Atelier Sophie 2 : The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream [PS4 Game Review]

As you all know by now if you read this blog at all, the Atelier series is one of my absolute favorite game franchises. The uniqueness of it, the great fun of learning the new synthesis and combat systems each game, the wonderful worlds and characters – I love everything about these games (except Shallie!) and I always have to hop on the new ones as soon as I can. Sophie 2 is, obviously, a sequel to Sophie…but Sophie already had 2 sequels, so it’s a little strange they titled it Sophie 2 and it’s one of my few issues with the game as well. Not so much the semantic argument, but that this is a sequel to a game from 2015 for no reason at all and also ignores it’s prior sequels. In fact, that ‘no reason at all’ applies pretty heavily to this game.

Regardless of that, I actually really had a lot of fun with this. It felt like yet another proper Atelier game and Sophie has always been one of my favorite alchemists in the series so I didn’t mind a return to playing as her and her cute giant jacket. I would have enjoyed it a lot more had Plachta joined us in our journey though, as she was one of my favorites as well and the bond between her and Sophie was really nice. However, I did like this more than Ryza 2 – I loved the first Ryza, but something about 2 just didn’t work for me and, while it was a good game and I liked it, it was something I felt dragged on and bored with for a lot of it, this never felt that way though and so I like it a lot more like most prior Atelier games.

Now quickly back to the “no reason at all” thing; this game is designed specifically so that you can just jump in without much of any knowledge about Atelier Sophie or it’s two sequels – Atelier Firis, and Atelier Lydie & Suelle – which makes it sort of pointless aside them, yet again, relying on an old popular character to keep the franchise going. This goes against a lot of what I love about Atelier and it’s starting to get irritating with how much time they’re spending rehashing things in the new titles, re-releasing the old ones as homogenized trash that makes them completely different games than what they were (dx/plus), and kind of being lazy and acting like the franchise is dying when it is at it’s most popular.

I gave a free pass to Atelier Rorona’s very late 4th game because it was for a big anniversary for the Atelier franchise and Rorona was a huge step in their progress – plus in that game they DO include a lot of the old cast and you also get a new main character, but now with Ryza 2 and Sophie 2 it’s becoming more apparent they are just avoidant of risking new characters and worlds. This is probably in part due to the sad success of the garbage that is the DX/Plus games which remove the synthesis and combat systems in the games and replace them with Ayesha’s, making them all safe and accessible without ANY new learning or experimenting involved for the player as they play each game, essentially playing the same exact game a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc time with only some new characters sometimes.

The story in Sophie 2, while I did enjoy it, epitomizes the fact that it doesn’t need to exist. They made absolutely sure to avoid ANY CHARACTERS from Sophie, Firis, and Lydie & Sue outside of a few dialogue lines (barely any) referencing one or two of them (and literally 0 references to the other 2 games, only Sophie). EVERYONE aside Sophie herself and a very small cameo from doll Plachta is a new character from other time periods and other places in the world, and you are even thrown from the actual world the Mysterious trilogy took place in to a world made by a goddess of dreams.

Gust did everything possible to cut this game off from any connection to the prior games that Sophie was involved in – so why not just make a new game? This is all new characters aside Sophie, all new world in entirety, new synth and combat like always…so what is the point of making this a sequel? Just replace Sophie with anyone and you could have the same game with some exceptions that are a little fun – but meaningless – like meeting Sophie’s grandma as a hot 20-something with big booba and meeting Plachta before she became a book, but even those things are barely touched on at all and so are not really something worth making a game for.

While I say the game has no real need or reason to exist, I also really enjoyed it. As usual, Gust has out-done their prior games with their newest Atelier…though in this case I think I still stand by Ryza 1 as the current best of the series (though best story still goes to Ayesha). As much as I can pick on it, this is one you’ll want to play if you have played at least the first Sophie game so you are bare minimum at least getting the extra bit out of it from knowing Plachta and Sophie already and enjoying those cameos and lightly touched on stuff like the grandma.

That, again, isn’t to say this is a bad game or the characters are lacking. In fact, I liked the entire cast in this one a lot. Seeing Sophie again is great and she hasn’t changed one bit, but aside from her there are no returning characters aside (as I said already) Plachta having a few very short and mostly irrelevant cameos through the second half of the game which felt kind of upsetting.

Sophie and Plachta come as a pair and she pretty much doesn’t exist. This time you get young human Plachta instead which isn’t bad as you do get to see who she was as a girl before she became a book, but it just isn’t the same. No matter how cute human Plachta is (and she is very cute), she always feels like a new character rather than simply another version of the secondary lead. Sophie’s grandmother makes an appearance here too and is my favorite character in the game aside Sophie herself; she’s attractive, she’s cute, she’s definitely the overpowered character this time around for combat, and the concept of her becoming an alchemist who inspires Sophie to become an alchemist…because Sophie inspired HER to become an alchemist before Sophie’s parents were even born is kind of fun.

Visually this game is beautiful but I’d say it falls a bit behind Ryza and I’d say the same about Ryza 2 falling behind it as well. Ryza 1 is absolutely gorgeous and extremely vibrant, Ryza 2 was less so but similar, and Sophie 2 feels just a little lifeless compared to Ryza 1 but still looks really nice. I think a lot of that is due to kind of plain locations and some that are just outright ugly. When it comes to character art and animations though, Sophie 2 does come out on top as the best so far in the series and some of the best anime looking video game models to date.

Cutscenes in Sophie 2 also are some of the best the Atelier series has seen, with a lot of cinematic angles, depth of field, and smart camera work rather than the typical B-game look of Atelier story scenes. This is something they did start working on a few games back, but it’s at it’s peak here and I hope they continue working on this in future games.

When it comes to synthesis and combat, this is probably the best one so far which is also typical of Atelier wherein the newest game tends to be another experiment that takes a further step forward than it’s predecessors. The system here is similar to Sophie but a little more fine tuned and with some extra stuff thrown in to make it more enjoyable and more accessible to do more difficult things with. It’s worth pointing out that they do give you a few too many tools to work with though, as the third item you get to assist your synthesizing with kind of breaks item creation and makes it super easy to make overpowered everything and the ones before and after it are mostly useless.

I completely forgot to take a picture of the synthesis system, but I did get that one of one of the pages of recipes. This game follows the book concept of Sophie (duh) and has you unlocking new recipes via unlocking earlier ones, giving you fun goals to work towards. It’s not as simple as just doing the prior ones, but synthing prior items unlocks the explanation of how to unlock a few more (i.e. kill this type of monster 3 times and gather this specific thing or craft this thing with this trait, etc).

One big change – or maybe something I forgot from Sophie 1, though I don’t believe it’s there – is that you can swap between Sophie or human Plachta for synthesis and both of them have recipes specific to them, so you will want to keep both leveling up through the general items that both can make.

Combat is turn based again with some added things like these special defense auras that enemies can (and almost always do) have that need to be broken to do much of any damage. This is one issue I did have with the game as it gets fairly irritating with bosses renewing their aura almost immediately after you break it in some cases, and just being an annoyance on easy fights that just prolong them. Luckily they do allow you to speed combat up to 2x speed by pushing L3 – I specify this because the game never tells you it, I just did it by mistake and realized what it did. While it speeds up the animations, don’t worry, it doesn’t make you have to decide anything any faster or make the combat any harder.

Exploring has also gotten some nice upgrades with the weather system, allowing for areas you’ve already tread to become completely different once you change the weather in the zone. It makes it exciting and gives you a worthwhile reason to go back to places again and again to get new items and fight new enemies as you progress the game and get more weather changing items. It also just feels kind of cool to do things like control water levels with rain/sunshine and then freeze it to make a new path and such.

All-in-all, Atelier Sophie 2 is another strong addition to the wonderful Atelier series, yet it really doesn’t serve a purpose unless there are some really lofty plans to maybe create sequels to THIS game based on the supporting party members and story characters and their time periods or something. I was really hoping with the whole “this is a dream world where people from all times come” with things like meeting Sophie’s own grandma would end up with some big crossover in an actual Atelier style rather than the Nelke spin-off city building style, or at least some references to say all these games are canon in some way to one another even if only through some other dimensional dream thing…but there’s nothing like that. It’s just a dream world so they could avoid keeping new players from jumping in to this sequel from a game nearly a decade old.

It’s great; the difficulty seems perfect for a good challenge without being obnoxious, the characters are all really lovable – every single one, the story is sweet and at times even touching, and the gameplay is really enjoyable. It’s just that even after beating it the feeling of “why did this have to be Sophie 2?” stayed with me, but that’s probably my biggest and one of my only legitimate issues with it.

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