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

Atelier Sophie is back, only this time Sophie and her friend have fallen into a mysterious dream where familiar faces remain, but all is not what it seems.

Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream is the Sequel to Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Book, which follows the story of Sophie - a failed Alchemist who was able to learn the craft, thanks to the mysterious talking book she discovered along her journey.

Fans will know that the 'Mysterious' trilogy consists of 3 games that follow one another, only Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream is a direct sequel that takes place sometime after the events of the first Atelier Sophie, but before Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey. If you've already played (and finished) the first title of the Mysterious trilogy then your knowledge will serve you well, but if not, fear not, as there's an in-game recap of the original titles events to make sure you know exactly what has happened up until now.

Without spoiling too much, the game begins with Sophie and Plachta taking a walk when they come upon a mysterious giant tree, but as curiosity gets the better of them, they're swiftly whisked away into another world. This new world is a dream where Sophie wakes up alone and Plachta is nowhere to be found, but it's not long until Sophie finds new friends who welcome her, instantly recognising Plachta and agreeing for the two friends to meet, only this worlds Plachta is a little different. It becomes even stranger when Sophie meets Ramizel, who is very much alive here, while Ramizel in the real world is her deceased grandmother. There's also Pirka who owns her own shop, resembling yet another of Sophie's real world friends by the name of Corneria, though Pirka's speciality is item duplication and she can also restock used items...for a price.

As Sophie becomes wiser to the dream she's in, she realises these familiar characters may very well be the key to discovering more about her friends in the real world, and the connection shared between them all.

Right from the get-go, Atelier Sophie 2 feels instantly familiar for anyone who played the previous title, and the gameplay formula remains much the same. The main hub area is a town called Rotale. It's quite large and at first very little seems to be going on, but once the shops have opened up (all of which are in one specific part of the town) it's worth talking to everyone, as certain NPC's will give you items and recipes that'll help you on your journey. There are also a number of materials to collect, so it's worth searching every nook and cranny of Rotale.

It's worth noting this is also quite possibly the best looking Atelier game to date. The attention to detail is great as the Atelier itself is adorned in vines, with homely moon lamps and a calming fireplace which emanates the feeling of warmth and happiness. The town of Rotale is also vast and full of lush flowers, houses and a giant hourglass statue, standing tall and proud in the middle. The exploration maps also feel much larger, brighter and just ooze with colour. Even the darkest areas are compensated with various forms of light such as fireflies and glowing plants. The music really sets the tone of the overall experience too, with light-hearted compositions everywhere. The battle music is even light-hearted and reminiscent of the town music, but again this is nothing new and it fits due to the overall theme of the game. While this is great, I still would have loved a much harder composition, possibly closer to that of Atelier Rorona, which is my favourite theme of the series. Overall though, the music is great and contrasts well with each area.

Collecting materials has always been a part of the Atelier series, but the Crafting in Atelier Sophie 2 is so deep this time around that it makes the original feel rather simple. Though don't feel daunted by the depth of crafting, as tutorials will guide you through every step until you become a perfect crafting master. At first when you begin to gather materials/resources, you'll be using your bare hands, but as you progress, more tools will become available to you. Sickles work great against those pesky, giant, difficult weeds and a new spinning wheel mini-game has been added. There are many different outcomes depending on where the wheel stops, for example, you might obtain Cole (Money) on top of the item  you're collecting/harvesting, or even a different element related to the item you're currently gathering.

This is a welcome change, as the original Atelier Sophie required you to build an item from the ground up, passing different elements in a hierarchy-like system until you got the desired outcome. Here it becomes a lot more fun, because elements can be added automatically, saving you time, and can also be rotated to fit on the gameboard, avoiding the overlapping issues of previous games. While some of these elements still have awkward shapes, the whole crafting system is more like a jigsaw puzzle now, with all spaces on the board becoming easier to fill.

Elements are now visible across the board, and by meeting a set number of requirements, each of these can increase in potency/effectiveness. Aside from the standard crafting components, link components can also be chained together, increasing the maximum effective level of an element depending on the number of links shared with it. Traits and Trait Fusions from the first Atelier Sophie also make a welcome return by giving items an extra edge, such as increased damage and healing while also increasing the attributes on character equipment. Increasing the number of filled squares and rows on a synthesis panel is the key to a better product/outcome, and doing this will improve the chance of achieving a Super Success, which greatly improves the quality of the product.

Environmental changes to the world are something we also see in Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream. By using special stones, the weather can be changed to create a diverse amount of changes within an area, opening new paths, enhancing elemental abilities, spawning different enemies and materials to gather, and this is a feature that I really enjoy. The new Teleport Stones are also a welcome feature that allow you to instantly teleport to a specific destination within a map, which is great for saving more time.

The battles in Atelier Sophie 2 are great fun and completely seamless, meaning there's no transition into battle, and the camera will pan back around behind Sophie immediately after your victorious battle, just as it was before the fight occurred. As for the battles themselves, they consist of three front characters and three back characters, and while it may seem like your rear party members lie dormant, leaving the front three to take the heat of the battle, the new Twin Action battle system means that using TP (Technical Points), characters from the back row will now support and aid by attacking collectively with the front members. They can also aid by guarding your up-front team, taking damage that your main combatants would otherwise receive (Support Guard).

Let's also not forget the Dual Trigger feature, which is a special type of move, activated when the Dual gauge reaches 100%. This allows two characters to do a special attack together and is a good way of gaining the upper hand in battle.

Overall, the fights in Atelier Sophie 2 feel incredibly balanced and fun, and while items such as Bombs are the real key to massive damage output, Sophie herself can deal a respectable amount of damage this time around, should she run out of items. All supporting characters can also freely use any items they desire during a battle, creating a very diverse battlefield.

Atelier Sophie 2 contains many features of past and present titles, and while the Changing Room, Photo Mode, Requests, Reputation and Time Advancement features are all here, there are no deadlines to work towards this time around. It should be noted also that previous fans of the serious are being rewarded with new costumes for Sophie. All you need is a previous save file from Atelier Sophie DX, Atelier Firis DX, Atelier Lydie & Suelle DX or Atelier Ryza 2 to unlock any of these four familiar fan-favourite costumes.

Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream is a welcome addition and marks a special 25th anniversary of the series. As somebody who loves RPG's, the Atelier games have increasingly drawn me in with each release, due to their inspiring tales and addictive gameplay mechanics, and Atelier Sophie 2 is no different. Everything here is so vibrant and clean, the only exception being how cluttered the map can feel at times, but overall the UI is very easy to navigate considering the abundance of systems within, and everything just feels implemented so well. An English voice cast would have been nice, considering the prequel had one, but this doesn't take away from the overall experience and proves to be one of the finest entries in the Atelier series.

Great Game! is the second highest rating we award and is reserved for
great titles that still have a little room for improvement.

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