Let’s Meet Again For The First Time
HIGH Spending time with Original Platcha!
LOW When characters started talking about how the game was almost over.
WTF “I just happen to have brought along swimsuits for everyone!”
At this point, it’s almost trite for me to write a review of a new Atelier game exclaiming that “They’ve done it again!!!” but the inescapable fact is that it’s true. The most consistently-excellent franchise JRPG history has once more delivered a fantastic experience that tops everything that came before it. These games just keep getting better, and while I’m sure that will stop at some point, I’ve been thinking that for half a decade and they’ve spent that whole time proving me wrong.
Like rest of the series, Atelier Sophie 2 is a traditional RPG at its core. There’s turn-based battles, open worlds to explore, and quests to complete. The player assembles a party of up to six characters, then heads out into the wilderness to fight monsters, collect ingredients for Sophie’s alchemy, and uncover the secrets of the ever-shifting dream world in which the game is set.
With the recent Meruru 2 establishing the precedent of beloved characters getting delayed sequels, it’s no surprise that Sophie is getting another shot at stardom. The plucky young alchemist and her best friend Platcha are two of the best leads the series has ever had, to the point that they upstaged the stars of the trilogy they debuted in. The fans wanted more Sophie and Platcha, and the developers at Gust have delivered beyond my highest expectations.
Set after Atelier Sophie but before the rest of the ‘Mysterious‘ trilogy, Sophie 2 finds our pair catapulted into a mysterious world where time stands still, and all of its inhabitants are given the chance to live out their dreams. At first Sophie is motivated only to find Platcha (separated during the transit) and escape, but she quickly learns that the strange dimension’s tendrils reach out across time and space, drawing people from the past and future. Sure, finding out what’s going on and getting home is important, but she’s also got the chance to spend time with the grandmother who raised her and an earlier version of Platcha, so who could blame her for dawdling a little?
To be fair, this ‘jumping through time and space for a teamup’ owes quite a bit to Nelke, the 20th anniversary crossover released in 2019, but where that game was a light comedy about plopping every beloved character into one place and seeing how they’d interact, Sophie 2 is a more serious treatment of the subject matter. While the story is nowhere near as hard hitting as Ryza‘s criticism of colonialism and class oppression, it takes the situation and the characters trapped in it completely seriously. Everyone has been drawn into a land where their dreams can come true, so it’s all about exploring what pursuing those dreams means to people, and what they’ll do when they’ve been accomplished.
Now, what about the gameplay? Of course it’s as flawless as one expects from the series. Every Atelier title polishes existing mechanics and innovates new ones, and Sophie 2 is no different.
Multiple gathering tools for resources have returned, but instead of manually having to switch between them, the game simply uses the right tool at the right location. Major Gathering locations let players snag a glut of a particular resource in one go, as well as playing a minigame to decide what traits the item will have. This adds a new wrinkle to the alchemy process as players can customize the traits that go into each item better than ever before.
Alchemy is presented as a puzzle again – the player is given a 5×5 board, and they have to slot shapes together, hitting bonuses and building chains as they go. For basic items, they can just jam a bunch of shapes onto the board and collect their item. For truly powerful crafting, however, they have to use an altered game board with blocked-off spaces, forcing them to worry about not just having enough of a given element to unlock a particular ability, but finding the exact right shape to fit into the perfect location. Ryza’s basic item board worked for that game’s focus on combat and story, but Sophie’s story has always been about the main character seeking to perfect her craft, and the puzzle-based gameplay fits this concept perfectly.
In terms of combat, it’s absolutely solid. All six of the playable characters enter the fight simultaneously, with three in the front and three in the back. This sets up the combat system’s key element — twin attacks.
The player gets tactical points by starting fights with an ambush or by performing certain tasks in combat, and can use these points to call in a helper to attack simultaneously or swap places on the battlefield. Every Atelier is, to a certain extent, about a group of friends learning to trust and rely on one another, and Sophie 2 brings that element to the forefront by encouraging the player to constantly use these double strikes.
Increasing friendship levels high enough unlocks ‘dual triggers’, in which pairs of characters figure out how to partner up for ultimate attacks, and the dual trigger meter is powered up by performing twin attacks. Every part of the combat is built around reinforcing the idea that all obstacles are more easily conquered by working together.
Another thing that merits discussion is just how fantastic the cutscenes are. While almost every JRPG has moved into real-time cutscenes with 3D models, the Atelier series is unique in just how fantastically rendered those scenes are. The developers never take the easy way out and cut from character to character as each one reads their lines — they’ve clearly put thought into how best to stage each conversation. It’s stunningly well-directed.
Year in, year out, the Atelier series never fails to top itself. Atelier Sophie isn’t just a check-in with beloved character — it manages to meaningfully increase our understanding of that character by giving her the chance to interact with her closest companions in an entirely new context. For fans of the franchise, this is one of the most satisfying experiences that Gust could have offered, and for anyone looking for a chill, accessible JRPG, it doesn’t get any better than this.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Gust and published by Tecmo/Koei. It is currently available on PS4/5. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS5. Approximately 80 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Fantasy Violence, Suggestive Themes, and Use of Alcohol. To be honest, I didn’t even notice the alcohol use, and the suggestive themes are more playful than lascivious. The violence is bloodless and surprisingly upbeat. This should be safe for even younger teens!
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played most of the game without audio and encountered no difficulties. All dialogue in the game is in Japanese, and there are English subtitles. Text cannot be resized. It’s fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable. Players control Sophie’s movement with the left stick, and the camera with the right. Face buttons control attacking, gathering items, and jumping. In menus the left thumbstick move between options, and face buttons operate them.