The Atelier series has been around for some time, since 1997 to be exact. The main series alone boasts over 20 iterations, not counting spinoffs and remakes. Few game franchises outside of the sports genre can boast
This title is a follow up to 2015’s Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book, which released on PS4 and PC to a generally positive reception from fans and critics alike. Those with fond memories of the original are surely anxious to know how the sequel stacks up to the original.
Developed by Gust Corporation, and published by Koei Tecmo, Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream is the very latest in the series proper.
Story – Sweet As Pie
The game kicks off with our protagonist Sophie and her mentor Plachta wandering through a forest. Following the events of the first game, they have set off on an adventure in search of Plachta’s body, which has been replaced by that of a doll. This is not why they have found themselves in this particular forest – Plachta has been dreaming about a mysterious tree, and this dream has led them deep into a lush forest.
They find this hulking tree, replete with odd, logic-defying spiral trunks and a massive crystal nestled amongst them. It’s almost certainly a magical tree. Things get weird very quickly, and the pair are spirited away and separated into a magical dreamworld ruled over by the Goddess of Dreams. Overall, the opening hour or so of the game is more or less what you would expect, even if it seems to lean heavily on some well-worn and possibly overused tropes.
While these events do not set up a particularly compelling narrative, they do a good job setting the tone and introducing the player to a new world. This doesn’t matter all that much – Just from the opening cutscenes leading up to this turn of events, it’s clear that this game will be character driven more than anything. On the other hand, this sets up the expectation that the player will encounter robust character growth.
As the story progresses, I found that the strength of the characters made for some enjoyable interactions, even if they were at times bound in familiar tropes. The magical dreamworld that our protagonist finds herself in is filled with mysteries to solve and strange things to discover, but due to it’s nature as a pocket dimension it feels rather low stakes.
This isn’t entirely a bad thing, as the game seems to be geared towards that kind of more casual experience, and might be a breath of fresh air if you have recently played a more hardcore RPG like Shin Megami Tensei V. There are, however, some challenging enemies to encounter even early in the game, so take care out there.
Gameplay – Familiar Yet Engaging
Sophie 2, like it’s predecessors, is for the most part a traditionally-styled JRPG with a strong and well-developed anime aesthetic. There are a number of gameplay elements to talk about here, I will address them in order.
To paint a bigger picture for you, overall Atelier Sophie 2 is a solid and enjoyable game. Some people might check out at the anime visuals and the large, mostly female cast. You might take one look at this, and every other Atelier games and think, “Oh, it’s one of those games”, but you can counter that with “Surely not, after so many of them.”
While it’s perfectly fine if you can’t get past the anime styling and overtly female cast, I feel it’s safe to say that Sophie is much more than meets the eye. Behind the cute anime girls and the idyllic setting lies a solid and enjoyable game.
Just like most games, the first time you gain control over a character after the opening scenes, you get something of a tutorial phase. By nature, Sophie 2 does not seem to be the punishing type, and slowly shows you the ropes as it introduces you to some more characters and the new world you find your self in, Erde Wiege.
Erde Wiege is a fairly large semi-open world, where you traverse various interconnected maps. There are hundreds of ingredients to harvest as you go, which you will automatically dump into your storage when you return to the Atelier.
Mercifully, you can do this at the tap of a button when your pockets start getting heavy. Not far into the game, you will also unlock a fast travel feature that allows you to travel between various teleport stones dotted around the world, rather than returning you directly to the Atelier which is still accessible via this feature.
You play as Sophie, our aspiring alchemist. She can jog at a slightly faster than walking pace, which is her default speed, or sprint using the rB button. You can change the function from “hold” to “toggle” via the options menu so you don’t have to hold the button down to sprint.
Sophie can also jump, but this is mostly used for larger steps rather than any significant form of platforming. She will traverse certain obstacles automatically as you approach, like hopping across barrels to cross water. Using the Y button will cause Sophie to either strike an enemy for initiative, or harvest ingredients in range. The X button opens the menu, which will be familiar enough to anyone who has played an RPG before with a few game-specific quirks.
The turn-based combat will immediately feel familiar to anyone who has played this type of game before. It’s overall a well-executed system that flows naturally, and has great animations. Switching characters in and out of battle also happens naturally, with the game prompting you before an enemy’s attack to switch in one of your reserve characters who will execute a block, reducing the damage they receive. In some cases, you can even execute a combination attack and deal a whole lot of damage.
Overall, the combat has a quick and fluid feel to it unlike many similar games where you have to either sit through or skip lengthy attack animations. The fast and frequent switching of characters adds to this fluidity, so while this type of battle system may be par for the course, the way it flows so naturally is quite an achievement.
As you can probably tell, there is a lot of meat here. As far as modern JRPGs go, you could do a lot worse. In fact, many modern JRPGs do just that. Atelier Sophie 2 does have one foot firmly planted in the old school, and manages to feel oh-so-familiar yet also like a cool mist on a hot day. It’s a great game to pick up if you have that JRPG itch, but don’t want to play anything too hardcore.
The alchemy mechanic is quite satisfying and entertaining. You select your ingredients, which give you different shapes and elements that you place on a grid that reminds me of a free form Tetris. Arranging the pieces in certain ways will give you bonuses, and improve the quality of the final product.
I quite enjoyed the alchemy, but if you get bored of it you can let the game automatically place your ingredients. Generally speaking, when doing this I found the results to be satisfactory. I used the auto function for most items, opting to do it myself for weapons, armor and accessories where you really want the bonus stats. Of course, this also all depends on the quality of your ingredients, which adds another layer of strategy to the alchemy. You may want to spend a bit of time gathering better ingredients to make the best quality items possible.
Graphics and Audio – Great In Almost Every Way
Even with the Switch’s limitations, Atelier Sophie 2 looks gorgeous. The world is bright and colourful, with top-quality animation and character design. Even in handheld mode, the game looks impressive and runs smoothly. I did pick up a few framerate stutters here and there, but overall the game performs admirably on the Switch.
The transition from combat to exploration is as smooth as you’d like, at which point you will encounter a familiar yet quirky and charming turn-based battle system. This is where the focus on character really shines, with the well-wrought character models animating beautifully. The anime aesthetic helps here, too – it’s rare to see a more realistic style of animation have this kind of quality to it, unless you’re playing a big budget AAA title. Even then, it can be hit or miss.
Once you’ve come out of the encounter on top, you are treated to a quick victory screen and fanfare, with the character who dealt the final blow striking a pose. This segues right back into exploration effortlessly, a minor but important detail that improves the experience immensely.
There are 2 graphics modes available in settings, one which prioritizes performance and one that prioritizes quality. Presumably, the performance mode could help your battery last a little longer when playing in handheld mode, and for the most part doesn’t make a noticeable dent in the visuals. The cutscenes suffer the most with some textures becoming noticeably worse, which is something I could personally live with if it keeps me playing for longer.
The game is voiced throughout in Japanese. While I do not understand the language, as far as voice acting goes Sophie 2 is mostly just fine. I did find Sophie herself to be a little annoying sometimes, but otherwise endearing. As you explore, the characters will talk amongst themselves, commenting on the ingredients you are harvesting. It may get repetitive for some, but I did not feel the need to go turn the voice volume down in spite of Sophie’s occasionally grating mannerisms.
In terms of music, Atelier Sophie 2 is no slouch and sports a pleasant array of musical scores and arrangements, which are generally uplifting in nature. Personally, I made full use of the fact that you can pair bluetooth headphones to the Switch now, enjoying the excellent visuals in docked mode while benefitting from the aural superiority of a good pair of headphones.
Atelier Sophie 2: Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream was reviewed on Switch. The review key was provided by Koei Tecmo.