It’s the little things that make or break a game for me. Games that provide story recaps for players are one of the easiest ways to immerse them into your story, and is a welcoming feature. While Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of Dreams does several things poorly, the packaging is charming and polished enough on those little things to keep me interested. It has an easy to navigate and parse UI, clear-cut progression, and an involved crafting system. However, you have to take the good with the bad, and there is unfortunately a fair amount of bad.
Moe is as moe does
Let’s preface by saying that this is an extremely anime game. Popular games like Final Fantasy or Persona are anime in the sense that they have an anime artstyle and exaggerated battles, attacks, magic, and so on — but the interactions between characters feel human, and grounded in reality. Atelier Sophie 2 practically leaps off of said ground. Ostensibly teenage and adult human beings screech like children in extremely high pitches. If you’ve ever disliked an anime show where the characters scream over minor inconveniences or overly exaggerate their response to fairly benign situations, you will not like Atelier Sophie 2.
That isn’t a knock against the game, however — there’s a market for that type of anime. This game fills it through its character interactions and overarching story threads. The story follows Sophie as she continues on her journey to become an accomplished Alchemist — a profession that can take basic materials and combine them in a witch’s cauldron to create a fully-formed item. Need a pickaxe? Just take two bars of steel and some wood and melt them in a cauldron filled with Baja Blast.
Dreaming of alchemy
She begins the game by exploring a forest with her mentor and friend Plachta, an Alchemist whose soul first inhabited a book, before transferring to a scantily-dressed doll made by Sophie. They are looking for a way to transfer Plachta’s soul into her original body when they stumble across a tree that — (bear with me here) — absorbs them into a portal. Sophie finds herself in a dream world where random people are brought in to fulfill their heart’s strongest desire. They cannot leave the dreamscape until those desires are made manifest.
Once arrived, Sophie realizes that Plachta is nowhere to be found, and goes on a journey to find her alongside a new team of friends — Alette (a treasure hunter with a physics-defying corset), Olias (a treasure hunter with a gunblade, but not that type of gunblade), and Plachta. No, not the Plachta you’re searching for, but a Plachta from the past. The story really does get a little confusing at times. There are additional characters to unlock, but revealing whom would delve heavily into spoiler territory.
Even with the hyper-exaggerated anime tone, the characters do interact well with each other. Everything from Sophie and Plachta learning new things about alchemy to Alette obsessing over ways to sell new materials add a layer of depth and charm to the characters — and these discussions happen outside of cutscenes as well. Combat is fairly straightforward for JRPG fans, with attacks needing to be appropriately chosen to counter enemy elemental affinities. The “aura” mechanic, introduced a few hours into the game, adds some depth to the simplistic JRPG battle — you have to break the shielding aura of certain monsters to do critical damage to them, but if you choose the wrong elemental attack you will trigger a painful counter.
The dream is partially a nightmare
My gripes with Atelier Sophie 2 lie with the crafting and gathering system, which unfortunately makes up about half of the game. The overworld is littered with tons of crafting materials, and each new zone you unlock adds about 20 to 30 more. The game does a poor job of letting you know what materials you need and what materials you don’t. If, like me, you like to collect everything, you will soon find your basket full of about 20 copies of White Flowers (which was about 15 White Flowers too many.) Once your basket is full, you have to warp back to the Atelier to deposit it all before you can gather anything else. Thankfully, the process is nearly immediate, due to excellent load times and an automatic deposit sequence that happens after arriving.
Crafting is also a little convoluted. While you have to learn the recipe to create the item, and the recipe flat out states what materials are needed, crafting every single item in the game requires you to solve a puzzle grid. First, you choose what materials you want to use, because each material comes with its own Tetris-style blocks for the puzzle grid. You then have to place the puzzle pieces on the grid to complete rows or columns, while also matching the pieces to the elemental etchings in the grid itself. This would be interesting if you didn’t have to do it for every single craft— including intermediary crafts.
Additionally, there’s a whole host of effects you can add to your crafted item, ranging from bonus damage or extra uses — but sometimes it feels like those bonuses don’t correspond to the final product. What use is there for the “Uses + 2” effect when added to armor that will be worn and never used? The sheer amount of different effects and material choices that go into every single item you craft feels extremely overwhelming.
Finally, the difficulty hits a pretty large spike early on in the game. While I had been occasionally struggling with killing certain enemies, I hadn’t had trouble with any field bosses or forced encounters until I got to the Sea Dragon fight. The dragon was a whopping 14 levels above me, and I could only deal about 20% of its HP before it took me out. This was a clear tell that I had to go do some grinding, but that felt out of place with the rest of the game. The previous boss was easy, and I fought it only 15 minutes prior to the Sea Dragon.
To sum things up, Atelier Sophie 2 is a fine game. With plenty of tutorials and a pretty generous map and logbook, you will never truly feel lost or confused while playing. However, the crafting and gathering can be overwhelming, and you definitely have to have a taste for seriously anime characters and tropes to immerse yourself in this JRPG. Much like the alchemy process itself, Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of Dreams is flawed, but with time you can find a lot to love about the game.
7.5 / 10
|+||Fun characters and world|
|+||Easy to grasp battle mechanics|
|+||Good tutorialization and guideposts for nearly everything…|
|–||…except for the crafting and gathering, which feels overwhelming to figure out|
|–||Too many materials and not enough bag space requires a lot of backtracking|