[Review] Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream
Posted on February 28, 2022 by Dennis Gagliardotto(@LyonHart_) in Reviews, Switch
Release date: February 25, 2022
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
While the Atelier series continues to grow and bring in fans both new and old with each new colorful outing, protagonist, and luscious worlds we find ourselves on a journey with, there has also been a resurgence in some of its more seminal titles that helped bring the series to where it is today. With so many entries, characters, and overlapping stories set within particular worlds, each brings its own flavor and personality to the table. One such installment of the many Ateliers centers around Sophie Neuenmuller, the star of Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book. While games within the franchise have all been standalone, some of them have also followed a certain theme and world that they share. Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream now brings Sophie back into the spotlight and tries to offer a conclusion to the answers she was still looking for years ago. Not only does everything look great in this new engine, but it’s the most well-optimized and beautiful Atelier game to date on Switch, also containing some of the cleanest interfaces, polished battles, and vibrant worlds yet.
Since some time has passed, it’s easy to forget what exactly happened in the previous 40-50 hour experience, especially when so many Atelier games tend to be slice-of-life and coming-of-age stories involving alchemists both aspiring and seasoned. Thankfully, right at the main menu this time around there’s a “Story So Far” movie that summarizes and compiles the most important parts of Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book, and this is particularly important since Atelier Sophie 2 continues on from the events of the first where Plachta, a book turned doll, has yet to find its original body. While Sophie and Plachta continue on their quest to search for answers and for Sophie herself to become a licensed alchemist just like her grandmother, they happen to get sucked into another world while coming across a conspicuous tree. They soon find themselves far from her hometown of Kirchen Bell and into Erde Wiege, the Land of Dreams, where people adapt into a life inspired by their most wanted dreams. Unsure why she’s been taken there and never coming into contact with the Goddess of Dreams herself that everyone says they’ve come into contact with upon entry, Sophie looks for answers as to why this place exists and why she’s in it, but also to reunite with Plachta who has been separated from her after being drawn in. As is with Atelier in general, it never ends up being so simple, meeting new friends along the way and creating a journey of ups and downs, but what remains consistent is the wholesomeness throughout the series and the stories each protagonist is involved with, and it’s no different in Atelier Sophie 2.
The environments and locations that have been built in this new dream world consist of a wide palette across the color spectrum that take you to all sorts of magical places, and with it a slew of enemies that complement their habitats. Towns and cities feel alive with people to talk to and see in just about every corner, with plazas, scenic backgrounds, and vendors that complement the atmosphere and vibes further. In true Atelier fashion, these are still up to par in Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream, and thanks to its new engine and great optimization on Switch, they now look better than ever. This can almost be taken a step further thanks to a mode in the options that lets players prioritize whether they want quality over performance and vice versa, but during my time with it in both handheld and TV mode on the OLED, standard, and Lite models of the Switch, there was no real visible jump in frames or performance in either mode, with the main and immediately apparent element being a huge drop in resolution when favoring a performance mode that, well, performs identically to its quality mode. I’m sure on other platforms the two modes make a more striking statement, but you’re just creating a disservice to yourself playing in performance mode on Switch since a lower resolution shoots the image, meanwhile quality mode looks extremely crisp and glowing in handheld and TV modes – especially on an OLED model.
Synthesizing is more or less how it’s always been, however the mechanics are once again streamlined further to make for a more seamless time preparing recipes. Some of the Atelier games have always struggled with making a synthetization system that just makes sense, and while in theory you can just plop ingredients into a cauldron and still effectively get what you need, if you’re looking for top of the line grades and materials in your concoctions, it’s never been particularly easy to do so thanks to an unnecessarily complex system and visual layout that tries to do more than it really needs to. Depending on the type of game or genre a particular property is going for, a crafting system can easily make or break the comfort and enjoyment based on how important to the game or accessible it is. Thankfully, Atelier Sophie 2 isn’t just an improvement on its protagonist’s first game, but for the series as a whole. It’s a step forward in the right direction when wanting to streamline the process of mixing ingredients together a bit more, and while I understand Gust likely wants to create that feeling of creating something truly unique by your own hands rather than something that has a predetermined system, the layouts can more often than not confuse and deter instead of incentivize and encourage experimentation.
This time around you’re given a board filled with indentations of identical shapes, all of which can be filled using an ingredient’s elemental properties and components onto the synthesis panel. These can theoretically be placed anywhere, but there are certain bonuses when placing these components in certain areas of the synthesis panel to ensure a higher success rate – and potentially receiving a Super Successful item which increases the quality and grade of the item tremendously – which will also grant more potent effects while unlocking others. What’s much appreciated, however, is that now you can automatically add these components with the click of a button so you’re not spending time rotating them and placing them into areas of the synthesis panel to make what you feel would be the best mix of them, and this vastly speeds up the mixing process when crafting new items. Items will prove undoubtedly useful on your journey for answers and the will to help others, so you’ll become rather proficient in alchemical knowledge over time as you discover new recipes on the field after defeating many enemies and acquiring new ingredients you’ll find all over.
Through its multiple areas and hub worlds, you’ll come into contact with many enemy types that are both familiar and new, but with those items you’ve crafted and new skill sets comes a more comfortable fighting system that I found to be the most fluid yet and, for me, most preferable compared to the last few entries which have been trying to change it up a bit. Fans of the series will notice right away that we’re back to turn-based battles instead of an active time battle system, and it feels so good to be on this type of gameplay again. While there’s nothing wrong with the ATB system more recent titles have used, the series traditionally has always been turn-based when up against monsters on the field, and it’s a preference of mine to be able to calculate my next moves and battle strategically rather than be forced to think on the spot, accidentally or foolishly making decisions that ultimately end up costing me the battle or becoming very detrimental to my party. You’ll be changing party members a fair amount just like in other Atelier titles due to how the story introduces you to new characters throughout your travels, and, as usual, each will provide their own perks and styles to the gameplay to change battles up a bit, making you and your team as a whole a lot more fluent and resistant to the various enemy types.
Though you’ll have the flexibility of a wide range of members, you’re only limited to three actually partaking in battles. However, you can set up an additional three as a backup should something happen to one or to utilize mechanics in combat that do more than a simple “you go, I go” turn-based system. Two of your biggest uses to get the most out of your total of six in the party is the switching that can happen on the fly at a defensive and offensive state. These, of course, are not without limitations so the system isn’t abused, making sure you’re limited through a TP gauge that grows and decreases depending on the actions you take in battle, including a bit of influence outside of battle if, say, you hit an enemy from behind for a preemptive bonus. When an enemy is about to attack, you can switch out the character that’s being attacked and take decreased damage from the attack, which is best utilized for those with low health or as an easy means to switch to a new character without sacrificing much. In a more offensive manner, you can utilize what’s called a Twin Action to not only swap characters, but make use of two attacks that use MP, even decreasing the consumption of the MP by 10 when triggering a twin action. You can dish out massive damage this way, and it’s especially useful in particular to swap out characters in the larger encounters and boss fights to make the most of the skill sets available to you. Even returning back to a more traditional turn-based format, it makes the battles still feel seamless and fluid while still remaining controlled.
To make matters even better when it comes to its refined and polished combat system, Atelier Sophie 2 transitions from overworld to battle without any loading screens or fancy effects similarly to how Pokemon Legends: Arceus has done its battles there, making for a more immersive experience that very rarely takes you out of the game. Everything about Atelier Sophie 2 mechanically feels a lot more sound this time around, and it’s without a doubt the most comfortable and intuitive battle system to date, even more so than Ryza’s entries.
To make the package of Atelier Sophie 2 feel even more uniform, with so many stories and characters to encounter, tasks to take care of, and extravagant places to see, fast travel will also become essential to your experience of Atelier Sophie 2. While travelling in general has had its ups and downs in prior entries, thanks to solid optimization this time around, fast travel is great and loads extremely quick as you teleport from place to place with even more specific locations able to be spawned at within larger zones by activating the various travel crystals throughout. Any grind that would typically be involved in an RPG – including Atelier which is no saint at times to this – feels much more palatable as well thanks to the quick and easy nature of fast travelling, and it also helps make Atelier Sophie 2 feel the most properly weaved together in terms of design as well the series has seen so far.
It’s odd that decades later the Atelier franchise continues to grow not only from its mistakes but look back on prior entries and think of a way to consistently make it better. Are they perfect JRPGs? Absolutely not, but there is just a certain warm feeling that these games consistently give that you’ll very rarely find anywhere else. Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream continues to build upon the strong foundation and stylized signature look and feel that has been crafted over the course of many entries and undoubtedly provides its most well-rounded game so far, and its approachability to both veteran fans and new should make it an RPG worth biting into for those looking at something that brings something a lot more breathable to the table.
You’re not here to save the world, keep a demon invasion from happening, or get revenge – Atelier is much more than that. Atelier Sophie, and the series as a whole, wants to give you an adventure that’s laid back but still joyous and extravagant, making friends with those that you could even call your own. The writing is once again well done, and Gust has just about perfected the craft of likeable characters that are equal parts cute, charming, and welcoming, giving a journey from beginning to end that’ll delight, surprise, and stay with you from beginning to end. Whether you’ve been on adventure with Sophie and co. before or just now getting to know them for the first time, Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream is yet another great entry into the long-running Atelier franchise that will never cease to feel magical and make me smile.
While Atelier Ryza was undoubtedly a breath of fresh air and a way to move the series forward, it’s nice to go back to a more traditional play style of Atelier while still retaining a lot of the quality of life aspects and enhancements the last few entries have given us all in a solid sequel of one of the series’ favorite protagonists. Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream builds upon the foundation of the franchise as well as Sophie’s initial outing in every single way, and seeing it run and look in a fantastic and signature colorful fashion on Switch is extremely pleasing. This is undoubtedly the best-looking Atelier – and the most refined experience of the series – Switch has to offer out of Koei Tecmo and Gust’s healthy offering of choices on the platform.
Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream copy provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.