Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream Impression
Much of alchemy comes from the mix and the quality of ingredients, and it seems that Sophie 2 has gotten it right this time around.
I will admit that I was not the biggest fan of the original Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book when I played it on Steam. My old review for that game should say it all. But even so, I know Gust to be a developer that comes in cycles, and one stinker — or even a trilogy of stinkers — is not indicative of future work. When Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream was announced, I was both surprised and cautiously optimistic. It has been four full games between the first and second times Sophie Neuenmuller took center stage as the protagonist, so I was willing to see how things had improved.
Then I got the chance to find out for myself with an early preview code on Steam. This would not have been my first choice of platform, and initially my fears of computer lag and other issues stemming from a fairly low-spec machine seemed warranted, but then I got far enough in to access the config menu and turn all the graphics settings to the lowest possible, as I should have done before even starting. Things ran far smoother after that. There was still a noticeable slowdown in high-population areas like the main town, but it’s never too bad and the extra-orbital ocular glitches I had with the first game never occurred. On the matter of basic playability on Steam, this second game is already winning me over, but is the rest of it actually good?
The story starts out interesting, at least. Sophie and her friend Plachta are on a journey to discover a means of returning Plachta to her human self, as the fake life of an animated doll is getting tiresome for her. While roaming, they come across an immense and ancient tree, which Plachta feels she should remember. Before the memories can sort themselves, however, a void opens up before them and they’re sucked through. Sophie wakes up in the town of Roytale in Erde Wiege, a pretty little community nestled in the shadow of the Dream Tree — the very image of the arboreal giant Sophie and Plachta found. Only, Erde Wiege isn’t exactly real. It’s a realm born of dreams, pieced together by a mysterious goddess named Elvira. People with interesting dreams and life-goals find themselves invited to visit, for however long they need to fulfill their desires, and the town’s become a weird crossroads for folk from all over Sophie’s world, and all over time as well. This is made apparent when she locates Plachta — except that it’s a different, human Plachta from five or six centuries in the past. Sophie’s best friend the animated doll is nowhere to be found, so she is determined to rectify the situation as only an Atelier protagonist can.
Sophie 2 benefits from the interval since its predecessor in many ways. First, it is running on the same basic game engine as the Atelier Ryza games, which is a marked improvement. The big areas feel more open and natural as Sophie runs around, and there are elements of scenery that likely were taken from more recent previous titles. Weather is a constant, with some areas permanently sunny and nice while others are deluged with rain. However, there are tricks to learn and tools to make so that Sophie can alter the meteorological situation to explore further or otherwise exploit for her alchemical pursuits. The new gathering tools also give the player access to small mini-games. These are never critical to success, but they can provide bonuses such as additional elemental blocks, extra items gathered, or even a windfall of small cash amounts.
Alchemy is probably the element of this game that’s the least changed from its predecessor, and that is not a bad thing. Upon choosing from a set of critical and generic ingredients for a recipe, the player has to place block pieces in a tetrisoidal grid that boosts different elemental values to unlock new traits in the resulting item. The number and variety of blocks can vary even between instances of the same ingredient, allowing for greater refinements of the same items later in the game. Also, the young Plachta’s presence in the atelier allows for more than one lady at the cauldron, and there are recipes specific to each of them.
As this is a direct sequel, Sophie’s not starting from zero. She and her new friends all start at level 20, and her effective alchemy level starts at 50, the previous game’s maximum. While she’s new to Erde Wiege, working in an unfamiliar atelier, her head’s still packed full of practical knowledge just waiting to be unlocked. Recipes can be remembered or inspired by collecting new materials, visiting new places, or otherwise fulfilling certain prerequisites, all of which flows in an organic manner through exploration of the world.
Combat, on the other hand, has seen a strong improvement. Not far into the game, the player is introduced to shielding and assistance mechanics that pull in allies from the back row for boosted damage at reduced point cost. In the early hours of the game, enemies do not appear to be very aggressive on the field, so it’s simple to avoid most encounters if the player so desires.
Music was one area that left me uninspired in the original, but thus far Sophie 2 has shown a nice range of music, and I am hoping that this trend continues. The preview build features a Japanese voice track, which may or may not also be true of the main release, and it has been interesting to see and hear how the translation of the dialogue fares. Overall, Sophie 2 seems to have a better localization than its predecessor, with a more natural range of phrasing and expressions. The main complaint I can make is that at one point a character uses the word theory when the Japanese dialogue clearly said hypothesis, but I am likely in the minority to notice or care about that.
As the preview ends two or three hours into the game, I can only speak for the beginning of it. However, thus far the experience has been a fairly solid one, and it has left me hopeful for the rest of whatever is to come. Much of alchemy comes from the mix and the quality of ingredients, and it seems that Sophie 2 has gotten it right this time around.
Disclosure: This review is based on a free preview build of the game provided by the publisher.