Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream Review (Switch)
It’s not very often that existing sections of properties are brought back into the limelight in truly unexpected ways. This has come to be expected from the longrunning Atelier series, however, with 2019’s Atelier Lulua – a sequel to the original and much older Arland trilogy – coming out of nowhere. Three years later, Gust once again jumped back into the archives with the release of Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream, which is a direct sequel to 2015’s Atelier Sophie. Fortunately, with a brand-new adventure, vision, and help of the Ryza graphics engine, Sophie has never been better.
Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream takes place just after the events of the first game. Unlike the aforementioned Atelier Lulua, where it’s best to play all three Arland games that came before it, Sophie 2 only takes place after the initial entry of the original “Mysterious” trilogy. While it’s still better to experience Sophie 1 for some additional context, this game does a great job of providing the most important bits through its “story so far” feature.
Sophie and her soul-infused doll companion, Plachta, leave Sophie’s hometown of Kirchen Bell behind in order to travel the world so that Sophie can become a fully-licensed alchemist. But before they really even get started, Plachta dreams of a magnificent tree, and subsequently feels compelled to find it. This small detour turns out to throw a wrench in their plans, as once they find what appears to be the tree, the pair are then sucked into a vortex from another dimension.
On the other side, Sophie awakens in a strange new world, and Plachta is nowhere to be found. Residents of this world soon find Sophie and explain to her that this peculiar world is the creation of the dream deity, Elvira, who sends people with dreams she takes interest in to this realm that is unbound by traditional time and space. The citizens of Roytale are free to carry out their true heart’s desire with little to no actual time passing in the real world. People from across history have been gathered here to fulfill their wishes, and generally go back to their original lives once they have done so.
Elvira speaks to each person before they are sent to this world – but Sophie is an odd and unexpected exception. She has joined the dream goddess’s world without this prerequisite, but soons finds that she was perhaps meant to come here all along. In addition to seeking doll Plactha, Sophie soon becomes acquainted with young versions of both her late grandmother, Ramizel, as well as the human version of Plachta. With so many questions, and all the time in the world, Sophie decides to invest herself in this new world not only to find doll Plachta, but also to uncover things she may have never known if she hadn’t gone there.
Conceptually, the idea behind the story here is very interesting, and being in another dimension lends itself to being very pick-up-and-play friendly since the setting is entirely different and the vast majority of the characters are completely new. But as is the case with most Atelier followup entries in a subseries, the characters across the board aren’t quite as memorable as those introduced in the very first entry. That said, the new cast is by no means bad – some are even great – and all key characters have their own backstories and self-growth to discover.
The idea of being able to fellowship with both strangers and family from across history is also quite appealing. Not only that, but the thought of being able to pursue and fulfill one’s passion without sacrificing any time is something just about anyone would sign up for. Is it really “that” simple though? And will there be any repercussions as a result of knowledge which spans the timeline of history? Only time will tell…
The Atelier franchise has always featured solid combat, and exceptionally deep crafting (otherwise known as synthesis), with the latter being tied to just about every facet of the experience. Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream is no exception, though the most striking difference between it and the more recent Ryza titles is the return to turn-based combat.
Sophie’s party consists of six members – three in the front, and three in the back. The front row can attack at will as their turn comes up, while rear members are ready to be swapped in and/or assist the frontline at a moment’s notice. By expending TP, the front row can either coordinate an attack with a rear party member (known as a Twin Action), or swap in a rear ally to block an incoming enemy attack (known as a Support Guard).
As the party becomes more familiar with one another, an even more powerful version of the Twin Action becomes available that is unique to the bonds that individual party members share with one another. And unlike many Atelier entries, Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream allows for all party members to utilize both skills and items rather than the latter only being limited to alchemists.
Early on, Sophie will start to encounter some enemies with auras, which ultimately become the main gimmick in combat. An enemy’s aura, while active, will greatly reduce the damage they take, on top of creating an element-specific guard that allows for additional reactive abilities to fire off whenever certain schools of attacks are used against them. Break an enemy’s aura, though, and they will become stunned for a short time and take a large amount of increased damage for the duration.
Additionally, weather plays a role in how powerful (or weak) certain enemies will be, and there are even instances where alchemists can change the weather in-combat to better take advantage of these effects. Collectively, Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream features a solid combat system that is not only a refreshing change of pace compared to the action combat of Ryza, it also feels like the team never missed a beat with turn-based battles.
Synthesis, Gathering, and Exploration
The heart of any Atelier game is alchemical synthesis, and Sophie 2 marks a return to the Tetris-like grid of the original entry. If the player has gathered the required components (more on that later), they can return to the Atelier and piece them together to create a wide array of items and equipment. Each ingredient of any given recipe has their own associated element, traits, properties, and qualities, and intelligently placing these in the Tetris grid will pave the way for the most efficient and best end result one can achieve.
As the story progresses, more difficult syntheses become possible thanks to the inclusion of catalysts and companion support skills. Catalysts can be used to upgrade the size of the Tetris grid, as well as the potency of items used within it. Synthesis support skills can help the player overcome some potential shortcomings in trickier recipes, but only if Sophie has spent enough time building up those relationships with her peers beforehand. Characters gain very little from traditional level ups and are instead bolstered substantially by items and gear synthesized through alchemy. Simply put, the same depth players have come to know and expect from any Atelier game is also present here in Sophie 2.
That said, this is one of the easiest entries to get extremely powerful in (at least at my current progress) thanks to the refined item duplication system. While duplication has been a staple in numerous Atelier entries, Sophie 2 has definitely streamlined the process of making multiple copies of virtually any item granted you have the proper funds to go with it. Once the feature is unlocked, all the player has to do is pay a fee for the duplication and they will instantly get the number of copies of that item they desire. Although this was essentially possible in the past, it usually came with stricter requirements and/or caveats.
But perhaps this is a good thing because Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream is packed full of content. Despite the new duplication system saving the player a ton of time at the cauldron, there are a ton of objectives that Sophie can tackle at any given time, many of which exist outside of the main scenario path. Sophie can pick up requests (or side quests) from the bar/restaurant in Roytale, which often sends her to all four corners of the dream world. Additionally, the many character story events can also often lead the player back out into the world to explore and discover new things. Moreover, the majority of recipes that both Sophie and young Plachta can learn are discovered through doing a ton of different activities. Yes, Plachta can also be used to synthesize items and she comes with her own separate progression and character-specific recipes.
The dream world of Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream introduces a surprising amount of depth and verticality to many of the game’s zones. Because of the land’s otherworldly nature, Sophie can learn to manipulate the weather which can drastically change the enemies, layout, and gathering materials found in any given area. This not only gives the player reason to revisit older zones multiple times beyond just gathering, but also adds some light puzzle elements to be (easily) solved in some of the more complex areas.
The actual gathering process has seen some enhancements as well. While the majority of gathering nodes are harvested in a traditional manner – pressing a specific button with a specific tool – Sophie 2 introduces some “major gathering points” that actually come with tool-specific minigames. None of these games are very deep or provide any sort of challenge, but they do provide a little bit of nuance in what would otherwise be the standard gathering grind, and it’s something I’d love to see expanded on in future games (at least make a robust fishing game!).
The Power of Friendship
More so than perhaps any entry before, Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream incentivizes and rewards the player for building up relationships with their companions. Not only does it open up the previously mentioned story events, powerful dual attacks, and useful synthesis support skills, it is also key to accumulating and spending ability points. After a certain point, Sophie and her companions will begin to gain some AP after each level up, but they can acquire a large sum of it by fulfilling occasional wishes unique to each character.
Each character has a list of abilities in which they can invest their points in, some of which aren’t related to combat but are still quite useful. All things considered, the game has an almost Rune Factory-like feeling to its progression in that it constantly feels rewarding, no matter the activity or destination.
Presentation, Performance, and Sound
Out of the box Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream is a substantial improvement in terms of graphical quality compared to its predecessor simply due using the Ryza engine. But unlike where Ryza 2 improved upon the graphics of Ryza 1 despite using the same engine, Sophie 2 simply feels more like an extension of Ryza 2 in terms of fidelity. This is to be expected though, since it isn’t uncommon for multiple Atelier entries to piggyback off the same engine, but it’s never a bad thing to expect a little bit of innovation each time, even if only slightly.
On the other hand, nothing looks bad here save for a few performance hiccups and the occasional muddy texture, as the cel-shaded characters and widely-varying locales provided by the dream world are, more often than not, not bad on the eyes. The main and supporting cast are quite emotive and animated in expressing their feelings and reacting to situations, and the soundtrack is sure to impress. Quite a few tracks rely on vocal backings for additional emotional weight, and do so far better than one might expect (actually got some Xenoblade vibes here).
The only real issue lies in the loading screens, which seem to last longer compared to the Ryza games. But there is an option in the menu that is supposed to prioritize graphics or performance depending on your tastes, but I couldn’t tell a noticeable difference between the two in docked mode. I’m either blind, or it’s more noticeable in handheld mode (which I admittedly didn’t play a ton). Regardless, Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream provides a comparable aesthetic package to the Ryza games before it, and the catchy soundtrack shouldn’t disappoint.
Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream is another solid entry into the Atelier franchise. While it may not have the character chops to stand toe-to-toe with its predecessor, being able to experience a brand-new adventure in an arc that many thought was over and done with is actually pretty great.
Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream is very accommodating to both brand-new Atelier players, as well as those that simply missed out on the original Sophie. I’d still advise playing the original first for the best experience, but those eager to dive in here immediately shouldn’t find it too troubling. While I still have a little ways to go yet, it is already clear that Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream should be an instant buy for fans of the series, as well as a serious consideration for those curious about experiencing this lovely franchise for the first time.