Atelier Sophie 2 is the 23rd Atelier game since 1997, but the series seems to have flown under the radar in the West. These are relaxing JRPGs where the aim is not to fight monsters and save the world, but to make friends and help people with your ever-growing powers of alchemy – the crafting mechanic central to the series. After 2019’s Atelier Ryza helped introduce the series to a wider audience, developer Gust gave it a direct sequel, something they rarely do, with Atelier Ryza 2 last year. Still riding the sequel train, we now see a follow-up to 2015’s Atelier Sophie. There’s a recap of Sophie 1 if you need it, but Sophie 2 is a standalone experience with mostly new characters.
Atelier Sophie 2 conveniently avoids a lot of plot stuff by taking place between Sophie’s original adventure and her return as a secondary character in 2016’s Atelier Firis. Sophie begins this game ready to leave her hometown and travel the world with her best friend and mentor, Plachta. While investigating a mysterious tree, Sophie and Plachta are pulled through a portal into Erde Wiege, the world of dreams where people go when they need extra time to achieve their goals. Like in most Atelier games, the world is cottagecore levels of peaceful, where Sophie begins her quest to find Plachta with a brand new group of friends, including a past version of Plachta herself. Since Sophie and Plachta’s storyline reached a conclusion in 2017’s Atelier Lydie & Suelle, Sophie 2 is focused on character interactions more than driving any kind of overarching narrative forward, so it’s an easy starting point to the series for newcomers.
Sophie 2 retains the same mechanical loop as its predecessors. You go out into the world, harvesting materials in nature or collecting them from monsters you fight. Once you’ve run out of inventory space, or are low on health, you return to your atelier to heal up, bank those materials, and alchemise them to create new gear, then go out exploring again. Every part of this process is streamlined more than ever in Sophie 2, from finding what you need to the way alchemy works.
Similar to Sophie’s first game, alchemy works kind of like Tetris, but is more relaxing. When you choose the item you want to make, you’re given an empty grid. Each potential ingredient takes up a particular shape, which you can rotate and slot into the grid as you see fit. You get different bonuses based on the types of ingredients you use and where on the grid you place them, which dictates the specific stats of the final item. It’s fairly complicated but visually coded so you don’t have to think too hard about it, plus with the press of a button you can let Sophie decide where to place ingredients instantly, which is handy when you want to make multiple copies of the same item.
Sophie and her friends learn new abilities as they level up, but alchemy is the primary means of getting stronger in battle. Healing and attack items must be crafted and have limited uses, though you are able to replenish them at shops. Even the best gear for Sophie and her friends must be crafted, provided you have the recipe for them. Sophie 2 brings back the Idea system, where all potential recipes are arranged in a flowchart. Each recipe requires conditions to unlock, such as defeating specific monsters or finding specific items, which in turn reveals more recipes to unlock. By default, Sophie picks items up with her hands, but throughout the story, she can use different gathering tools such as a scythe and fishing rod by, you guessed it, creating them through alchemy. Gathering and alchemy are what you’ll be doing more than anything else in the game. This is not an RPG where you can brute force your way through enemies, especially since they hit hard if you’re unprepared. I accidentally played the first 8 hours of Atelier Sophie 2 on Very Hard difficulty, where I would get trounced any time I faced more than one enemy at a time. After realising my error and bumping down the difficulty to Normal, I found battles to be challenging, but satisfying.
Atelier Sophie 2 uses a turn-based battle system, but unlike Sophie 1, it’s actually good. Three characters participate in battle at a time, while three others are back-up. During battle, your party accrues Technical Points (TP) as they perform actions, which can then be spent in several ways. If a character is about to be hit by an enemy, they can spend TP to quickly switch places with a back-up character, who takes half damage from the hit. Anyone can spend TP on their turn to perform a Twin Move, in which they use an ability at a lowered MP cost, then switch places with a back-up character who immediately does another ability at a low MP cost. Turns are fast (and can be adjusted to be faster), camera angles are zippy, and since you almost always have choices during the enemy’s turn, you’re rarely stuck waiting animations out. Even if you’re downed by a particularly tough foe, you just return to your atelier at the cost of some of the items you collected, so you’re encouraged to experiment with how you like to play.
The environments in Sophie 2 are gigantic, especially compared to the compact locations in the original Sophie, which were made to fit on a PS Vita game card. They seem even bigger with the game’s weather system, which changes how each environment functions. A bridge that’s fallen into a dry lake in the daytime will rise as the rain fills the lake back up. There are some light puzzles involved as you can use items (that you craft!) to change weather states at will, but only at specific pedestals. You can even change the weather during battle to change enemy weaknesses.
Crystals serve as fast travel points, which you can return to at any time. Once you’re able to fast travel, you can use it anytime outside battle, including straight into your atelier. This is particularly handy for the game’s many optional quests which require returning to previous areas. Unlike previous games, quests are no longer time-sensitive, so you can complete them at your leisure.
There are so many quality of life improvements in Atelier Sophie 2 (I didn’t even mention how you can easily cross-reference any item whenever you see its name in a menu) that makes the series more approachable than ever, though the low stakes and chill vibes are a huge contrast to other popular JRPGs. It’s perhaps not as ambitious as Atelier Ryza 2, but it’s not trying to be. What it tries to accomplish, it does very well. It’s not as action-packed as what we attention-addled Westerners are used to, but if you think you’re up for it, there’s an experience here you can get engrossed in.