- Developer: Gust
- Publisher: Koei Tecmo
- Release Date: 25/02/2022
- Price: £49.99 / $59.99
- Review Code provided by Koei Tecmo
- Version reviewed: 1.0.0
Update to version 1.0.1
While I was working on the review below, Koei Tecmo published an update to the game, advancing the version to v1.0.1. The patchnotes don’t mention any of the issues I encountered, but focus on a further difficulty setting (Legendary), available after finishing the game once. They also focus on new party quests, new abilities for each party member, and mention changes to the photo mode.
While I didn’t encounter the issues I had with the original release version, I can’t be sure the have been patched as I have no knowledge of how the bugs were triggered in the first place. It looks like they’re gone, though!
Introducing: Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream Review
May 2022 marks the 25th anniversary of the Atelier series and I’m sure we will see interesting things in the months after this auspicious date. Before that, Koei Tecmo released the follow up game to 2015’s Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book, namely Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream, making this game the fourth entry of the Mysterious sub-series.
Atelier Sophie 2 begins with Sophie and Plachta on the move. They’re out and about to achieve two things: First, Sophie wants to become a licensed Alchemist. Second, both want to restore Plachta’s human form. However, the alchemist duo stumbles upon a strange tree and gets sucked through a vortex into another world. Sophie awakes in Erde Wiege, a world created of dreams. The people populating Erde Wiege were invited to live there by a Goddess and originally came from different times and places. All of them share a desire to realize their dreams and then return to their respective place and time. But Plachta is missing! Where is she and how can the two friends leave this strange world when they haven’t been invited to come here in the first place?
I need to make sense of it all
Atelier Sophie 2 is, like all the other games of the franchise, a crafting RPG. That means that finding Plachta and solving the riddle of why you two ended up in Erde Wiege is a matter of completing the main story missions. Requests by other characters you meet in the dream world and those who join your party will flesh out the game’s story with further details.
While prowling Erde Wiege, you constantly collect plants, fruit, monster materials, ores, and numerous more ingredients as components for the Alchemy done in your Atelier. As your bags don’t offer unlimited storage, you constantly travel back and forth between your Atelier and the various locations. This is painless, as Atelier Sophie 2 uses quick travel points that become available once you find them in the different parts of the world.
In short, there are two distinct phases of gameplay: Alchemy and Exploration. The first one is done at home in your Atelier in preparation for the second one.
Alchemy is what you do to create potions and bombs, but also armour and weapons to use in exploration and battle. Let me get straight to the point: Alchemy (crafting) in Atelier Sophie 2 is an absolute delight!
First, you select the recipe of the item you want to create. Then you select the necessary ingredients. After this, you arrange the ingredients on a Palette, or if you don’t want to play this small mini-game, you let the game arrange the materials for you automatically. Finally everything gets thrown into the cauldron and voila, there’s your newly created item. However, this procedure is just scratching on the basics, as Alchemy is far more intricate. See, your Alchemy proficiency has a level. You can only use recipes with levels equal to or lower than that. Synthesising items will give you experience which will in turn raise your proficiency level.
Now, each ingredient in a recipe has a category, e.g. gemstone, plant, or animal matter as well as a grade, a quality, and might additionally have special traits. By using materials of a higher grade and quality, your resulting concoctions will also be of a higher grade and often come with several enhancements. You can also transfer traits from your ingredients to your synthesised product in the last stage of the Alchemy process. So, using different kinds of materials with the same recipes will give you drastically different results. Trying out different combinations and playing with the results is a wonderful experience. Also, everything is explained in easy to understand tutorials, which are skippable for players familiar with the Atelier franchise.
Exploration and battles
Erde Wiege is not only populated by other humans, but also by quite a number of monsters. Needless to say that you will have to battle them, either because you want to use their materials for Alchemy or because they are the target of a story mission. Either way, the resulting battles will be fought in a turn-based battle system. Your party of six will face off against a maximum of three foes. Your team is split into a front row, which can take direct action against the enemies, and a back row, which can only cross swords with your opponents when you order them to block an attack or when you use a twin attack together with a front row character. Use normal attacks, skills, or items against the monsters, just like in any other RPG. The fact that the battles are seamlessly integrated into the exploration experience and the new mechanic of twin attacks are nice features. Battles never feel overwhelming or interrupt the flow of the game.
Exploration of Erde Wiege is key and there is a lot to explore. Erde Wiege has a day and night cycle with different plants and monsters present at different times. There are also different weather conditions which block parts of the world until you are able to change the weather. Moving through some parts of the world and constantly changing the weather conditions can feel like moving through a puzzling dungeon. Luckily, it never gets too complicated.
Give me skills!
Don’t forget to pick up resources left and right while you explore. Finding new materials will unlock new recipes in the respective skill trees. There is one for each Alchemist and a shared one, so you need to synthesise your items wisely as you need to make sure everyone climbs the ladder of Alchemy progression. Some key items can only be crafted by one Alchemist, so plan accordingly or your story progression might be locked till you reach a level high enough to craft these items.
All in all, exploration, battles and crafting are well intertwined and a lot of fun. Together with the lighthearted story, there is a lot to enjoy!
Sounding good and looking even better
Perfectly fitting the lighthearted story, Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream has a pleasant and relaxed soundtrack. The music is nice, has a leisurely happy beat, and knows when to turn into the dramatic. The voice acting is good as well, but only available in Japanese. This is not surprising, as the Atelier series is more of a series for connoisseurs anyway. It fits the anime art style and that is what counts.
Graphically speaking, the game looks great. Gust claims that this is the best looking game in the series and I have to attest that it does indeed look good on Switch both docked and handheld. There is a switch in the options, by the way, to focus on either graphic fidelity or the game’s performance, but I haven’t noticed any serious performance issues while playing with the focus on graphics, which is the default setting. I have, however, run into other problems.
Bugs, not only for synthesis
Needless to say that you’ll have bugs in Atelier games. From ladybugs to butterflies, they all end up in synthesis. Unfortunately, Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream does not limit bugs to ingredients in various concoctions. The game is plagued by graphical errors ranging from relatively minor garbled visuals to ridiculously large “sticks” coming out of character models to phases when the complete 3D environment is completely unusable. All of these are annoying in varying degrees, but still tolerable.
Intolerable, however, are crashes that make you lose progress. I encountered one of those after a short scene introducing a mini-boss. Right when the game returned control to me, I was greeted by the infamous “An error has occurred …”-screen and thrown back into the Switch UI. Luckily, I had just returned from the Atelier, the only place where you can save your game, and then went back into the wilderness. Not much was lost, but had I pressed on in my exploration it would have cost me the progress of two hours. This is definitely nothing you want to experience.
Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream gets a lot of things right. The story is nice, the artstyle is pleasing, and exploration and Alchemy are as wonderful as expected. The technical problems, on the other hand, darken the fun just like an approaching thunderstorm. You never know when one of the graphical errors will strike.
- difficulty options ranging from easy to hard
- quality of life improvements during synthesis: you can fill the Palette yourself or decide to have it filled automagically
- complex crafting experience
- lovely and humorous characters and story
- graphical errors and crashes mar the enjoyment