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June 2024

Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Release Date: Feb. 25, 2022


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PS4 Review - 'Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on March 8, 2022 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream continues the story of Sophie and Plachta's many adventures.

Buy Atelier Sophie 2: Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream

Atelier Sophie 2: Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream is set between Atelier Sophie and its previous sequel, Atelier Firis. Rather than being set after the other Mysterious titles, it takes a brief side trip into a new world. Shortly after the events of the first game, Sophie and her book-turned-doll friend Plachta are drawn to a mysterious tree. A vortex sucks them both in, and Sophie awakens in a dream world that's outside of time and space. People can work on their dreams in a safe space where they are immortal. However, Plachta is nowhere to be found, and Sophie must buddy up with new allies to locate her. Since the dream world exists outside of space and time, they come from all over time — including a pre-book version of Plachta and Sophie's own (deceased) grandmother when she was a young girl!

Atelier Sophie 2 is less of a sequel and more of a self-contained bottle episode of a game. Set between Sophie and Firis, it's basically an excuse to have Sophie interact with slightly different versions of known characters and some new cast members. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Being self-contained keeps the cast feeling fun and exciting, and Sophie 2 has one of my favorite casts in the franchise. However, a part of me can't help but think that having Sophie in the game adds nothing, and you could just as easily have had a new character as the star.

Sophie 2 follows the now-familiar Atelier formula. You're given a home base where you can buy items and craft, and then can venture into the world to fight monsters and collect ingredients, which allow you to fight stronger monsters for more ingredients. Along the way, you can make friends with various colorful characters and see cute little skits. This isn't to dismiss the formula that I'm so addicted to, but the games have been like this for at least a decade, and Sophie doesn't rock the boat in the slightest.

Atelier Sophie 2's crafting system is comfortably complex. Similar to the first game, you have a large board, and every ingredient you put into the recipe has one or more colored Tetris blocks. Your goal is to fit as many of these blocks into the field as possible, making sure to include at least one block from each ingredient. As long as you have at least one of each, the alchemic item can be created. It's as simple as that.

It does get more complex from there. Every item has several elemental bars that fill up as you use different colored blocks. The more bars that are filled, the better the effects the item will have. There are also specific zones on the crafting board that amplify the effect of an element if the correct one is placed there. Additionally, individual blocks have glowing areas (links), and when you connect links together, you get improved effects. Enough links allow you to use other party members to assist, so you can improve effects or transform one color to another. Properly combining links can be the difference between making a good item and a great item. If you form straight lines with no empty spaces in between, you get an increased chance of a Super Success, which massively increases the quality of your item. You can also use catalysts to change the size and ability of your cauldron to allow for more complex builds.

Atelier Sophie 2's crafting is a load of fun. Yes, it amounts to playing a very fancy game of Inventory Tetris, but it has enough interlocking mechanics that it feels genuinely rewarding when you figure out exactly how to eke out that extra bit of elemental energy. There's nothing as fun as realizing that you've managed to fill the entire board with the perfect configuration of materials to create a bomb that can blow up a deity. There's enough depth to reward planning and careful strategy while being simple enough that casual players can create cool stuff.

Gathering has also changed. As in previous games, you can gather crafting items from various locations around the game world, but certain areas are now major gathering points, where you can choose a specific item to go for. Then you play a minigame, which depends on what you're gathering, and that impacts the eventual outcome of the item. You can add different elements, increase the quality or quantity, add more links, or earn extra cash. The minigames vary in quality and ease. Fishing is a pain, while bug catching is so hilariously easy that you can find god-tier bugs with minimal effort. The ability to customize items over relying on RNG makes gathering more fun.

Another wrinkle in gathering is the weather control system. Most areas offer the ability to change the weather using special items. This changes the entire environment, including monsters and gatherable items, effectively meaning most screens have two or three variations with distinct items. Certain areas are only accessible by swapping back and forth through various weather types, such as using rain to raise the water level and then snow to freeze it. This is a neat feature, but sometimes, it makes it tough to find the right ingredient. It's mostly a positive, but I'd prefer some refinement in future offerings.

In comparison to the crafting, Atelier Sophie 2's combat is pretty by the numbers for the franchise. It uses the same turn-based combat system as older games, rather than Ryza's more active one. You can swap characters in and out of the front and back rows and use them to launch support attacks/support defenses for other allies, with higher-level characters and equipment offering special bonuses. Unfortunately, that's all the game has in terms of unique combat features on the protagonist's side.

Enemies have a few new features, the most distinctive of which is auras. Foes can have an aura based on various elements. When the aura is up, the enemy is stronger, takes reduced damage, and has access to special attacks and counterattacks. The auras must be taken down by specific attacks, with every attack taking a certain number of hit points off the aura. Elements that the aura is weak to do more damage. Once you've broken the aura, the enemy is temporarily weakened and stunned, giving you an opportunity to unleash a massive counterattack. Some enemies get stronger or weaker in certain weather, and some characters can change the weather by casting a spell.

I have mixed feelings about auras. They are a neat concept and add some much-needed strategy beyond hitting enemies with a weakness until they fall over — but they can also make some encounters drag on. It can be a struggle to run into a fight with a slime-like puni and then spend a couple of turns smacking down its aura before you can kill it. I like the concept, but I wish it had been reserved for stronger foes.

Atelier Sophie 2 looks pretty much how you'd expect the franchise to look at this point: some nice environments and brightly colored animated models that are on par with Ryza. There are still plenty of signs of a lower budget, including some stiff animations in cut scenes, but there's nothing to sour the experience. As always, the music is a total delight. I'm not sure how the Atelier franchise keeps knocking it out of the park, but the music is enjoyable and does a good job of setting the tone and feeling. The voice acting is still Japanese-only, but it's good, with the exception of one semi-spoilery character who sounds like nails on a chalkboard.

Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream is a very by-the-numbers Atelier title, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's fun to play, has a strong cast, and is nicely polished. It doesn't try anything new or special, and it feels very much like a "safe" game. If you like Atelier titles, Atelier Sophie 2 is going to be a solid, if unexceptional, entry in your collection. It's an improvement on the original Sophie through and through, but it doesn't live up to other recent titles.

Score: 8.0/10

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