Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book DX Review (Switch)
The Atelier series has quickly become one of the most widely represented RPG franchises available on the Nintendo Switch. Beginning with Lydie & Suelle on March 30, 2018, the series has quickly climbed to a staggering 16 releases as of the time of this writing, with virtually all mainline entries from the Playstation 3 era onwards now being available on the platform.
Although the third entry in the Mysterious subseries, Lydie & Suelle, had the honors of debuting on the Switch first, it wasn’t until April 22nd of this year that its two older siblings (Sophie and Firis) joined the fray under the shiny DX, quality-of-life coat of paint. I’ve found Atelier as a whole to be one of the most consistently solid franchises available today, with each new set of entries promising new stories, characters, and adventures to discover. Leading the charge in the Mysterious trilogy is Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book DX, and it has proven to be yet another enjoyable journey save for a few caveats.
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book DX follows a young alchemist-in-training, Sophie, who ultimately wants to follow in the footsteps of her late grandmother, a well-known alchemist in their hometown of Kirchen Bell. Having inherited her grandmother’s atelier, as well as her passion for alchemy, Sophie aims to make a name for herself through her works while increasing her knowledge in the trade. In this process, she discovers a dusty old tome that literally and figuratively takes on a life of its own.
This book, now known as Plachta, reveals that it has lost its memories and is currently unaware as to how or why it ended up in its current form. However, writing newly discovered alchemical recipes appears to also restore fragments of Plachta’s memories, so Sophie then makes it her goal to help her newfound friend alongside her studies. The truth they discover together, however, runs far deeper than they’d ever expect.
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book DX manages to take a narrative trope as old as time–amnesia–and present it in a way that I’ve certainly never seen done before. Unfortunately, this is where the narrative is at its best, as everything beyond the surface is not as appealing. I’ve never considered stories in Atelier games to be great, but they always make up for it with a slew of interesting characters.
Sadly, and surprisingly, I’ve found the cast of Atelier Sophie to be pretty underwhelming compared to other entries in the series. That’s not to say there isn’t ANYTHING to enjoy here, but I did find them to be a bit below what I’ve come to expect from the series overall. There are a few returning characters from previous entries that are considered completely different people from their original appearances (perhaps a multiverse situation), and while it was nostalgic to see their return here, I would have rather them been completely new characters if they weren’t going to be the “canon” versions of themselves.
Additionally, Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book DX suffers from uneven pacing and the overarching plot is ultimately extremely predictable. All that said, Sophie herself maintains the tradition of charming, occasionally ditzy innocence that the series conveys through its main protagonists so well. And again, there are moments with supporting characters that are enjoyable and entertaining, but overall it just seems like a step down in quality when compared to the Dusk trilogy that came before it. This entry also doesn’t have multiple endings (but does have some missable extras), which may affect how some people feel playing it multiple times over (I don’t mind, however). Even so, I easily put 30 hours into the game before rolling the base credits, and there was plenty more I could have done after that.
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book DX, like so many Atelier entries before it, is a turn-based JRPG that emphasizes synthesizing (or crafting), exploration, and building relationships. Sophie will be solving all sorts of problems through alchemy, with an ever-growing list of recipes serving as the various tools to achieve those goals. As Sophie ventures out into the world, inspiration may strike and she’ll learn new recipes that can then be used to tackle various problems and situations.
While Sophie is stationed in Kirchen Bell, she will have to journey well beyond her immediate borders in order to learn new recipes, gather ingredients for those recipes, before finally trying to solve problems (and most importantly, Plachta’s memory loss). Traveling is done via a world map with numerous nodes serving as individual zones. Once inside any given area, Sophie can then gather a variety of materials, fight different enemies, and discover a few secrets along the way.
There aren’t any time limits per se, but time does flow in this game. However, rather than restrictive revolving around stringent time limits the series was once known for, Atelier Sophie instead only uses it for a day/night cycle. Depending on the time of day (and even the weather), materials, enemies, friendly NPCs, and even accessible areas can vary, adding a bit of variety to many of the paths the player is bound to traverse over the course of the game. Partaking in any activity, including travel, beyond the borders of Kirchen Bell will slowly use the party’s LP, a finite resource that will be restored in full upon returning to town (among other methods).
Additional traveling nuances include how LP affects the player both in and out of combat, with the former affecting the success of gathering while the latter temporarily reducing the player’s stats. LP is more or less a nonissue almost immediately, though it can be a bit of a nuisance in the early hours. That said, Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book DX actually encourages the player to stick around the same areas for a long time by slowly increasing the rewards as you invest more time into any singular zone without leaving it.
Make no mistake, there is a lot to see and do here. However, like the story, Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book DX suffers from uneven pacing. Gameplay-centric content tends to be feast or famine; very little or an overwhelming amount of it, and it can easily set you up for failure if you push too far too quickly.
On top of that, many of Sophie’s recipe ideas can be a little vague in their requirements. For these reasons, I feel the game is geared more towards veterans of the franchise rather than newcomers, especially since there are so many other Atelier starting points available on the Switch that have a more natural curve of difficulty and progression. It’s not an impossible starting point, of course, but it is certainly not the best.
Battles in Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book DX are turn-based, with the player selecting commands for each party member (of which there can be up to four) before all actions (including those of the enemy) are executed in rapid succession. A timeline is shown on one side of the screen that will allow you to see how and where individual actions will launch in the entire turn order, allowing for some strategy to be weighed and deployed easily.
All party members can adopt either a defensive or offensive stance each turn, with bonuses to offense (at the expense of vulnerability) and defense (at the loss of DPS) granted respectively. These actions slowly build up a chain gauge that will occasionally (and automatically) fire off additional offensive and defensive actions based on the party’s stances and turn orders.
Eventually, powerful chain attacks can be performed at the expense of the entire gauge, but these can easily turn the tide of more difficult encounters back in the player’s favor. Balancing offensive and defensive stances is key to surviving some extremely powerful (but telegraphed) assaults from the opposition.
Synthesis (or crafting) is the lifeblood of any Atelier game, and Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book DX is no different. Gathered materials out in the field can be taken back to the atelier in order to turn them into all kinds of items. Series staples such as trait transferring return, allowing the player a substantial amount of freedom and customization in the properties that appear on their items and equipment. Quality and categories also play a factor, of course, enhancing the innate unique properties of each recipe depending on the materials chosen for a craft.
One thing that really sets synthesis apart (for the better) in Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book DX from other entries is the additional puzzle-solving elements. Once materials have been selected for any given recipe, the player must then place them within a jigsaw/Tetris-like grid. Each individual component has a certain size and shape, and the idea is to place them into the grid with as little overlap as possible. Doing this right can vastly improve the potency of your items, and is key in creating the very best items in the game and just being efficient in general.
Synthesis in Atelier games already demands more attention from players compared to the standard crafting system, and this puzzle component certainly adds an extra layer on top of it. I personally see this as a huge boon considering the puzzle-solving portion feels like a natural and engaging extension to what the series has already become known for.
Presentation-wise, there isn’t much to say that hasn’t already been said before. Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book DX was the final installment since 2008’s Rorona that was released for the PlayStation 3 and, as a result, features a similar look and feel to Atelier Shallie, released only a year prior. These releases within the same era tend to have minor visual enhancements with each new iteration, and Atelier Sophie is no different. If you enjoy cel-shaded-esque anime sprites and varied (but object/asset limited) biomes, then you’ll be content with it. The biggest takeaway is its solid performance, which is great considering most Atelier entries on Switch have some hiccups to deal with.
Music is pretty standard fare for an Atelier experience – good, but not excellent. There are a variety of different tracks that will play but many won’t leave a lasting impression. The final boss music, however, is simply superb and really drives home the high stakes associated with the situation.
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book DX continues the trend of providing a solid, unique JRPG experience, though it is by no means the best of the bunch. The core gameplay loop is (unsurprisingly) addictive, with the new puzzle-solving portion of synthesis feeling like a welcome addition rather than tedious nonsense. The story and characters aren’t the most memorable I’ve ever seen in the franchise but do enough to hold interest regardless. While the pacing feels a bit off here and there, the quality heart of the experience should help smooth out those edges overall.
The player can continue their journey for as long as they’d like after the credits roll for the base game where additional post-game content awaits. All that said, I would not recommend starting your Atelier experience with this game because of how much more it demands from newcomers over other entries, like Ryza. If you’ve played another Atelier game before, however, then definitely add this one to your wishlist!