2022 marks the 25th anniversary of the Atelier series that began back in 1997. The series has never been less than very active, but the past few years have been especially busy. The Atelier Ryza duology brought the series into a new limelight as it pushed it further with new innovations and gameplay changes, to good success. As the series grows older and its future seeming brighter than ever, Gust and Koei Tecmo look to take us back to the series’ roots and remind us why it earned its place in the hearts of many with Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist & The Mysterious Dream.
Land of Dreams
Set between the events of the original Atelier Sophie and Atelier Firis, Atelier Sophie 2’s story is a marked departure from both games in terms of setup. From the word go, Sophie is immediately whisked away to a world made of dreams where time doesn’t flow. She can’t leave this place by her own volition, and what’s more, she was separated by her dear friend Plachta in the process. With a group of entirely new companions who also find themselves in this dream world, she sets off to uncover the secrets of the dream world and to find her friend. For an Atelier game, it’s a much less grounded premise, but it maintains the good-natured and jovial tone the series is known for.
Despite being a direct sequel to a fairly old Atelier game, it’s largely disconnected from the original Atelier Sophie. The game does have a handy “Story So Far” feature if you wish to get caught up to speed regardless, but only a few details from the original game are necessary to know. That said, there are many callbacks and fun references to the original Atelier Sophie peppered throughout the story and side events if you’re an eagle-eyed fan. But if you happen to be hopping into this one, worry not; this is a self-contained and surprisingly compelling story.
The only returning characters here are the fan-favorite protagonist Sophie Neuenmuller and her companion Plachta. Atelier Sophie 2 otherwise completely forgoes the party and supporting cast from the original in favor of a new, much better cast. The characters seen here are some of the best party members to grace Atelier in quite some time. There’s an immediate chemistry between all of them, and thanks to the game’s main premise, everyone has a personal stake and journey too. Despite their goals being mostly disconnected, though, they never feel like anything less than genial chums. If they’re not taking funny potshots at each other, then they’re encouraging each other to chase their dreams. Thanks to how grounded their motivations and goals are, the game walks a wonderful line between being endearingly cheesy and soberingly realistic, too.
You, Knowledge, and Growth
Continuing off of the original Atelier Sophie’s theme of the slow accruement of knowledge, you can spend time between major story beats to further develop characters. Side characters included, you’ll be regularly chatting up the cast members about personal problems or even total non-sequiturs. These events are usually quite short and are meant to flesh out the world and characters without clogging the main story, and it does a good job at that. They can be humorous bits where a main character is flexing their ego, or it can be about how a character’s family business went belly up. The tone of these events tend to vary a lot, and I mean that in a good way. You get to see many shades of the party members over the course of the main story, the optional events, and even flavor text. They feel very human despite what their larger-than-life personalities and designs may suggest.
Of course, these events aren’t just for show. Over the course of the game, you’ll be working to fill out your Recipe Index, an encyclopedia that will allow you to create new items. By interacting with other characters, the environment, tinkering with different items, and so on, you’ll have bouts of inspiration in which you’ll come up with new items to craft. It’s a highly effective marriage of Atelier Sophie 2’s themes and gameplay, as well as a shockingly addictive gameplay loop on its own. No matter what it is you may be focusing on, you’ll pretty much always be rewarded for it with something new. Whether it’s more story, a new weapon to craft, or new items to fool around with, there are always new things to see with this game. All of this loops back to the game’s Alchemy system.
Speaking of which, the main draw of the Atelier series, Alchemy, has seen a huge overhaul. Rather than return to the more simplistic alchemy board system seen in the Ryza duology, you’ll instead find that Atelier Sophie 2 treads back to the tried and true grid-based system last seen in Atelier Lydie & Suelle. With materials you’ve gathered out on the field, you’ll be tasked with placing them on a grid in order to create a new item. What you want to make is important, but doubly so is how you make it.
Each material you use for item creation takes up a certain amount of space on the alchemy grid, and the key to making a good item is to ensure that you properly line up the materials on the board. It doesn’t just end there, though, as you’ll also want materials that represent certain elements in order to unlock an item’s bonus effects. These bonus effects can range from a Bomb doing more damage and inflicting status conditions, to a healing item restoring more HP and MP. You also have to make sure that the item is made using High-Quality materials, as that determines the item’s overall potency in combat or general use.
If that sounds like a lot of stuff to keep track of, well, that’s because it is. Atelier Sophie 2’s Alchemy system is not for the faint of heart, nor will it reward complacency. Throughout the entire game, it never gets any easier or friendlier. I mean this in the best way possible, too. What it exchanges in the other alchemy systems’ ease of use, it makes back tenfold in the potential for creativity and how rewarding it feels to craft a good item. If you’re trying to synthesize an item with a certain level of Quality or with certain bonus effects, you probably can, but the game won’t make it obvious for you. If you have a problem that you need to overcome through Alchemy, chances are that you’ll only need to think differently about the ways you apply materials you already have.
Footfalls in a New Land
When you’re not using Alchemy to create new items or chatting up various characters to learn more about them, then you’re out on the field and exploring. One thing you may pick up on quite quickly is that Atelier Sophie 2 is a looker of a game. From watching the trails of wind pass you by, to seeing spores and bugs flicker in the air, to running through rolling hills of foliage—Atelier Sophie 2’s world feels alive and vibrant. Supporting this further are the excellent and expressive character modeling and animations. Battles in particular are greatly enhanced by the game’s presentation, with smooth animation and dynamic camerawork selling the impact of each attack effectively. The only area where this presentation falters is during some cutscenes, where action comes off as somewhat limp due to wooden and limited character movement.
The environments aren’t just pretty though, more importantly, they’re very easy to read and understand. In order to make progress, you have to constantly be searching for materials to make new gear, items for battle, and items to advance the story. From high and low, there are materials to find basically everywhere. Some of these materials can be a bit tricky to find, and some feel less logically placed than others, but you won’t be lost for long if you look at the resources the game provides for you.
These areas won’t be unlocked to you all at once, though. Some routes will be blocked off, some places are too high up to reach, and you might need an item or three to get an item that could be placed right in front of you. All of these limitations, naturally, can be overcome by creating the items necessary. Want to fish up something from the river? Make a fishing rod. Want to catch butterflies? Make a bug net. Want to mine for rare stones and ore? Make a pickaxe. It’s all easy to understand stuff, and nothing is ever so far out of reach as to make things feel frustrating. You can additionally make most of these items early on, so it doesn’t take long for things to open up to you.
Playing With Weather
As you travel through your new surroundings, you may notice strange glowing pillars that you can interact with. With these, you can alter the climate to suit your traveling preferences, as well as change which monsters and materials spawn within a given area. With rain comes flooded rivers and lakes, as well as new pathways opening up to you by shimmying across floating debris. With sun comes dried-up riverbeds and new materials no longer hidden beneath the waves. There are other ways to alter the environment as well, but I won’t spoil them since they’re sure to delight longtime fans especially.
Changing the weather isn’t as simple as just pressing a button, though. You have to do it from points designated on the map, making traversal through each area into a bit of a puzzle. Turning on the rain gives you access to a new pathway by giving you debris to walk over, but it also cuts off an old one by filling it with too much water. Likewise, the sun might bring a new path, but get rid of an old one. It doesn’t take much critical thinking to find the way forward, but I appreciate the change of pace nevertheless.
The items you find and make aren’t just for show. You’ll be putting many of them to work in the game’s combat, which returns to the Turn Order system seen in the pre-Ryza games. As is typical of Atelier, whether you’ll win an encounter or not is more about the prep you do beforehand rather than moment-to-moment strategizing. If you have a good variety of items that are also well-made and good gear to dish and receive damage with, there’s pretty much nothing you won’t be able to beat on your first try. Having played the game on Very Hard difficulty, I found that it provided a solid level of challenge that brought out the best in both item management and the core mechanics of the combat. Throughout my time playing, I encountered only one particularly nasty difficulty spike. Otherwise, the experience was smooth and delightful.
Combat consists of two core components, building up Twin Points (“TP” for short) and using Twin Actions, which you can perform by spending your TP. By attacking, you can gain TP, and by exploiting weaknesses you can gain even more. With that TP, you can perform Twin Actions, allowing two party members to perform their actions in a single turn or swapping a different party member into battle when one is in danger. Synergizing your party and ordering them appropriately is key to maintaining the sort of flow you want for battle. As said earlier, a lot of your wins will boil down to having good items and equipment, but Twin Actions can make the difference between victory and defeat when that doesn’t cut it.
You’re also able to pick your battles as you so choose. Like previous games, your growth will mainly come from the equipment you create with alchemy—in that sense, level-ups are a formality rather than a need. You’ll never need to worry about grinding or stopping to fight boatloads of enemies to stay within a level curve, the pace is yours to set.
Qualities of Life
With as many things to keep track of at once in Atelier, getting lost on what to do next is par for the course. Thankfully, Atelier Sophie 2 is incredibly generous in showing you the way forward or how to do certain things. At the push of a button, you can access an encyclopedia of information on monster drops, where to find certain materials, how to proceed with the main story, and so on. While getting lost is an inevitability, figuring out how to get back on track is never an issue. If anything, all of the information you have at your fingertips makes getting sidetracked more exciting. I can’t count the number of times I completely ignored the main story for hours at a time to unlock new recipes and side stories.
Fast travel anywhere, duplicate your favorite items so you can keep using them, add almost any effect to an item you’re making. Atelier Sophie 2 is an overwhelmingly accommodating game that allows for pretty much any playstyle that a player might want. Options are always available to adjust and they also cast a big net on the different types of players the game will bring.
There is one exception to this, and it’s the game’s biggest problem. Atelier Sophie 2 is not very newcomer-friendly, and even as a veteran of the series, I found the tutorials to be grating at best. With each new mechanic (and there are a lot of them), you’ll get brief tutorials that teach you pretty much nothing on how they actually work. It’s like having a textbook repeatedly shoved in your face as a teacher yells at you to figure it out yourself. They’re usually simple enough to figure out on your own, but new players risk being overwhelmed if they don’t stop to learn the deeper mechanics of how everything works on their own time. So while it’s the most polished Atelier has ever been, it’s also something that newcomers will need time adjusting to.
Rhapsodies of Reverie
An ever-important aspect of Atelier is the music. Nothing quite sells the easygoing mood of a relaxing game like soothing music, and Atelier Sophie 2 continues its rich musical history with aplomb. From the gorgeous violin of the title theme to the hypnotic humming of the town of Roytale, Sophie 2’s soundtrack will have you knee-deep in its cozy atmosphere before you know it. The overall audio mastering is quite good, even aside from the music. Hearing the distant roar of a flowing river to the crunch of leaves and grass beneath your feet, the sound design enriches the world and gives it a tangible sense of place.
The Japanese voice acting is also quite charming, and all of the story-related dialogue is voiced as well. Though if I had one criticism regarding voice acting, it’s that the characters are a little bit too chatty when out exploring. Every time you pick up materials, which will happen very frequently, there’s almost always an additional comment from the characters about it. While it’s charming at first, it started to get annoying after I racked up enough hours of playtime. There’s no option to lower the frequency of these comments either, so it’s something I just had to accept.
Something of note for players who have not played an Atelier game since the original Atelier Sophie; this game lacks an English dub unlike its predecessor. While I found myself equally charmed by the Japanese voice actors of this game, I did find it slightly disappointing that there were no options to pick from this time. That said, the localization does smooth this over by keeping some of the dialogue quirks present in the dub, so it helps.
Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist & The Mysterious Dream is both a love letter to the series’ past and a bold step towards its future. I was thoroughly impressed by the game’s ability to merge gameplay found in Ryza with the gameplay of the older titles without ever feeling as if it needed to compromise either. Nearly every new element it introduced felt like a logical evolution of past ideas, to a point where I’m surprised that some of them had only been introduced now. Although it has a small number of cracks holding it back slightly, Atelier Sophie 2 was an absolute delight of a game, and easily my new favorite in the series.
ATELIER SOPHIE 2: THE ALCHEMIST & THE MYSTERIOUS DREAM IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Many thanks goes to Koei Tecmo for a PC review code for this title.
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A hobbyist who took up the pen to write about their favorite pastime: games. While a lover of many genres, Isaiah Parker specializes in Platformers, RPGs, and competitive multiplayer titles. The easiest way into his heart is to have great core gameplay mechanics. Self-proclaimed world’s biggest Sonic fan. Follow him @ZinogreVolt