You'll love it if:
- You like the Atelier franchise
- You like the Isekai genre
- A new cute JRPGs is what you're looking for
Not for you if:
- You dislike the atelier franchise
- Kawaii anime girls make you cringe
- You dislike seeing tons of cut-scenes
Atelier Sophie 2, the latest instalment in the Atelier series by Koei Tecmo, is of course the sequel to Atelier Sophie. It’s part of the remastered trilogy we reviewed last year, which made me fall in love with the series. Are you looking for something that can satisfy both your weeb and gamer needs? Are you a veteran searching to find out if this sequel is worth your time? Let’s put on our alchemist glasses and find out.
Thanks to CDMedia for providing us with a review key.
Atelier Sophie 2 – The sequel
Before we dive into the story and gameplay, we need to answer the question that comes with every sequel. Do you need to have played the original first? Game developer Gust has made sure anyone can pick up Atelier Sophie 2. Upon launching the game, you get to watch a recap film of the story in Atelier Sophie 1, which will bring you up to speed in less than two minutes. Gameplay-wise, the Atelier games bring back a lot of the same elements, but the game offers a tutorial for every new element you unlock. And of course the possibility to skip the tutorial. Not having played a previous Atelier game is no excuse to miss out on this one.
I’ll quickly summarize the plot of Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book. Sophie is a young girl aspiring to become a great alchemist, just like her grandmother. Alchemists typically go out into the world to gather all kinds of ingredients and come up with recipes to craft almost anything. The crafting takes place in their atelier, where they need to combine the right ingredients in a cauldron. She meets Plachta, a girl whose soul is trapped in an alchemy book. Sophie wants to help her, and ultimately manages to transfer Plachta’s soul into a human looking doll. They team up with friends and fight off some evil bastard as well.
Atelier Sophie 2 – Story and presentation
For the weebs out there reading this, this game fits perfectly within the isekai genre. If you’re into that, this Atelier game should speak to you. I’ll roughly go over the plot without giving away too much, and provide some general impressions on the way the story is presented.
Sophie’s decided she wants to accomplish two things. First, she still wants to restore Plachta’s soul to her real body. Second, she also wants to become a licensed alchemist. For that, you need to travel and gain approval from other alchemists (something I learned from Atelier Firis). They set off on their journey and come upon a mysterious tree that has appeared in Plachta’s dream before. As they approach said tree, they get pulled into a vortex. Sophie wakes up in an entirely new world.
Turns out, they got pulled into a world called Erde Wiege, which was created by the goddess Elvira. People from all over the world and even from different timelines are invited by Elvira to come to her world, where they can work towards achieving their dreams. This world works differently: you can e.g. spend years in Erde Wiege to perfect your skills and go back to your real world without time having passed at all. Sophie and Plachta however were not invited at all, and seem to have arrived in this world by accident. On top of that, they have gotten separated and Sophie has no clue where Plachta is. With the help of the new friends she meets, she hopes to find Plachta and a way back home.
What makes Atelier Sophie 2 a very interesting sequel is that Erde Wiege is filled with people from different timelines. A lot of the friends she makes here are somehow related to the people she knows back home. For example, the young alchemist named… Plachta! She befriends Sophie and lets her use her atelier, they even compete a little to become better alchemists. Kudos to human Plachta for not freaking out about the fact that her soul will become detached from her body sometime in her future. Another fascinating companion is Ramizel – Sophie’s actual grandmother. Still a young girl and far from settling down and starting a family of her own, Ramizel is a total girl boss.
The Japanese voice-acting is, as expected, on point. The different personalities and moods are perfectly reflected by the voice-actors. If you’re not used to playing JRPGs or watching anime, the exaggerated expressions could throw you off though. It’s a matter of whether you like kawaii looking and sounding girls or not.
Atelier games are to me a perfect mix of anime and video games. You’re watching a main story unfold, while slowly getting to know more and more of each side character as well. If you travel to a different location in town, chances are a short cut-scene will play out. In this sense, the story can interrupt your gameplay a little. There’s no way to skip the “filler” content, but you can speed through it. You can also turn on autoplay, lay back and watch whatever happens on screen. When you’re running around the world, the BGM perfectly matches the vibe of a dream-like world. Atelier is a perfect game to wind down, get cozy on the couch, and relax.
Visually Atelier Sophie 2 looks a lot better than its predecessor. I mainly played in handheld mode on the Nintendo Switch and found the graphics are good enough. It’s not BOTW breathtaking, but neither does it feel outdated. Something that annoyed me though, is the way characters get blurred during cut-scenes if they’re in the foreground. It just looks ugly and the unfocusing is unnecessary. I also had a texture issue with the recipe book where all the images became blurry. Rebooting the game fixed that immediately though.
Atelier Sophie 2 – Gameplay
The key gameplay elements in every Atelier game are the same: ingredient gathering, turn-based battles, item crafting. There’s a main quest and some side quests. As usual, these are your regular “defeat X monsters of a certain type”, “craft item X of a certain quality”, “bring me X amount of an ingredient”. To my surprise, however, Atelier Sophie 2 offers a fresh take on familiar gameplay.
Going out into the world and finding new materials will unlock new recipes for crafting. Some items you can just pick up from the ground, but for others you’ll need special equipment like a pickaxe or slingshot. Because you don’t know how to craft these items from the beginning, you’ll have to revisit regions to be able to gather new ingredients. At certain major story points, you’ll also unlock new ingredients, giving you again a reason to go back to areas you’ve already explored. This mechanic feels kinda lazy, and I would’ve rather got more different areas to explore.
You’ll sometimes run into special gathering spots, indicated by a glowing aura. This will trigger a sort of mini-game depending on the equipment needed. You can win gold (or as it’s called in these games ‘cole’), raise the item’s stats or assign it additional qualities. It’s nothing too special, but it’s a fun change of pace while you’re out gathering materials.
Finding new materials or defeating new monsters will inspire Sophie to come up with new recipes for crafting, or as it’s called in Atelier, synthesizing. Fast travel to Plachta’s atelier and throw some things in the cauldron to get started. The higher the quality of the different ingredients, the better the crafted item will be. But there’s more to it than just choosing the best ingredients. Another mini-game is involved, where you get to place the ingredients on a roster. Matching elements and filling rows will increase the quality of your item. As the game progresses, you’ll learn new ways to craft even better items.
You’ll learn to use catalysts and can change the roster to more difficult ones. You can also craft items as Plachta, who knows different recipes than Sophie. Ideally you craft items with both of them regularly to raise their alchemy levels. As you spend more time with the people in Erde Wiege, your friendship levels will increase. Their friendship will trigger new abilities during synthesis. If you meet the conditions of a character’s ability, the item will gain e.g. an additional element. This will come in handy if you want to beat the game on a higher difficulty setting.
Sophie’s so adorable, that everyone she meets will offer to help her. Soon you’ll wind up with a party of no less than six people. You can manage the team by changing equipment, assigning items you’ve crafted or bought, and even decide who stands in front and who offers support from the back. The battles are classic turn-based battles, where you’ll get an overview of who will attack when. You can choose to simply attack with a weapon, use a skill, use an item or block the next attack. Or run, if you’re scared of the not-scary-looking monsters.
Tougher enemies will have an aura that you need to break through until you can deal sufficient damage. Paying attention to their vulnerabilities is necessary. An interesting mechanic is the “twin ability”, which you’ll get to perform every so many turns. Here, two characters will perform abilities right after one another for 0 MP cost, which can really speed up your battle. When an enemy attacks, you can choose to have a different character try and block the attack. Later on you’ll even unlock a dual ability which charges slower, but lets two characters act out a unique ability that deals massive damage or applies a certain status. These special abilities add a nice pace to your battles, but the animations that come with them are lengthy. There’s no real need to grind through tons of battles though, unless you are looking for a good drop of a certain item.
Sophie the weather girl
Navigating through areas has changed drastically by the introduction of weather changing pillars. Sophie learns to craft items that can be used on pillars that change the weather. By changing the weather, the map drastically changes, blocking and unblocking paths. This adds a fun puzzle-element to your basic exploration. If you look at the map, you can switch between the different weather modes to see how it impacts the environment. You can also see the ingredients and monsters that are available in the fast travel menu.
Atelier Sophie 2 – Conclusion
As far as Atelier games go, Atelier Sophie 2 earns a spot in the top tier. World exploration is a lot of fun thanks to the weather changing element. Proper team management and twin/dual abilities pick up the pace of the turn-based battles, and item crafting has never been more satisfying. Because you steadily unlock ways of crafting even better items, you can actually see Sophie improving as an alchemist. And that’s what the atelier games are ultimately about, rather than solving whatever problem the story throws at you.
As a point of criticism, which applies to all Atelier games I’ve played so far, there’s still plenty of room to improve in the visual department. Performance isn’t bad, but the loading times on the switch are noticeable and definitely too long during start-up. The filler cut-scenes can really break up your flow also. I’d rather a cut-scene only start to play out when I interact with a certain character, instead of playing automatically because I entered an area.