Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream Interview - Speaking characters, themes, challenges, and more with producer Junzo Hosoi
Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream is the fourth entry in the Mysterious sub-series of the Atelier franchise. Interestingly, it is positioned directly after the events of the original Atelier Sophie rather than after its earlier-released sequels in Atelier Firis and Atelier Lydie & Suelle.
I've had a chance to play a preview portion of the game, where I was able to get a grasp on some of the new mechanics and blended style. I was also given the opportunity to chat with Junzo Hosoi, the producer of Atelier Sophie 2, where I asked some questions about this new game, his philosophies towards the series, and more.
You can find our conversation below.
RPG Site: It’s not uncommon for Atelier protagonists to make re-appearances in later games, but now some protagonists are getting their own direct sequels, such as Sophie and Ryza. What about Sophie, as a character, led to her getting another entry?
Junzo Hosoi - Producer: The Atelier series will celebrate its 25th anniversary this year, which is something I’m really happy about. And I was thinking about what kind of game we should create to kick off this memorial year. The Atelier series is a series that has always moved forward with our fans by our side, and so we decided to revisit the reactions on social media about the games and also conducted an online popularity poll. Also after seeing how positively received it was to have a returning protagonist after Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout, we began considering a story about Sophie and Plachta.
In addition, Sophie was just getting her start as an alchemist in Atelier Sophie, became a teacher of alchemy in Atelier Firis, and grew to be an extraordinary alchemist in Atelier Lydie & Suelle. And obviously during all that growth Sophie and Plachta must have had many experiences. So we thought everyone would be surprised and enjoy seeing one of those experiences as a sequel and new game, and in the end we selected Sophie as the protagonist.
RPG Site: If it were solely up to you, who would you want to give another adventure? Maybe even a former party member or side character, rather than the main hero?
Hosoi: Maybe Hagel or Pamela.
RPG Site: One of the appealing elements of the Atelier franchise is the many scenes of cute girls (and boys) doing cute things. Is there a need to strike a balance in these friendship scenes, so some are funny & cute, and others more serious and developing the character’s story more?
Hosoi: The Atelier series was started as a "RPG that doesn't save the world", and centers around the ordinary, everyday lives of the characters and little incidents that occur. In more recent titles, the scale of these 'little incidents' has become bigger, but in the end the characters return to their daily lives. So no matter what kind of serious development we may include, its balance with these everyday lives is something I really value and am careful about.
RPG Site: Through both the side stories and the main narrative, many characters in Atelier games go through personal struggles and growth. In Ryza 2, Ryza had to learn to deal with her friends having changed, while Patty felt concerned about fitting into an established friend group. Will the cast of Sophie 2 have any similar themes that multiple characters deal with in their own ways?
Hosoi: The characters that appear in Atelier Sophie 2 each have a 'dream' they want to fulfil and end up arriving in Erde Wiege. How will these characters face their own 'dream', and what kind of effect does meeting these characters have on Sophie? Please look forward to how this is shown through the game's story!
RPG Site: Unlike Ryza 2, Sophie 2 seems to go back to a turn-based combat system. Was this decision made so that it would fit in more with the Mysterious trilogy games? Or to accommodate the different changes like the seamless transition into combat, and different party set-up?
Hosoi: The battles in Atelier Ryza 2 were created with the concept of ‘being able to experience turn-based battles that include action elements.’ I think it is a system that was well received by many players and highly praised. However, personally I didn't feel that it was necessary to go in that direction with the Mysterious series. And so I thought that we could make something that would build on and extend the good parts of the Mysterious series' turn-based battles that include strategic elements.
In addition, the battles in this game are split between the assault team (front row) and back-up team (back row) and so we've created a new feature called "Twin Actions" where when it's the front row's turn, two members from either row can perform an action together. In the party battles up until now, the player didn't have much to do other than making a selection for each turn. In this game, players can unleash Twin Actions that by using up a full gauge can instantly deal huge damage, and it gives players a chance to proactively perform actions. And from this, I think we've also been able to greatly improve the pace of battles.
RPG Site: The increase in gathering techniques has been a new trend, and this time around in specific locations there seems to be a mini-game involved as well as a weather-changing system that influences what can be gathered. Were these changes made to give players a more personal input?
Hosoi: The puzzle synthesis that is used in the Mysterious series has been well-received by many players, but in contrast we also received feedback that it was difficult. So we decided to add mini-game elements that, depending on how the game is played, make it possible to create materials required for synthesis. This gives players the freedom to decide how they want to approach gathering and synthesis, so they can choose to solve puzzles using materials collected simply through gathering, or create materials they want by playing through Major Gathering Spot mini-games.
Depending on the results from Major Gathering Spots, it is possible to create powerful equipment early on in the game, but it's not always necessary in order to clear the game. They can be played as a break from synthesis or battles, or as an attempt to be able to do more synthesis; we hope players will enjoy them in a way that matches their play style.
RPG Site: Since Erde Wiege is described as a “dream-like world”, did that create any influence to make more fantastical areas than usual? Or what else does a dream world allow you to do?
Hosoi: The theme of dreams definitely had an effect in the creation of the world. We had to determine to what extent do we incorporate 'dream-like' elements, or do we do the opposite of not incorporating them? We ultimately decided to ensure a balance between regular life and fantasy without being monotonous. And with the setting of a dream-like world, we incorporated the weather control system. In our world, if the weather unexpectedly changes many times it would be a major global crisis, but it's considered 'normal' in the dream-like world of Erde Wiege (where the game takes place in) so we were able to adopt this system.
RPG Site: Despite being an almost yearly franchise, the gathering and synthesizing systems seem to change quite frequently between Atelier games. For example, in this game both Sophie and Plachta have been shown to do synthesis. Is this a process of gaining new ideas each time, or trying other approaches that have been brought up in the past?
Hosoi: The system where Sophie and Plachta both do synthesis was decided upon right after we decided to include the younger Plachta. By having both Sophie and Plachta able to do synthesis, we thought that players will be able to experience the growth and relationship between these characters. As for the development of this, we referenced games from the Dusk series: Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky and Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea.
RPG Site: Are there any particular challenges from working on a series that seems to produce a game nearly every year?
Hosoi: Compared to other titles, the development period of the Atelier series is short, so any major system changes or improvements need to be carefully plotted out in our development plan. And because of this situation, as we work on current projects all of us in the dev team are constantly thinking about what are the themes for titles a year or two years ahead, and how to respond to players’ needs.
RPG Site: How do you hope Atelier Sophie 2 can appeal to both long-time fans and newcomers? Do you have to play Atelier Sophie first?
A: We have prepared an Atelier Sophie digest video so that newcomers or players who want to refresh their memory can understand the general story. If newcomers have the chance to play the previous game that would be great, but if they watch this video they can enjoy Atelier Sophie 2 without having played the first game. Also, this game is close to an 'episode zero' and shows a story that becomes the origin of the Mysterious series. All the characters you meet in the game are all being met for the first time, so there is no problem of not having any previous knowledge of the game.
RPG Site: Thank you for your time!
Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream is set to release on February 24 in Japan and February 25 in North America & Europe for PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC.