Kicking off the Atelier Series 25th Anniversary proceedings we’ve a sequel to a game that kind of already had a sequel. Atelier Sophie was the first in the “Mysterious” trilogy of games and although I really didn’t get on with the first game (see why here) there was a huge leap in quality with the second (Atelier Firis) and third (Atelier Lydie & Suelle) to the point where the trilogy is one of the best in the series. The Atelier series really has gone from strength to strength and with the last game; Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy feeling like a PS5 game ported down to PS4 (check out that PS4 review here) I was more than a little interested to see what Atelier Sophie 2 could offer. Turns out it’s a lot!
First impressions with Atelier Sophie 2 are fantastic. There’s a nice catch up video of the previous game’s plot, it’s to the point and given that Sophie is part of the story in Atelier Firis, Atelier Sophie 2 is a sort of filler/side story that takes place in a dream-like world where time and aging are frozen. This not only allows for the characters to level up, learn things and build up equipment throughout without it effecting the Mysterious Trilogy of games but it manages something few filler stories ever do. It makes the story interesting and easily accessible to jump in without playing any Atelier game prior. Despite its number and large title Atelier Sophie 2 is easiest to jump into by far.
As this is set in an alternate reality space Atelier Sophie 2 isn’t packed with the usual back catalogue of past characters turning up, they are only referenced in passing and instead we’re treated to story relevant characters being added. Playing as Sophie you’ll be exploring Erde Wiege, searching for Plachta with friends you make along the way. Filler characters can typically feel hollow in anime and spin-off games but Atelier Sophie 2 breaks the mould by having characters that have personality. Without getting spoilery, some characters provide history and meaning to Sophie’s story and flesh out the character more than the original games.
If you’ve played an Atelier game before you already know the core gameplay loop. You’ll explore, gather, craft, do some turn based combat, build up friendships and progress the story. Time progresses in a day/night cycle as you’d expect in an Atelier game but thankfully there aren’t ‘days’. You can pace yourself to finding monsters and items that are only about at certain times and not have to worry about completing requests or missing cutscenes because you’re busy enjoying yourself. The friendship events stack which means you’re never missing out. The new system of changing the weather in levels entirely changes the layout of them and makes everything fresh and interesting. You’ll find yourself hunting for chests, levelling up against monsters and crafting better items just for the fun of it.
Atelier Sophie 2 has incredibly beautiful music. The soundtrack to this game deserves awards, it’s that good. The team at Gust have refined the folky, whimsical Fairy Tale-like music to be the best the series has ever had. Previously Atelier music was pleasantly relaxing and taking a backseat to the gameplay but here the music uplifts everything. In all of the JRPGs I’ve played over the years this has been the most shockingly pleasant soundtrack I’ve heard out of all of them. The Japanese voice acting may leave fans of the dub wanting but personally I prefer it and the acting is fantastic. Given how beautiful the music throughout Atelier Sophie 2 is I’m hopeful we’ll see a vinyl pressing at some point. It’s that good.
One thing that shocked me with Atelier Sophie 2 is how quickly everything loads. The biggest issue with Atelier Ryza 2 was how it felt like it was pushing the PS4 too hard and loading between each area was a faff. In Atelier Sophie 2 it’s packed with clever loading to make everything seamless. A monster will attack on the open field and when you start combat a few more monsters will rush in to make it a bigger battle. Once the victory dance is done, the camera zooms into Sophie and back out to explore again. The ability to speed up battles if you want to grind and the new tag system for your characters makes the turn based battles engaging and incredibly enjoyable. It really did surprise me how much fun the combat was and with certain enemies now using Aura shields that protect from damage for a certain number of hits, you’ll be challenged from time to time in the best way.
Atelier Sophie 2 is so incredibly enjoyable that it’s a shame one of the biggest issues with the series is still present. The sexualized character designs, fanservice and cheesecake are still a problem from time to time. This isn’t quite Fairy Tail level of cringe but it’s not far off. There are moments were it’s almost ‘Metal Gear Solid 5’s Quiet’ level of eye rolling. It’s incredibly frustrating to see as there are character designs that are flat out superb and then there’s ones like Alette. She’s constantly flashing her pants during her kick attacks and the boob window and sharp bustier added with her bouncing constantly looks ridiculous. It’s the same old story where you look and think, “that’s cute” but then the camera will pan across to a thong and someone’s side boob. The fantastic artwork is again present but the disappointment is to and this genre of JRPGs really needs to grow up.
Despite the fanservice and very rare moments of ropey animation, Atelier Sophie 2 is absolutely stunning. There are effects and levels here that will have you stop for a moment and flick on the photo mode. It’s not aiming for a photorealistic world and as a result the artistic flourishes are truly brilliant. Ruins looks huge and depending on the weather can be dark and mysterious or bright and itching to be explored. Again, I won’t spoil anything but there’s a moment of travel between two levels that I had to stop and just stare in wonder. The world that has been created here is at times breath-taking. Despite a slow start the quality just keeps ramping up. From the flashy combat special attacks to the level of detail in the café, it all runs so smoothly that it’s a sight to see.
One of the most refreshing aspects of Atelier Sophie 2 is the huge amount of quality of life improvements tucked into the gameplay loop to make everything that little bit nicer. Gathering is now quick and when there’s a special item to gather you play one of few minigames to add in extra features and quantity. Warp points can be found around levels and quickly jumped to. Alchemy is still the same satisfying colourful puzzle game of fitting the coloured shapes into the best slots but you now have the additions of character friendship benefits, a % chance of super quality and an auto craft option which makes grinding for extra alchemy levels a blast. You can now switch between Sophie and Plachta and each has their own level and recipes to unlock. Everything is tucked away in clearly marked mini-quests in the books and makes gathering more rewarding than ever before.
Atelier Sophie 2 is by far the best Atelier game ever made. The gameplay loop is incredibly addictive, (despite the fanservice) visually it’s stunning, the music is beautiful and the story is a surprising delight. I’m absolutely blown away with how many times I’ve wanted to simply go back and play more. There’s something very special about Atelier Sophie 2 despite the genre trappings. Usually a big JRPG can feel bogged down in its own importance but Atelier Sophie 2 is the lightest sweetest JRPG in years. An incredible experience and the perfect game to play when you just want to relax and enjoy.
9/10 – Sophie has a mysterious dream and it’s worth seeing to!
Code provided by Koei Tecmo Europe Ltd. Check out their games here