Also On: PS4
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Fair warning: this may be the most negative positive review of a game you'll ever read.
In my defense, there's not a whole lot new to say about Atelier Sophie ~The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book~. It's the 17th game (not counting ports, remakes, and loosely affiliated spin-offs) in the Atelier franchise, and I don't think it's an overstatement to say that the last several of them have all been pretty much the same: a pastoral setting, a spunky young heroine, some turn-based combat, and lots and lots of crafting. So it was with Atelier Escha & Logy, so it is with Atelier Sophie, and so I'm sure it will be with Atelier Firis when that comes out later this year.
Normally, making the same game approximately 17 times in a row would be a bad thing — except in Atelier Sophie's case, it seems like it'd be doing the games a disservice to complain too much. None of them (or, at least, none of the games I've played) could accurately be described in any negative way. The characters are, almost without exception, well-written. Considering the debate about female characters in gaming, it's disappointing that the Atelier games aren't given a little more praise for the way they feature so many young women with agency and drive and intelligence. Sure, they're wearing frilly little bloomers the whole time, but considering the alternatives — Gal*Gun and Senran Kagura, I'm looking in your directions — there's something pleasantly anachronistic, even quaint, about the way heroines dress here.
And speaking of intelligence, there's the fact that Atelier Sophie is a lot smarter than most, if not all, of its JRPG ilk. As has been the hallmark of the series to date, it places a huge emphasis on resource management and business simulation, and it expects that players will be able to keep up. Of course, this has been the guiding principle of all of these games, which means that if you've ever played one before you'll know what you're getting into here, but it's still nice to see a game that treats its players with so much respect.
Again, in this respect, and in every other respect, Atelier Sophie does't do anything new. While part of me wishes that it would take a page from the Hyperdimension Neptunia notebook and branch out a little, at this stage, that's just not what the Atelier games are about. What they're about — and what Atelier Sophie continues — is simply being an intelligent, well-made JRPG. It's not flashy, but if that's what you're after, it'll do.