also talk. This chain of events leads Sophie down a long path to learn more about her new friend as she seeks to restore its lost memories. With a new goal in mind, Sophie strives to become a great alchemist with a single yet simple goal: help those in need.
Like most Atelier games, Atelier Sophie’s story is most akin to a slice-of-life tale focusing on a fledgling alchemist and the whims of her friends. This leads to a very lighthearted and casual form of storytelling that comes across in simple scenes meant to have light touches and nuances rather than dramatic reveals or explosive events. Oftentimes, players will be met with a casual scene about two characters having tea, the traits of local fauna, or even about the dangers of reading books in the dark. Atelier Sophie has a soft and casual pace, though that doesn’t mean it’s particularly slow. It feels more relaxed, cozy, and comfortable. With how mundane yet charming the story can be, it shows a certain heartwarming aura that feels welcoming.
The general gameplay loop of Atelier Sophie consists of three main parts: synthesis, exploration, and battle. With each Atelier trilogy, Gust makes notable changes to their synthesis system to mix up how players actually perform alchemy. Atelier Sophie marks the use of a puzzle-esque system with a board for placing materials of specific colors and shapes. Bonuses and traits are added depending on the alchemy cauldron used, the type and value of materials, and the order and placement of said materials. This system makes alchemy quite engaging as players can fine-tune the bonuses they want by changing the order of ingredients, rotating pieces around like Tetris blocks, or even making a new cauldron altogether with better bonuses and a bigger board. While this is likely my favorite synthesis system in the series, I do find myself missing some of the quality of life features from the most recent Atelier Ryza games, such as easy duplication and item rebuilding.
Exploration, on the other hand, feels similar to previous games. There is a large map with gathering points marked as points of interest. Moving around said map consumes Life Points, which are essentially a stamina pool that dictates how much you can travel around the map. Once LP gets low, you take more damage in battle, do less damage to enemies and have penalties when it comes to gathering items. Thankfully, this fatigue/stamina system is unintrusive, as you’re likely to run out of items in battle or simply fill up your gathering basket before ever reaching zero. Sometimes, I forgot LP even existed. Within each gathering point on the map, there are often gathering fields where players can search for items, explore new areas, and fight enemies. Each time Sophie gathers, the enemies in the area grow more irate with their presence. Spend too long, and enemies will become far stronger and notably more aggressive thanks to her careless stomping around their territory. However, both the quality and quantity of items gathered increase with practice, so there is an upside to testing monsters’ patience.
Atelier Sophie uses a Symbol Encounter system, which means you can see the enemy roaming about on the field and engage in combat by either touching it or whacking it with your staff. The latter will ensure you start battle out with a bit of an advantage, while getting caught from behind will have the opposite effect. While gathering with a slew of agitated monsters running about, a new feature introduced in the DX version of Atelier Sophie starts to shine: the dash feature. Simply holding the right shoulder button will allow Sophie to run significantly faster, ensuring the ability to get away from an encroaching enemy that plans to interrupt their gathering. This feature also makes movement around the open fields a breeze, though it does essentially invalidate a late-game item known to boost movement speed when equipped.
When not gathering from the land, players can also engage in battle to get materials exclusive to enemies. Thus, the final third of Atelier Sophie’s gameplay loop is based on combat. Battles are round-based this time around, with players deciding their actions before committing their turn. After selecting each party member’s attacks, skills, items, or defense actions, combat unfolds in a relatively quick fashion. On the left-hand side of the screen is the action timeline, indicating what order in which party members and enemies act. Each action has a weight to it, causing heavier hitting movies to place the user further back in the timeline. This introduces an influential strategic element in decisions: players can utilize a faster yet weaker hitting attack with the hope of stunning an enemy before they can act.
At first, Atelier Sophie’s combat system is deceptively simple. With each side taking turns, the battle system’s initial showing is quick yet relatively basic. Two stances dictate the type of support actions party members will give. Defensive allows members to cover others, while Offensive allows for follow-up attacks. At the beginning, this is only a single follow-up attack from a member that has already acted. Over time, this evolves to include two members with drastically stronger effects. In its final form, flashy special attacks are available once the gauge has reached 300% and three other party members have acted. Each of these actions can stack to unleash a special move. For each offensive support action and follow-up, there is a defensive option as well. This leads Atelier Sophie’s battle system to be both swiftly aggressive and tactically defensive.
In and out of combat, the game is easy on the eyes and generally pleasant to look at. While the original game was built for the PS3, PS4, and PS Vita, many of the gathering fields are relatively small and flat. Sections of town are equally as small, though the game makes up for the size of fields by having a large number instead. The environments tend to blend: a large assortment of grassy fields and stony hills merging. The occasional gathering point flexes Gust’s artistic ability, though the most visually exciting locales are found much later in the game. Unfortunately, as empty as some of these fields are, I found performance on the Switch taking a dip at times. In docked mode, I found little to no issue, yet I noticed a number of drops and poor performance in handheld when crossing fields with large amounts of geometry, enemy, and weather effects. That said, the drops were infrequent enough and happened under relatively understandable circumstances.
On the audio front, the soundtrack has a pleasant and comforting vibe that ripples across the entire game. The soft pianos, light winds, and gentle screens highlight the slice-of-life nature of the game and create a soothing atmosphere whether you’re toiling away for hours in the atelier or exploring murky caves and abandoned ruins. There are several touches in the music that feel reminiscent of older Atelier games, specifically the PS2 entries. As I wandered across the land, I found myself nostalgic for Atelier Iris and Mana Khemia. As with most Atelier games, the OST standouts come from the battle themes. “Spring Wind Skylark“ is the primary theme players will hear, which has a very upbeat and positive vibe to it. “Warrior’s Strike,” generally reserved for mini-bosses, has a powerful flow and rhythm to it that feels empowering and exciting. Finally, “Juno“ has a fiery and metallic feel to it as dueling guitars blaze. The sheer size and variety of the soundtrack is impressive, yet it still manages to maintain an identity throughout that I can only describe as the ebbs and flows of everyday life.
Overall, Atelier Sophie is a pleasant and comforting experience that Atelier fans will know well. Newcomers to the series will find a cozy and welcoming endeavor that highlights the hidden wonders of the mundane. The story, light yet still having purpose, is strengthened by the DX version’s additional scenes surrounding Sophie’s grandmother and her importance to the community. There is a theme of growth and self-improvement while emerging from the shadows cast by those before. Sophie is an upbeat, positive, and wholesome protagonist surrounded by a grand cast of colorful characters, each with their own ambitions. By the time the game is over, Kirchen Bell will feel like a home away from home. It’s small, but it has a lot of heart, much like the game itself.
My time with Atelier Sophie ended just over the 35-hour mark before credits rolled, though I could’ve spent another two dozen or so hours crafting every single recipe in the book or chasing down the super bosses to test out my newest overpowered equipment or the brand new bomb that’s bound to shake the heavens. For Switch owners who never had a chance to try out the first two games in the Mysterious series, this is a great entry with solid performance for a portable system. For PC and PS4 players already familiar with the town of Kirchen Bell, new features and included DLC may be worth giving Atelier Sophie another spin.