Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream – PS4 Review
I have an early confession to make in this review. I never played the original Atelier Sophie. In fact, I have never played a single Atelier game. As such, it was with a great amount of shock I discovered that Atelier Sophie 2 was actually the twenty-third main title in this long-running RPG series. That’s more games than Final Fantasy! But if, like me, you have never delved into this world before, I have to say that this is as good a place as any to start.
“Once you’ve played for a short while you’ll start to see that Atelier Sophie 2 has far more to offer than you first expect.”
Let’s get this straight from the start – Atelier Sophie 2 is, quite clearly, a direct sequel to Atelier Sophie. And so, I guess playing the first game might be an advantage here. However, don’t let this discourage you. Developer Koei Tecmo has kindly added a “story so far” option right on the main menu. This means you can quickly catch up with the events of the previous game.
Of course, some of the characters and references to that first entry may be a little lost on new players. In spite of this, however, I personally haven’t found that it got in the way of my overall enjoyment. And here’s the thing – I really did enjoy this game. So much so, that the thought of having twenty-two others to catch up on is actually a nice little blessing that I wasn’t expecting.
At first glance, the early game seems like a pretty standard JRPG. Strange worlds, cute anime-style characters, turn-based fights and all the rest. But once you’ve played for just a short while you start to see that Atelier Sophie 2 has far more to offer than you first expect.
I’m not going to lie, the actual plot of the game is pretty bonkers. You start off by being sucked into a dream world. As you progress through this strange new realm, you encounter characters that appear to be past versions of your friends and family from where you originated. It’s all a bit time-travel multiverse madness, but it also adds to the charm and the character of the game. It also feels like, although a sequel, the creators have deliberately made this game a story of its own, allowing new players, such as myself, to easily access the world.
“As your characters gain trust for each other, you gain a higher ability to perform joint moves”
One of the many staples of JRPG-style games is the turn-based battle, and Atelier Sophie 2 does not deviate here. However, the game does manage to mix things up quite considerably from what we see in other, similar, titles. One aspect is the ability to view your enemy’s next attack, so you can see which of your characters is going to be targeted next. This alone adds a level of strategy to a battle and allows you to prepare your character with a block rather than an attack. You also have the ability to use a “support guard” whereby one character can step in and take the damage. The damage taken in a support guard is at a reduced amount than would have been dished out on a straight attack.
Another fun addition is the “Twin Actions” option. As your characters gain trust for each other, you gain a higher ability to perform joint moves. These moves involve two characters initiating a double-attack together. A number of these attacks allow for special abilities to be used without draining MP. Of course, this is all dependent on a charging gauge, so you can’t simply spam the twin attack and destroy enemies in seconds every time.
A little further in and the enemies start displaying more abilities also, such as some that will have an aura. The aura is, in short, a powerful shield that must be destroyed before you can attack the enemy itself.
Out in the open world, there are some fun and interesting features, too. The main element of the game is based around the idea that Sophie, your main character, is an Alchemist. And this, therefore, leads to a big part of what, in my opinion, sets Atelier Sophie 2 apart from its contemporaries.
“All of this alchemy stuff isn’t just for show, either”
The “Atelier” of the title is your main base of operations, and where you have your cauldron to create new items. The actual act of Alchemy involves collecting the correct items, each of which has its own levels and attributes that contribute towards the quality of the finished item. You then combine the elements on a grid. On this grid, you attempt to match up special pieces with a relevant sector in order to further improve the item’s quality. At first, this seems a little overwhelming but it quickly becomes second nature and easy to create better quality pieces.
All of this alchemy stuff isn’t just for show, either. The items you create can be anything from mission-specific pieces to actual, usable items. You can create improved weapons and armour. As you progress further you create new tools such as a scythe or a fishing rod. These tools can then be used to harvest even more materials out in the world. The tools you make can be used at specific points on the map (such as fishing points), or for collecting specific types of items (such as wheat). Some materials can also be found by defeating enemies and, in some cases, this is the only way to get your hands on that last item you need.
Sophie isn’t the only alchemist in your party either. Plachta, another member of your party and, possibly, a past version of your best friend from the first game, is also an alchemist. Between you, there are options to choose which alchemist creates certain items. This opens up more branches for your creations. Certain items can only be produced by one or the other alchemist.
“Side Quests in Atelier Sophie 2 are passable at best, offering little in terms of substance.”
There’s one more element I think needs mentioning too. Past a certain point, you gain “Heliodors” which, at certain markers within the game, allow you to control the weather. This isn’t as simple as just changing from sun to rain anywhere in the game, of course. There are stones you need to activate this, and this will allow for access to different areas of the maps.
For example, stopping the rain will dry up a river, allowing you to cross a ravine. I have to admit, once you access this ability, there are some sections that have an overlong puzzle element. These sections have you switching weather constantly to move your way across an area. It’s the only part of the game I felt was a little too overdone, and became a bit of a grind to progress.
No RPG would be complete without side-quests of course. In Atelier Sophie 2 these take the form of “jobs” that can be accepted from the tavern. These mostly involve defeating a certain number of specific enemies or gathering requested materials that you then must hand in for your reward. These are passable at best, offering fun distractions if you want a break from the story, but little else in terms of substance.
“Although it can be quite complex, all these elements combine to make a fun and original RPG.”
The world map is split into sections, and you quickly gain the ability to fast-travel between each area. This is yet another way that the game easily makes itself accessible. If you find yourself stuck in a particular area, just fast-travel to somewhere safer. This would include your Atelier, where you can rest and regain your HP and MP. The map screen also offers up little icons next to each area. These show you that this area is where the story mission continues, or where there are items that you can collect for the “jobs” you have accepted at the tavern.
Now, at this point, you may be looking at all of this and thinking it sounds incredibly complicated. While it’s true that in the first couple of hours you are bombarded with tutorials explaining the next new thing you have to learn, it really shouldn’t put you off. Although a lot of it seems complex at first, you’ll quickly grasp the basics of alchemy and combat without the need for further hints from the game. It’s actually all presented very well, and although it can be quite deep, all these elements combine to make a fun and original RPG that stands out in an otherwise over-saturated genre.
“A great little package that will keep any RPG fan entertained for hours on end.”
The developers have really taken the time here to try and create something that is both familiar and original. Although the plot itself isn’t the main draw of the game, the beautiful art style and the fun alchemy elements, combined with an easily accessible combat system, all make for a great little package that will keep any RPG fan entertained for hours on end.
Atelier Sophie 2 is out now on Playstation 4 and Nintendo Switch.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PlayStation 4, code was provided by the Publisher.
Atelier Sophie 2 Review
Atelier Sophie 2 is a beautiful looking game with a lot of originality. Despite being a sequel, this game is perfectly beginner-friendly, offering newcomers an easily accessible entry point into the series' world and characters. While its turn-based combat and exploration may seem a little typical of the genre, the more you play the more complex they become, offering a fulfilling and satisfying experience all round. Atelier Sophie 2 is an exceptionally unique game in an otherwise over-saturated genre that is definitely worth a look for fans of JRPGs.