In April of 2021, Gust released enhanced ports and remasters of the Atelier Mysterious games. New content created exclusively for the DX versions came alongside these re-releases. Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book received new cutscenes, events, quests, items, and costumes along with the DLC previously sold separately from the game. Many of the new scenes focused on Ramizel, Sophie’s grandmother: a beloved figure who taught Sophie alchemy and shaped her into the person she is today. While I played through the re-release recently and greatly enjoyed my time with it, I had no idea just how important Ramizel would become.
Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream follows the story of Sophie Neuenmuller and her friend and mentor, Plachta. After the events of Atelier Sophie, the pair go on a journey to help Sophie become a licensed alchemist and officially recognized across the land. For players who haven’t played the first game (or haven’t done so recently), Atelier Sophie 2 offers a Story So Far option that will help refresh returning players’ memories and catch new players up to speed. The recap is brief given that Atelier Sophie is fairly light and brisk with its story. This sequel, however, is quite possibly the most story-heavy game in the series.
Shortly into their journey, Sophie and Plachta get pulled into a mysterious dream world. Upon awakening, Sophie learns that Plachta is nowhere to be found and begins looking for her missing companion. Along the way, she meets a young alchemist named Plachta alongside a beloved woman named Ramizel. Before long, Sophie discovers the world of Erde Wiege exists to bring people from across time and space together for the sole purpose of achieving their dreams. Before long, she has new companions and a reason to wander the world in search of her friend.
Throughout the game, Sophie meets a grand cast of engaging characters with their own charming personalities, quirks, and dreams. Each of the six playable characters is fully fleshed out with distinct arcs, emotional moments, goals, and hopes for the future. The cast of Atelier Sophie 2 is so tightly woven and finely tuned that it’s difficult to find a weak link. The chemistry between the characters is fantastic. There’s not a single bad, forgettable, or annoying character among the cast – playable or not. In fact, I’d consider Atelier Sophie 2‘s cast to be the strongest in the series so far.
A large part of what makes Atelier Sophie 2‘s characters so great are their expressions and animations. The character models are highly detailed and stylized, allowing for a great range of expressions that successfully evoke what the character is feeling. The eyes alone feel full of life thanks to their constant movement, ensuring no characters have the ‘dead doll’ look we see so often in games. Another of Atelier Sophie 2‘s strengths is its use of color. The world is vibrant and full of life, the central city is as bustling as ever, and the gathering locales are ever so pleasant to explore.
Like any other Atelier game, Atelier Sophie 2 contains three main pillars of gameplay: Synthesis, Exploration, and Combat. Synthesis occurs exclusively in the atelier and involves creating new items, weapons, and gear. The synthesis board returns in Atelier Sophie 2, which is my favorite synthesis system in the entire series. The Mysterious series introduced this system where the player places different colored and shaped materials on a board like a puzzle game. Atelier Sophie 2‘s version improves on the original along with a slew of new tricks to help craft better items. Some items can be tricky, but it’s extremely satisfying once you get the exact materials with the perfect traits and best effects in the right position. With how much fun it is to synthesize in this game, I must’ve spent a quarter or more of my total time crafting new and better things.
When you’re not crafting, you’re out gathering materials in large and lush locales. In my preview of Atelier Sophie 2, I mentioned that the maps were approaching the size of Atelier Firis‘s. As Atelier Sophie 2 went on, I began to question my previous statement because the maps grew larger and more complex. There were multiple times where I entered a new area and checked the map, only to find myself shocked at how big the locations were. These maps rival the size of Atelier Firis while eclipsing the complexity and density of Atelier Ryza 1 and 2. The gathering locations are also expansive and littered with enemies, yet things take another turn once weather control becomes available.
This ability to change the weather is one of the game’s notable features and something the development team is incredibly proud of, per our recent interview with Atelier series producer Junzo Hosoi. To accomplish this, you need only specific monuments and a handful of particular items, yet it changes the environment drastically. Use the sunlight stone and rainy flooded forests suddenly dry and allow the player to wander previously underwater paths. The snow stone freezes lakes and waterfalls solid, allowing the player to cross into new areas. The thunder stone creates thunderstorms that open doors, while the rain stone floods areas. With each of these tools, the map can completely change. With the weather-changing tools, each map feels like a puzzle. Of course, changing the weather also changes the materials and enemies in the area, and many enemies thrive in certain conditions.
While Atelier Ryza 1 and 2 feature a hybrid real-time/ATB battle system, Atelier Sophie 2 stays true to Atelier Mysterious tradition with a turn-based combat system. Though not as fast and frantic as the Atelier Ryza games, Atelier Sophie 2 takes a more decisive and tactical approach. The battle system is a collection of ideas from previous games throughout the series put into one cohesive and fully realized package. The combat makes full use of all six party members with the Twin Action system. Attacking grants TP, which can be spent on Twin Actions, allowing characters in the reserve to swap places with the attacker as each one of them deals damage. During this tag-in, the player can select the skills or items to use, allowing for a dizzying number of combinations.
One thing I greatly appreciate is the heavier emphasis on defensive gameplay. Early on, the player can craft talismans that activate upon defense. Talismans can activate manually using the Guard command or by spending TP to swap in and defend the character being attacked. This opens up a large world of possibilities, as there are numerous talismans to create. Some raise your damage reduction while further buffing your defense, some reflect damage, some drop enemies’ stats, and others grant your characters buffs. It rewards the player for being more defensive and encourages actively blocking big party-wide hits.
On the offensive side, combat is flashy and kinetic while having strategic flair. Exploiting weaknesses via skills and items is key, but there’s also a strong emphasis on buffs and debuffs. Many of the party’s skills will add stacks of ATK, DEF, or SPD down, while others will boost their own stats. The usual ailments like poison, sleep, paralysis, and so on show up but become more interesting because they stack and become stronger depending on the stack size. Additionally, some characters have attacks with conditions that exploit the enemy’s current condition. So, if you’re like me and you love to turn your characters into walking miniature versions of Final Fantasy VIII‘s Doomtrain summon, you’ll be handsomely rewarded.
The combat in Atelier Sophie 2 is a complete blast. The introduction of Auras – enemy shields that defend against an element and magical or physical damage – changes how battles flow. Once destroyed, the enemy is stunned and more susceptible to damage, debuffs, and ailments. There’s a lot of fun in stripping the foes’ defenses, loading them up with as many status effects as possible, and unleashing Twin Actions and Dual Triggers (two-person limit breaks) for absurd damage all before their next turn comes up. Combat also provides a suitable challenge on Normal difficulty this time around. For those wanting to breeze through battle or those who want a greater challenge, combat difficulty is adjustable at any time.
Fans of the first game will be happy to hear that the progression system has returned. In Atelier Sophie, upon hitting the level cap, characters accumulate AP for new traits or to upgrade skills. In Atelier Sophie 2, characters level normally and gain new skills and traits every five levels as expected. However, with each level comes AP to spend on stat buffs and gathering bonuses. After spending a certain amount of AP, bonus skills are assigned automatically. These may upgrade the character’s current skills or grant new traits. Additionally, those familiar with Atelier Ryza 1 and 2 will recognize the Party Quests system, which grants AP to specific characters for clearing their personal sidequests. Finally, the unit design in Atelier Sophie 2 is phenomenal. I struggle to think of a cast that works so seamlessly with one another in battle.
How can we talk about an Atelier game without talking about music? Gust’s sound team continues to impress by showing they’re complete masters of their craft. Atelier Sophie 2‘s soundtrack is vibrant and chipper. The heavy use of flute, accordion, and harpsichord paired with piano and acoustic guitar add a very airy and cheerful feeling to every song. The battle themes are quite strong, yet they’re not the only stand-out tracks this time. The soundtrack truly shines in the vocal themes peppered throughout some of the larger dungeons and areas. These tracks feel like a blend of NieR and the EXA_PICO games (Ar tonelico, Ar nosurge), and they’re absolutely stellar.
So, what are Atelier Sophie 2‘s faults? It’s difficult to find many. Atelier Sophie 2 feels like it addresses every issue I’ve had with previous titles. However, pacing issues can still arise, as with most Atelier games. Character episodes can pop up when returning to the atelier, which may delay your plans to synthesize something you need. This isn’t an issue normally, but sometimes multiple events happen back to back. Thankfully the player only has to watch one before returning to synthesizing, but it can lead to a weird break in your plans if you’re going on a crafting and gathering spree. Additionally, while there is very little fanservice in the game, a few character models look like they’re more at home in a Senran Kagura game than an Atelier game.
With a fun and rewarding battle system, lush visuals, a touching story, charming and endearing characters, and grand world, Atelier Sophie 2 is a fantastic game that is easy to recommend. Fans of the series are in for a treat, though they may be a little surprised by just how story-heavy the game is. New players have an easy way to catch up on the story in a matter of minutes, ensuring there are as few roadblocks as possible. While the game took me just over 60 hours to complete, it never once felt too long. It’s a wonderful, wholesome, and heartwarming game that wears its heart on its sleeve. If this, Atelier Ryza 1 and 2, and Blue Reflection: Second Light are what we can expect from Gust with a little more time and money, I can’t wait to see what they have in store for the 25th anniversary this May.