Just over a year after Atelier Ryza 2 graced our screens, another sequel from the Atelier series is here: Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream.
Atelier Ryza 2 was an unusual move for Gust and Koei Tecmo. Typically, their Atelier games come in threes, with games that revolve around the same theme but have their own protagonist. And so Ryza getting her very own sequel was a surprise – although a testament to just how popular Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & The Secret Hideout was. And so, despite the first Atelier Sophie releasing back in 2015 – and already being part of a complete ‘Mysterious’ trilogy – the young alchemist is back with her very own sequel.
As unusual as it may be, however, Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream is a very welcome new addition to the series. It’s as colourful and delightful as we’ve come to expect from an Atelier game, offering a brand new story but bringing back many of the tried-and-tested systems that make the series what it is. Whether you’re a long-standing fan of the franchise or you’re fairly new to the world of Atelier games, you’ll find something to like here. And if you are an experienced player, you’ll likely be glad to hear that, like the Ryza games, Atelier Sophie 2 doesn’t feature the time limit system that plagued earlier games.
Atelier Sophie 2‘s story picks up more or less where the first game leaves off. If you haven’t played it (or, indeed, it’s been some years), there’s a handy story recap to get you up to speed. Atelier Sophie‘s narrative largely revolved around Sophie’s acquaintance Plachta who, when they met, was trapped inside a book, and later transferred into a living doll. Plachta is again the heart and soul of Atelier Sophie 2. Except this time, as the pair are mysteriously whisked away to another world, Plachta’s soul gets lost – and it’s up to Sophie to find it.
At least, that’s how Atelier Sophie 2 begins. Its plot involves multiple characters, all with their own stories to tell, with an overarching narrative that gets bigger as the game goes on. It’s as bizarre as just about any Atelier game that came before it, but it serves its purpose in moving the game forward. In all honesty, I didn’t get fully invested in the story. Some cutscenes and dialogue run on a little too long, taking you away from the game’s action. And really, it’s Atelier Sophie 2‘s delightful mixture of exploration, combat, item gathering and alchemy that kept me glued to my screen.
This is a game at its best when you’re not bogged down with exposition; when you’re simply free to explore, gather the items you need, and play around in your Atelier. You see, Sophie is an Alchemist. While she and her friends are also able fighters, her alchemy and the items she makes are always the key to moving the game forward. That means your task at hand might simply be to gather a certain type of ingredient needed to synthesise a key item, leaving you to search particular areas of the world until you find it.
One of my biggest criticisms of Atelier Ryza 2 was that its systems led to never quite knowing where to find the material you needed – or even if you were a high enough level to find it yet. Thankfully, Atelier Sophie 2 makes it much easier. There have been very few times where I’ve been wandering aimlessly, not knowing where to look for a specific item or enemy, and it’s meant the game has progressed more smoothly without frustrating halts to my progress.
The only one frustration I came across was the need to vastly increase my alchemy level before creating an item I needed to progress the story. In the atelier, you can synthesis items either as Sophie or as Plachta. Both have their own alchemy level; the higher the level, the more items you can craft as them, essentially. Each has a handful of items unique to that character, but for the most part I’d stuck to using Sophie as she’s the default character. But a particularly story quest required me to craft a high-level using Plachta. It meant I had to spend around two hours simply synthesising items in order to get her level up. Pretty tedious stuff, although it could have mostly been avoided had I used Plachta more throughout the natural course of the game.
The alchemy system is something that changes from one Atelier game to the next, and Atelier Sophie 2‘s system is more closely matched with Atelier Sophie. After choosing your ingredients, you’ll need to compile their individual elements in a grid that resembles a match-three puzzler. It involves matching elements and grouping them together as effectively as possible in order to create the best items. The more matching elements you have, and the more of the grid you fill up, the better your item will be. It’s fun, though it can feel a little drawn-out once you’ve done it several dozen times. You can skip through and have your elements placed automatically, but it never results in the best items.
When you’re not in your atelier, mixing stuff up in your cauldron, you’re out in the world, exploring, gathering, and fighting monsters. Atelier Sophie 2‘s world is beautiful, although it’ll no doubt feel a little familiar to anyone who has played a number of Atelier games previously. That shouldn’t be a deterrent; this is still a wonderful, whimsical land to explore, with plenty to see and collect. As for combat, it can be a little hectic at times, but for the most part it’s fun.
It’s a turn-based affair, with each of your characters having their own basic attacks or magic-powered skill attacks. You can perform ‘twin attacks’ where two of your characters team up to deal bigger damage, and you can also use a range of items in combat – providing you’ve crafted them first, of course. Bombs can be useful, and it’s wise to have a stock of healing items if things get a little hairy. Atelier Sophie 2 allows you to change the difficulty of the game to suit; on the lowest difficulty you’ll likely have no problem overcoming most fights, but on a higher difficulty you’ll need to employ greater strategy and spend more time levelling up your team.
Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream is yet another enjoyable game from Gust and Koei Tecmo. Even if you don’t get fully invested in the story, the adventuring alone is enough to keep you playing. A great alchemy system accompanies a fun battle system, all set in a world that’s a joy to explore – with a cast of characters that you’ll undoubtedly enjoy spending time with. If you’ve enjoyed Atelier games in the past, then you’ll love this one too.
Atelier Sophie 2 Review – GameSpew’s Score