Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream Review – A Recipe Refined Once More
I’m going to begin this review with what probably won’t be the most popular opinion around—there was a part of me that was dreading the dive into Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream. I know that she’s a popular character among series fans, and, at first, I liked her, too. However, by the time we reached Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings, the once bright and affable, yet also very disorganized protagonist introduced in Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Book had been reduced to little more than an alcoholic Mary Sue whose mediocre attempt at pretending to be the Sophie that we knew from the previous two games made her seem all the more unpleasant to be around (she did have a cool outfit in that game, though). I didn’t like the way that GUST handled her character growth, and I haven’t been terribly fond of Sophie as a character for quite some time. Fortunately for me, however, that wasn’t really a big deal, because the Mysterious Trilogy was done—little did I know, however, that said trilogy would be turned into a quadrilogy four years later. And, even more surprising to me was the fact that I would end up absolutely loving this game.
Atelier Sophie 2 is only the second time in recent memory that GUST has tried to re-open a previously closed Atelier series, but, if you compare it to Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland, the difference in quality is apparent by leaps and bounds. I’m not sure if giving Sophie a starring role in a new game after seven years is a way of catering to the fans, but, even if it is, there’s a lot of love and attention to detail in this game. It feels like a natural, and much-needed extension of the previously ailing Mysterious universe, and I applaud GUST for that.
A Walking, Waking Dream
Like I already kinda-sorta mentioned, Atelier Sophie 2 isn’t part of an all-new Atelier series (although the fact that there’s a “2” in its title probably makes that fairly obvious), but, rather, a new entry in the previously closed Mysterious trilogy-turned-quadrilogy. What makes Atelier Sophie 2 especially interesting, however, is where it lies within the Atelier series’ story. While it is, of course, a sequel, it’s only a sequel to Atelier Sophie, meaning that Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey and Atelier Lydie & Sue have yet to happen. In fact, as far as I can tell, this game takes place almost immediately after the first Atelier Sophie, with Sophie and Plachta just having (accidentally) parted was with Oskar right before the game begins as they make their way through a forest.
As they continue their walk, Sophie and Plachta soon come across a very interesting-looking tree. Sophie, being an alchemist and all, is instantly drawn to it, but, before she can even begin her investigation, the dynamic duo find themselves being sucked into a mysterious (see what I did there?) vortex which unceremoniously dumps them into the literal dream world of Erde Wiege and splitting them up in the process—and it isn’t too long after that Sophie finds herself embarking on a new adventure, the likes of which will take her to extraordinary new lands.
There are, without a doubt, a lot of places where this story could go wrong. Not only does Atelier Sophie 2 try to mess with the Mysterious series by inserting itself halfway into an already entirely established timeline, but it also makes a very bold attempt at quickly developing multiple characters at once while simultaneously retaining their post-Atelier Sophie, pre-Atelier Firis personalities (at least for those applicable). On top of this, Atelier Sophie 2 also throws in a child version of Plachta and Sophie’s grandmother, Ramizel, into the mix, which only makes the lore-building of Sophie’s world that much more precarious. But, somehow, they pulled it off. And they did it with flying colors, to boot! Characters—be they previously by-name-only ones like Ramizel, the child version of Plachta, or the entirely new cast members like Olias, Diebold, and Alette gel incredibly well thanks the unique charms each of them hold and their overall chemistry as a party, and GUST’s attention to detail ensured that they build up Sophie’s world without destroying anything that they had placed there several years before.
A Truly Weathered Adventurer
So, I’m going to level with you once again, dear reader—I’m not entirely sure how I should approach the game’s mechanics. Atelier Sophie 2 is the sequel to Atelier Sophie, so it would make sense to compare it to that. But it’s also the game that came after Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & The Secret Fairy, so comparing it to that would also make sense. Well, I guess that means that I don’t have much other choice than to compare it to both—which is probably a good thing, considering that it draws inspiration from each title.
In terms of exploration, this game is flat-out a copy of Atelier Ryza 2‘s approach to world-building. Sure, Atelier Sophie 2 feels a little bigger in size and scope, and the locales differ a bit—primarily due to the fact that there aren’t massive sets of ruins that you have to explore (although there is something that replaces that on a smaller level)—but it’s still got a very similar feel in that you progress through the game in what could be likened to a more “typical JRPG style” by actually traveling around the game’s world on foot, as opposed to the first Atelier Sophie‘s decision to segment its explorable areas into different, nonconnected places on a world map a-la the old-school Atelier games. Personally, I much prefer Atelier Sophie 2‘s approach to exploration. It might not be the pseudo-open-world thing that Atelier Firis tried (still hoping for another one of those some day, by the way), but it does offer a comfortable smattering of explorable locations—all of which are quite beautiful, by the way (the extra work that GUST has been putting toward graphically overhauling Atelier games within the past few years is especially noticeable in this game).
Ah, but a nice world to explore isn’t all that Atelier Sophie 2‘s got going for it! This game also lets players… wait for it… manipulate the weather! Now, if you haven’t played an Atelier game before, that might not seem that exciting, but for those who have… you see where I’m going, right? By changing the weather, a single area can turn into anywhere from 2 – 4 different areas (not all weather types are applicable in each area) to explore. And that means more materials to gather and more monsters to fight! Just make sure that you keep up-to-date with your tools, though—as with Atelier Ryza, Atelier Sophie 2 heavily depends upon good tools—such as pickaxes and bug nets—to collect certain kinds of materials. Truthfully, Atelier Sophie 2 didn’t do quite as much with the weather as I would have liked it to. I did, however, appreciate what it did—especially when it came to puzzle-solving—and would like to see more of that kind of thing in the future.
When it comes to battles, Atelier Sophie 2 really seems to take a simpler, more back-to-basics approach. The whole ATB thing from Atelier Ryza is gone, and normal turn-based battles are back, which I’m quite glad about. Atelier Sophie 2 also employs something that Koei Tecmo seems to be calling… let’s see, here… “multi-link turn battles?” I’m really not sure what all of that’s about, though, because it’s just the game re-implementing that old feature where you could switch reserve party members with active ones by having perform attacks on enemies or intercept incoming ones. The only real difference is that the offensive version of this is now something called a “Twin Action,” and lets you perform an attack with the character that’s switching in and the character that’s switching out, which is pretty neat. Oh, and, of course, you can also perform some pretty stellar ultimate attacks called Dual Triggers after a while, too! The only thing that I find curious is the complete lack of anything resembling burst and stun gauges, but, hey, I’ll take what I can get.
There’s one other thing that Atelier Sophie 2 adds into combat. And, unfortunately, it’s not quite as good as everything else. Enemies—from the smallest Puni to the mightiest dragon—can now enter combat with a special shield known as an Aura. These Auras come in multiple forms, all of which are designed to soak up most incoming damage, but also each has specific weaknesses and resistances. Once an Aura takes enough damage, it will break, temporarily stunning the enemy (which I guess kind of makes the stun gauge a moot point), allowing players to really rack up the damage.
All in all, I don’t mind Auras as a concept. What annoys me is that, after a while, every single encounter will feature an enemy with an Aura. These small-fry Aura users aren’t hard, they’re just annoying, and the fact that they appear so frequently did get on my nerves a little bit after a while.
Panel de Plachta (or Sophie)
The last stop in this review is perhaps the most important—alchemy. And, really, there isn’t that much to talk about here. Atelier Sophie 2 uses a slightly modified version of the panel-based alchemy system featured in Atelier Lydie & Sue, meaning that players are (thankfully working with simplified numbers during alchemy as opposed to what was going on in the original Atelier Sophie. The biggest change in Atelier Sophie 2 is the fact that the game now uses something called “linking,” in which players will need to line up certain highlighted panels in order to unlock more powerful effects of items. Linking, while not at all difficult to understand, can be pretty tricky to pull off in its advanced forms for about the first half of the game. Fortunately, after a while, you’ll be introduced to Catalysts—which function almost identically to the first Atelier Sophie‘s cauldrons—opening up a whole new world of alchemical wonders for players to enjoy. And, believe me, synthesizing in this game is an absolute blast. Not literally, though—well, unless you’re making a Bomb, or something, I guess.
Bubble, Bubble, There’s No Trouble
I’ve been optimistic at the end of each Atelier review for the past several entries, now, but I don’t think that any game has gotten me quite as optimistic as this one. Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream is, without a doubt, one of the best games that GUST has put out in over a decade, and it’s once again renewed my faith in what the company has in store for the Atelier series as a whole.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC; Publisher: Koei Tecmo America; Developer: GUST, Koei Tecmo; Players: 1; Released: February 25, 2022; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher.