Before Atelier Ryza stole everyone’s hearts, Sophie was Gust’s darling. Her entry in the Mysterious trilogy was the best-selling installment. As part of an anniversary project, she’s back again with a proper Atelier Sophie 2. You know, instead of her and Plachta hanging around in someone else’s Atelier. The new entry clearly builds on the original game and on what Gust’s learned from the two Atelier Ryza installments. However, it also expects you to really love Sophie, Plachta, and Sophie and Plachta together.
Atelier Sophie 2 picks up where the first game left off. Sophie is still trying to become an alchemist as respected and talented as her grandmother. Plachta’s in her doll body, rather than trapped in a book, but would like a human body again. The two are traveling to accomplish their goals. However, Plachta had a dream about a strange tree, which the two decide to visit. When they do, an odd vortex sucks both of them to another world. Sophie wakes up in Erde Wiege’s town of Roytale alone. It’s a place where a goddess of dreams named Elvira pulls people from different places and times to accomplish their goals. While her Plachta is nowhere to be found, another alchemist named Plachta is there. So, Sophie, this new Plachta, and a number of additional allies join her to figure out what is going on.
All of this means, well, Atelier Sophie 2’s story isn’t welcoming to beginners. While Atelier Ryza 2 started in a position where we are newcomers to a new region and adventure alongside Ryza, this sequel relies heavily on experience with the first game and its cast. Don’t know who Sophie and Plachta are? You may not care as much about Sophie’s mission and some members of the cast. It relies heavily on a pre-existing appreciation and further building up Sophie and Plachta. Which would be fine if it also worked to establish the reason Plachta is so important in-game. But aside from Sophie telling a number of people that “she’s family” and an option to see what happened before in the main menu, I feel there it could use more context. An unfamiliar player could be left as disconnected as the allies around Sophie who keep hearing how important Plachta is without being told why. Yes, eventually we do learn more, but I feel the original did a better job of building up people and relationships. It also did a better job of not being as blatant. (Especially when something obvious to the player isn’t to Sophie.)
While the story does require some knowledge, the rest of the game is pretty easy to approach. Sophie and her party will explore areas around Erde Wiege. Gathering spots are highlighted. Approaching them shows what materials you’ll garner from them, as well as if you’ll need an extra tool to get those ingredients. (You must craft and equip said tools at the atelier.) Everything is clearly visible. You can fast travel at any time, and areas outside of town have additional waypoints you can unlock by interacting with special crystals.
Given that Erde Wiege is a dream world, this means there is an excuse for all sorts of biomes. But at the same time, that means things are thrown together. I also felt quite a few places came across as a bland. Roytale itself looks like any generic, medieval fantasy town. You don’t get backstory or interesting lore implications for the spots like the forests, ruins, and swamps you’ll explore. Few spaces are memorable. Given that this is a world with such fantastical origins, it seemed the perfect opportunity to go above and beyond.
The world map shows you which drops are found at locations, including during certain weather conditions. There’s both a mini-map and an option to overlay it across the screen. You can also set a quest as a guided objective, which will cause icons to appear on the map and symbols to appear over, say, the correct monsters. So you constantly have the information you need. Which is probably the best part about Atelier Sophie 2.
The option to overlay the map over the whole of the screen is one I found myself regularly. Finding out how to get where you need to go to progress might not be obvious. There were a few times in the first ten hours alone when I needed to find the exact place where Sophie could hop across makeshift, floating item bridges or get through spots to reach a designated area. It would also be handy to find the pillars for weather-changing gems. These determine the kinds of materials and monsters you will find, as well as how the landscape changes or mechanisms allow you new access to areas. Which means that, for some spots, you’re frequently altering conditions to get around. (You will need to recharge said gems with alchemy.) It can be novel. But it can sometimes be a bit frustrating in certain areas.
As for enemies, they roam freely around on the map. Walking into or hitting one causes a turn-based battle, just like the original game. Atelier Sophie 2 returns the series to a more traditional turn-based battle system. You have three people active on the field at a time. (Sophie herself is mandatory.)
While there are a few systems designed to make things flashier, I found I only relied on them to take on bosses or fight enemies that put up auras you need to defeat so you can properly beat them up. The Support Guard function swaps in a person from the reserves to guard against an opponent’s attack in place of someone on the front lines. (You’ll pull the target into the back line when this happens.) You can use a Twin Action, which lets two characters use a skill one after the other. There’s also a Dual Trigger for special attacks, but only if you used enough Support Guards and Twin Actions to fill its gauge. Also, like the original Atelier Sophie, you can see the turn order.
This is also a situation in which the Atelier Sophie alchemy system influenced the sequel. Alchemists learn via doing. This means collecting a new ingredient, synthesizing an item, fighting certain enemies, or using certain actions in battle all can unlock new recipes. (So can books.) I will admit some frustration at finding I’d need to collect a specific kind of item again when there were over 20 already in storage or I’d already crafted a certain item. (You would think the alchemists would remember they already know ladybugs and wood chips exist.) Still, it works well enough.
As for creating items with alchemy, Atelier Sophie 2 adjusts the formula slightly. Each material features elemental building blocks associated with it. You place these on a grid. Your goal is to arrange blocks over their matching elements, while also making full lines horizontally and vertically for a chance to improve the quality. Also, placing a certain number of one kind of element can unlock certain traits for the final product. For example, placing enough lightning element items on the grid for a weapon you’re making could unlock an “attack+1” trait. When equipped, the person using that weapon would then hit twice whenever they would attack. It’s very easy to grasp, which makes it feel rewarding. Even the Restricted version, which limits where material panels can be placed, didn’t feel too trying to me.
The basic gameplay loop involves searching for someone or something. This means heading to an area. There, you’ll mess with the local pillars to alter the environment and likely fight a boss. There will typically be at least one major recipe and resulting item associated with the whole quest chain. Once you finish, it’s on to the next one. Along the way, you could be building up friendships with allies or taking side quests involving gathered items, crafted items, or hunted monsters. You’ll also be earning ability points for all characters while exploring and performing certain actions. Which, in turn, can be invested to make them better fighters, let you carry more items when gathering, or become better at certain gathering methods.
As for the Nintendo Switch version of Atelier Sophie 2, I noticed a number of issues while playing. For example, Sophie’s running animation can sometimes look a bit choppy. Depending on where you are and the weather conditions, environmental objects can look a little blurry. (Even some locations in Roytale suffer from this.) Loading isn’t too egregious, but fast traveling a lot means you’ll first see loading on the world map, then again on a black screen before entering your next location. They’re all minor, but present. When I conducted the preview on PC, I noticed similar choppiness and rendering issues, but that was only due to the settings I needed to use to play.
I think whether or not someone will enjoy Atelier Sophie 2 comes down to how much they loved the original game and its characters. There are marked improvements from Atelier Sophie. It is clear Gust took what the team learned from more recent installments and applied it here. But it might not foster the same enthusiasm as other installments, due to its focus on certain characters. It might even leave you a bit frustrated when you need to perform certain actions to get needed recipes or run into inaccessible areas because you don’t have the correct “keys” to open those metaphorical doors. People who love Gust and Atelier Sophie will likely be all-in and satisfied to see Sophie and Plachta’s relationship grow. Everyone else may want to wait for the next entirely new entry.
Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream will come to the Nintendo Switch, PS4, and PC in Japan on February 24, 2022 and worldwide on February 25, 2022.