Every time I review an Atelier game, I always seem to wind up talking about their laid-back charm and how wonderfully uplifting they are. That may be partially due to a lack of creativity on my part, but it’s most just because… well, it’s consistently true. Gust has spent decades fine-tuning the most feel-good JRPGs around, to the point that any new Atelier is pretty much a guaranteed source of pure joy. Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream is no exception.
Mysterious Dream is driven by the idea of wish fulfillment. Following the end of the first game, Sophie sets her sights on finally becoming a fully-licensed alchemist, and also trying to finally find a way to return the soul of her friend and teacher Plachta, currently trapped in the body of a doll, to human form. The chance to finally make some progress and get some answers comes when the pair are suddenly whisked away to a strange dream-world, created for the express purpose of letting people fulfil their dreams—Erde Wiege is a place where people don’t age, and those lucky few who get taken there have all the time in the world to achieve whatever it is they want to achieve. Only, Sophie and Plachta get separated on the way in, so what should be a golden opportunity to truly master the art of alchemy instead becomes a quest for Sophie to find her missing friend, with the aid of a bunch of new companions who join her along the way—including another, human Plachta, who shares an uncommon name but seems to have no memory of Sophie.
Thus begins a quest that walks a fine line between the usual bubbly, carefree nature of Atelier and something more solemn. Sophie quickly finds herself surrounded by cheerful new companions, and the joy that she finds in alchemy and adventure—with everyone who visits Erde Wiege bringing remnants of their dreams with them, the world is an ever-changing place full of wonders to discover. But the desperation to find Plachta is there, too, gnawing away at her and occasionally breaking through. That isn’t to say that Atelier Sophie 2 is some bleak, depressing thing; it’s absolutely full of all the delight that you’d expect, but with just a hint of melancholy undertones balance that out. It works wonders, traversing a full spectrum of emotion in an authentic, heartfelt way, but without losing sight of the feel-good nature of Atelier as a whole.
Sophie’s new companions are responsible for much of that mood-lifting. Part of that is due to the absolutely gorgeous character designs, even by Gust’s high standards, but the rich characterisation is what really brings it home. Between a kind-hearted but treasure-obsessed merchant (who can also lay down a mean roundhouse kick), a talented but comically boastful bodyguard, and the laziest bartender you’ve ever met—to name just a few—the residents of Erde Wiege are a delightful lot, right from the jump. As the game moves on and this world’s many mysteries start to unfold, they only become more so; the bond that Sophie and this new Plachta develop through their shared love of alchemy is particularly memorable: Sophie steps naturally into the role of a mentor, as the more experienced of the two, but there’s also a dash of rivalry between them.
In other words, it’s everything that Atelier has always done best: a beautiful, charming cast who fill every scene with joy, even when things take a sadder turn. Even though Atelier Sophie 2 is more of a grand adventure than the series slice-of-life roots, there’s still that focus on quiet moments and people just enjoying being around one another. It’s uplifting, and grounded in hopefulness—an alternate world expressly created to let people make their dreams come true has that effect.
Naturally, that sense of beauty flows through into the design of the world, too—between the dream-world setting and a revamped visual engine, the world of Erde Wiege comes to life like no other Atelier game has. It’s overflowing with natural beauty and slightly surreal touches, layering a sense of serenity over everything. You’ll spend a lot of time exploring different maps in search of secrets and alchemy ingredients, as always, but it’s also worth stopping and just taking everything in. Just existing in Mysterious Dream’s stunning environments can be its own reward.
And when you want to change things up, just find a magical stone and change the weather—alchemists can do that, apparently. One of Sophie 2’s biggest new features is a weather system that lets you mess around with the meteorological conditions, in turn affecting map layouts, enemies, and materials that can be gathered. Beyond just a way of getting more life and variety out of each zone, weather is a vital part of exploration and puzzle-solving: for instance, switching between rain and sunshine to raise and lower the water level, or using snow to form icy paths. It brings an intriguing new layer to exploration, and the level design of Atelier Sophie 2 really makes the most of it.
Beyond that, Mysterious Dream largely follows the same formula as the first Atelier Sophie, but with a wide array of tweaks across the board. The Panel Synthesis alchemy system returns, in all the puzzle-filled glory of trying to find the best way of laying differently-shaped components on a grid to maximise quality and effects. The fundamentals remain the same, but this time around, there are new wrinkles like restricted panels that limit the available space you have to work with, and support abilities from non-alchemist party members that trigger when certain conditions are met. It was a clever system to begin with—easy to use if you’re not concerned about optimising, but with a lot of depth if you want to push it to its limits—that the new features don’t change dramatically, but they extra layers they bring in are welcome.
Combat, too, is similar to Atelier Sophie, but with a variety of tweaks to help streamline the game and give players more options. There’s more of a focus on team-based attacks now, with a party of up to six members split between an active unit and support members that can tag in at any time. Off-screen characters can jump in for powerful combo attacks or to take a hit for someone else (while swapping places), and these actions are so useful and versatile that frequent switching is heavily encouraged. Even though you’ll only ever have three characters on screen at once, it really does feel like you’re playing with a party of six—it reminds me of Final Fantasy X, in a way.
Fun new ideas, tweaks to old systems, and a captivating new chapter in Sophie’s story all help Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream feel like a natural next step after Atelier Sophie, despite the handful of other Ateliers we’ve seen in the meantime. But more than than that, what makes Sophie 2 stand out is what has always made this series stand out: its absolute commitment to pure, unadulterated joy. That’s what you come to Atelier for, and it’s what Sophie’s latest outing delivers in spades.