It’s been over six years since the original Atelier Sophie debuted in Japan. Since then, four other mainline entries appeared. Simply put, a lot’s happened! Now Atelier Sophie 2 is about to appear and take things Gust’s learned to apply it to new and existing characters and a new world. The result is something in which the changes are evident, even though it might also feel a bit familiar.
As before, characters dreams from the original game are still building in Atelier Sophie 2. Sophie still wants to be as grand an alchemist of her grandmother. She wants to be licensed. Plachta, while now in a doll body due to the events of the first game, hopes for a human form again. While working toward this goal, Plachta dreamed about a mysterious tree. Sophie and her found their way to it. When they do, it looks different than it did in her mind. Upon investigating it, it pulls Plachta in. Sophie grabs her hand to save her, and the two get dragged into another realm. Said other realm being Erde Wiege. It is a dream world filled with unfamiliar characters. But it’s also one where perhaps both women could continue to work toward their goals.
Once people arrive in Erde Wiege, everything is a mystery! Alette and Pirka find Sophie. They take her to a shop to rest and recover. When she wakes up, they’re surprised she (and by extension the player) doesn’t know what’s going on. Turns out the Goddess of Dreams Elvira should have explained it all. But she didn’t. Fortunately, Sophie and Alette learn from Olias that a Plachta who is an alchemist did recently arrive there! But she seems to be “a” Plachta, rather than “the” Plachta. What follows is a test to prove Sophie is an actual alchemist, so you can share this Plachta’s atelier, look for your Plachta, and figure out what’s going on.
From the very beginning, it’s easy to see how Atelier Sophie 2 is influenced by the more recent Atelier Ryza entries. There are big, open areas. The early characters I met and places I explored were quite detailed. Roytale is a very large town, separated into different districts and with a lot to see. When you head into the fields outside of the residential district, there are a lot of accents around the landscape. It gives the impression that things are really alive, even given the nature of Erde Wiege. Given that gathering spots are highlighted with an accent, it’s also easy to pick them out from other environmental objects. Not to mention each one shows you what you can collect. It will even note that some ingredients might be locked. But while it is big, the Journey Stones mean you have the security of knowing you can fast travel to get around. Not to mention the world map also lets you know what potential materials each location holds.
But while the more care put into creating the world around Sophie and detail into characters might call Atelier Ryza 2 to mind, the other gameplay elements in Atelier Sophie 2 are more distinct. For example, whereas the Atelier Ryza games offered a more active battle system, Atelier Sophie 2 returns to the series’ more leisurely and slower-paced turn-based roots. When you run into a monster, you immediately fight them exactly where they’re encountered. There’s no break in the action. It immediately heads into a fight without loading, adding to the immersion. You manually dictate each person’s actions. Everyone can attack, defend, use skills, or flee. Looking at an enemy tells you if it is “vulnerable.” All of the turn-based JRPG and Atelier staples are there, right down to being able to use items you synthesized in a fight.
But the execution meant it felt little more thought out even in the first few hours I played. As though Plachta and Sophie are more thoughtful and tactical, whereas Ryza might have been a little more impetuous. Three people are with you and active at once. However, there are actually six people around. You could have three are in front and three in back. But even with smaller parties, you can take advantage of positioning. For example, swapping in a Back-up Team member to take a hit for someone in the current Attack Team. Using Twin Actions to have two people attacking at once as one enters the field and another leaves. Having some characters use a Dual Trigger attack when the gauge is full.
Alchemy also follows some familiar rules in Atelier Sophie 2, all while adding a few new elements. For example, you still need to get recipes. You have to have Sophie’s alchemy skills at a certain level to make certain items. You also have to get items from different categories to complete a synthesis. However, once you meet all those requirements, you’ll find yourself placing pieces on a grid in a manner not totally unlike the original Atelier Sophie. The first game involved a grid with colored spaces, and each ingredient would be a certain shape that you’d need to fit into place. We still have a grid in this entry! Items involve different elemental components, all tied to certain colors. Just like in the original game, you can see the elemental effect at the top of the synthesis panel and the current effect levels. Hitting certain plateaus in the synthesis can increase the effects, just as before.
It feels very familiar. You’re trying to match elements, fill panels without overwriting them, and continue to unlock special traits. Doing all this also contributes to a Super Success Rate that might increase the product’s quality. Once you’re done, you choose three traits and make the item. It might sound daunting in writing, but it really clicks together easily in practice. Especially since it is building on the original Atelier Sophie alchemy system. And given the way things go early on, battling and gathering are all in the service of being able to perform more alchemy.
While going through my first few hours with Atelier Sophie 2, I definitely noticed growth between the original game and this, but the focus on its characters really struck me. There’s a marked effort to show how certain people developed, for one. Sophie starts out with an alchemy level of 50, to show her experience. She’s already recognized by Alette and Olias as an alchemist, and one that’s capable of protecting herself in battle. (Even though we, you know, do need to gather a lot of recipes again.) The other Plachta is even impressed with her first synthesis.
I also felt like this sequel early on tries to make characters who aren’t Sophie or Plachta engaging. Not that Atelier Sophie didn’t also pay attention to other cast members. But perhaps in part because Sophie is trying to solve the mystery of what happened to Plachta, there is a chance for others to feel really important too! Not to mention some of the side characters are very important figures in their own right. (People who played Atelier Sophie will understand shortly after meeting them.) In my first few hours, I was interested in how these other folks ended up in Erde Wilde. I wanted to know who they were. And while I only went through a sample, I felt like some of the supporting cast here made a very strong impression.
After only a short time, I felt like Atelier Sophie 2 is a game that really focuses on making sure its characters and strange new world are detailed. Erde Wiege is a detailed place. One that feels quite large. One where its battles keep you centered in place, rather than detached. It’s also filled with people who can sometimes feel as interesting as Sophie and Plachta because, well, one of the main heroines isn’t present. Since it isn’t focusing on that relationship between the two, I got the early impression that other folks get more of a chance to stand out. The early impressions it leaves are rather positive and show progress.
Atelier Sophie 2 will come to the Nintendo Switch, PS4, and PC on February 25, 2022.