We Are Legion
Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream is the latest entry in a long-running series revolving around the fantastical and alchemical. When I say long-running, that’s no exaggeration. With 22 entries across 25 years, the Atelier series is a veritable veteran.
As a newcomer to the series, I initially had no clue about its tenure in the JRPG sphere, its dedicated fan base, or how it managed to retain both across two decades. However, after spending time in its world, with its characters, and behind a cauldron; I get it.
The Story So Far
Atelier Sophie 2 begins with Sophie, who you may not be surprised to find out is the protagonist, and her mentor/friend Plachta leaving town. They’re leaving Sophie’s home with two goals. The first is to get Sophie certified as a licensed alchemist. The second is to restore Plachta’s human body.
Plachta was once an amnesiac talking book. She helped Sophie learn the art of alchemy, which in turn helped her regain her memories, and gain a life-sized doll that she could use as a body. Clearly, there’s some wild stuff, and backstory we’re missing here. Luckily Atelier Sophie 2 provides a recap of the previous title which you can watch at any time to brush up on the plot. Or if you’re like me, to get a better idea of what’s going on.
Sophie and Plachta’s journey is interrupted when a vortex appears out of nowhere and whisks them away to Erde Wiege. A world created by the goddess of dreams, Elvira. Usually, she invites people whose dreams interest her. She offers for them to live outside of space and time in order to realise their life’s goal. Our heroes, however, never even met the goddess and Sophie wakes up in this world; Plachta nowhere to be found. So she begins a new journey to find her friend and figure out how she got here.
The story is fairly interesting in premise, but I never really found myself fully engrossed. It came across as very middle of the road, with few standout moments, lore, or characters. This can be a bit of an issue considering the amount of time you’ll spend here. It’s a long journey that will provide the player with an ample amount of playtime, around 50-60 hours if we include some side quests. There are a lot of people to meet, places to explore, monsters to fight, and of course a lot of alchemy to practise. This ended up being the saving grace for the game. Since alchemy is wonderfully executed.
When Will It End?
The abundance doesn’t end there though. Like some twisted rite of passage, this title barrages you relentlessly with tutorials. Many hours into your playthrough there’ll still be tutorials. You may think you’ve safely evaded the last of them. To your dismay, another tutorial will be slinking, cloaked in the shadows for that perfect moment when your guard is down. It got a bit ridiculous. How many mechanics can one game have? At times I seriously wondered if there’ll be a tutorial for the final boss. I guess this is what happens when you’ve had 22 entries to add systems and refine your formula. Thankfully for players returning to the series, tutorials can be skipped. This is handy when mechanics are familiar, or if you’re a rebel who wants to play it all with no help.
Although I have to admit, these tutorials are far from unnecessary. Atelier Sophie 2 is a robust, and sophisticated title in every positive sense of the words. Its main draw, alchemy, is so fully realised it becomes more than a simple crafting mechanic. In fact, the alchemy gameplay alone could be a set as a stand-alone game.
Making the Ordinary, Extraordinary
Like many crafting systems you may have encountered, you combine items to create a new one. However, here things are taken leaps and bounds further. Every item in this game has its own set of stats. These include a quality rating, an element (fire, wind, etc.), and traits (which are like buffs for your synthesised item). These stats are all taken into account when using them to make something new. This allows you to make an insane amount of different variations of the same item. As well as being able to synthesise higher quality versions as you improve your alchemy, materials used, and understanding of mechanics.
Once you select the ingredients required for a recipe, you start the alchemical process through a 5×5 screen where you place and group your items by elements. Your placement of elements is vital, as linking them in specific ways increases their power and quality. It becomes a kind of puzzle game, where you need to think a bit about the placement of your ingredients.
Atelier Sophie 2’s alchemy is really good. It’s complex without being convoluted or impossible to grasp. It will, however, take time to fully master. In this way, you step into the shoes of an alchemist. Knowledge comes through trial and error. Making better quality items requires you to deepen your knowledge of the systems that govern alchemy. There’s also an auto-synthesis option, which arranges ingredients on your behalf, saving time when you aren’t concerned about quality and traits. However, this takes all the fun out of the system. Doing it yourself will often be more rewarding, both in terms of gameplay and the quality of the things you create.
Stock Up & Square Up
In order to get the ingredients needed to learn more recipes, and improve the quality of your work. You need to go out and explore the world. It’s positively overflowing with items. Some can be simply picked up by hand or with special tools you’ll have to craft like fishing rods, scythes, and hammers. Other items are gained through more combative means. While Erde Wiege is a dream world, it’s not without its share of danger. There are all manner of monsters and beasts you’ll be trading blows with, from rabbits to dragons.
Combat in this title is turn-based. You and your team of friends and fighters engage enemies through basic attacks, flashy and defensive skills, and employ a variety of items you’ve crafted to give you the upper or a helping hand. There are also some tag-team attacks that allow you to use your skills a bit more liberally, without using up MP. I had little to complain about with regards to the combat. Yet at the same time, little to applaud. It’s simply effective in what it sets out to do. It’s responsive, visually appealing, and satisfying enough. However, it’s really nothing you haven’t seen before
Sights, Sounds & Cessation
Visually, Atelier Sophie 2 also left a little to be desired. It’s standard fare JRPG character and world design. Especially the town of Roytale, which is so much like the countless other towns, you’ve seen just like it. Erde Wiege has a pretty sheen to everything and makes good use of colour. The world definitely feels dreamlike in its employment of light and saturation. But I feel it could have done more to add a more surreal element to the dream world Sophie finds herself in.
I may not have been all that impressed by the world design, but the music that accompanies exploration definitely caught my ear. It’s a mostly light, uplifting, and ethereal soundtrack that makes great use of woodwinds, strings and percussion. It’s got an amazingly positive tone that is sure to put you in a great mood while exploring and creating. I often caught myself whistling along, which is always a good sign.
While this latest entry in the Atelier Series may not excel in every mechanic it employs, it has clearly mastered one. Its complete realisation of the alchemy gameplay is a consistent pleasure to play. Its shortcomings minor and major in its visuals, story, or combat are routinely overshadowed by the satisfaction of improving your alchemical skills. Provided you know what you’re getting into, you’re sure to enjoy your time stirring the pot.