Atelier Sophie 2 Review: The Best of Both Worlds
Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream is a fantastic sequel to 2016’s Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book. It utilizes many of the new mechanics found in more recent Atelier titles while also keeping its own identity within the franchise. It’s surprisingly deep and offers a bright new adventure that builds upon the first game.
It follows Sophie Neuenmuller and Plachta after the events of the previous title. They both get sucked into a mysterious wormhole and find themselves in a new dream world called Erde Wiege. However, while Sophie comes out unscathed, she gets separated from Plachta.
Along Sophie’s journey to find Plachta and return to her hometown of Kirchen Bell, she’ll come across a brand new cast of colorful characters, including another young lady who shares the same name as Plachta, as well as another who looks similar to Sophie herself.
For those who didn’t play the first game, the title screen does offer the option to watch a brief video summary to catch up on the events so far. The first game’s conclusion was rather open and shut, so it was interesting to see how Gust and Koei Tecmo would attempt a sequel. By essentially putting both Sophie and Plachta into a new brand new world and expanding on their existing relationships, the studio really pulled it off — it’s quite the emotional journey.
Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream Review — The Best of Both Worlds
Atelier Sophie 2 completely overhauls its gameplay and exploration mechanics, making them more closely resemble last year’s Atelier Ryza 2. Like more recent entries in the series, time management isn’t nearly as strict anymore, and not every action moves the clock. The day/night cycle is still here, however, though it really only affects the types of enemies that are out in the field.
Following Ryza's cues, the overworld map is now split into different main areas, with about three sections in each. Sophie also now has different tools used for gathering materials, like a pickaxe, bug net, and fishing rod. For those who played Ryza, this exploration system will feel very familiar as it’s almost exactly the same. By incorporating these mechanics, Sophie 2 is much more streamlined and accessible than previous entries.
One aspect Sophie 2's exploration that separates it from Ryza is the emphasis on weather. Sophie can use an item that changes the weather in a surrounding area. If there’s a bed of water, for example, she can make it rain so that the water level rises. Then she can change the weather to snow, thus freezing the water so she can run across the new bed of ice and reach a treasure chest or access another area. Acting as the puzzle-solving element of the game, it’s pretty satisfying once you figure out how to progress further.
Character events are much easier to find as well. In the first game, players have to go around town and talk with every major character to trigger events. There’s now an icon of the character’s face next to their area, helping save tremendous amounts of time and effort by pinpointing exactly when and where certain events will happen.
Sophie 2 also cuts down the playable character roster by about one-third from the previous game, but that means there’s more emphasis on character development for each party member.
The Apex of Turn-Based Combat
While Sophie 2 feels very similar to the Ryza titles, it manages to carve an identity of its own through its battle system. It actually sticks with the traditional and strict turn-based Atelier combat system rather than transitioning to Ryza’s real-time and turn-based hybrid, the battles in Sophie 2 have much more depth compared to its predecessor.
You split your party members into two groups: the front line, and the backline. Frontline members do the most work in battle with their offensive moves, but backline members do more than just stand around. Before an enemy attack, you have the option to swap out whoever an enemy is targeting with one of your backline members. The member that comes up will take the hit, but at reduced damage, because they join the frontline while blocking.
But it's not all about defense. These team members also have an offensive maneuver called Twin Attacks. This allows a party member in the frontline to attack with one of their skills, with a backline member immediately following it up with their own, joining the frontline while the other falls to the backline, a tactic especially useful in boss battles.
Both of these mechanics combine to make an incredibly intuitive battle system that’s fun and snappy, while also including the whole party in each fight.
A Familiar Alchemical Process
Surprisingly, the alchemy system in Sophie 2 doesn’t see many changes from the first game. Rather, it's more streamlined this time around. The main mechanic that separates the Sophie alchemy system from other ones like Ryza is that you can place the ingredients for a recipe in a grid. Each material you collect from the outside world occupies a certain number of blocks in the grid.
When creating items, it’s imperative to try and fit every piece of material into the grid and not have them overlap each other. Overlapping means losing out on item bonuses that the material previously offered.
What’s certainly appreciated this time around is that there’s the option to auto-place the materials onto the grid. It makes the whole alchemy process much faster, eliminating the need to manually place everything one by one. It’s not ideal when you’re trying to maximize the potential of an item, but it’s great if you’re for making items in quick succession to fill out your recipe book.
The new Plachta that Sophie meets in Erde Wiege also gets her own alchemy pot, so you can now choose to synthesize items with either of them. There are certain items that only Sophie can make, and ones that only Plachta can make. It’s an interesting concept that makes sense narratively, but it doesn’t add or detract much from the overall alchemy experience.
A Bright Future for Atelier
The graphics in Atelier Sophie 2 are also much better compared to the first game, with fluid character models and animations standing out. As said in my Blue Reflection: Second Light review, I’m a big fan of Gust’s art style. Here, it’s no different; the 2D art style for the character portraits, main menus, and CGI screenshots are as crisp and clean as ever.
While I do have some gripes, they’re relatively minor. Koei Tecmo doesn’t really provide an English dub for their games anymore, especially for a niche series like Atelier. However, the first Atelier Sophie game does have one, so I was hoping that Sophie 2 would have one as well. Unfortunately, only the Japanese voice track is available.
Christine Marie Cabanos, who is Sophie’s English voice in the first game, does an absolutely tremendous job capturing the character’s fun, friendly, and airheaded-yet-determined demeanor. It's a huge disappointment that she wasn’t able to reprise her role again for the sequel.
Additionally, there’s no native PlayStation 5 version for Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream, which is strange considering last year’s Atelier Ryza 2 has one. As a result, I played the PlayStation 4 version via backward compatibility for this review. The loading screens were a bit longer than I would have liked, especially on the PS5, whereas Ryza 2 had almost instantaneous transitions between areas. Still, the game runs flawlessly with no crashes on PS5.
Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream Review — The Bottom Line
- Exploration and progression are clearer and more streamlined.
- The turn-based combat is fun and snappy.
- Graphics and presentation are very much improved.
- No English dub voice track is available.
- Loading times are a bit longer than expected on PS5.
Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream is a vast improvement over its predecessor. Borrowing exploration elements from the Atelier entries while keeping its traditional turn-based combat system is a great way to help it stand out within its own franchise. On top of that, the battles have more depth than ever before. Sophie Neuenmuller’s new adventure is well worth it for veterans and newcomers alike.
[Note: Koei Tecmo provided the copy of Atelier Sophie 2: Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream used for this review.]