Atelier Sophie 2 producer interview – a “modern Atelier game,” reinvented after the Ryza series

Written by. Ari Clark based on the original Japanese article (original article’s publication date: 2021-11-19 12:00 JST)

Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream will be released by Koei Tecmo Games on February 25, 2022. The game will once again feature Sophie, the protagonist of Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book, who’s an especially popular character within the Atelier franchise. After having left her hometown of Kirchen Bell to continue her journey, a new adventure will unfold for Sophie in the dream-like world of Erde Wiege.

This article will cover part of the contents of an interview with Gust executive officer and Atelier Sophie 2 producer Junzo Hosoi, which ran in the Japanese edition of AUTOMATON.

The demand to play both games back-to-back

First, when we asked Hosoi about the fan response to the announcement of Atelier Sophie 2, he said that although there were some comments asking why they weren’t doing a new Ryza game, reactions were mostly positive.

There were also apparently some extended sales of copies of the DX editions of the Mysterious series* after the announcement. The same phenomenon also occurred when the second game in the Secret series**, Atelier Ryza 2, was announced, and Hosoi said that it “reminded us once again that there’s a certain demand to play the first and second games back-to-back”.

*: This designation includes the games Atelier Sophie, Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey, Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings, and Atelier Sophie 2.

**: This designation includes the games Atelier Ryza and Atelier Ryza 2.

Definite changes in the user base before and after the Atelier Ryza series

Ever since Atelier Ryza, the user base for the series as a whole has been expanding. Aside from the extended sales numbers for games in the series, there seems to have been an intense boom of reactions whenever information about the games is posted to social media. Hosoi had this to say about the primary factor(s) in the growth of the user base:

“When it comes to a series, I think if you just keep piling on more games, you can end up in a rut, and that sense of fresh appeal among your users can start to fade away. Once you’ve lost that sense of freshness like that, I think your games can end up being seen as lifeless content, and being forgotten. Even if our team has the best intentions of always making the Atelier series feel fresh and lively, if our users don’t get a sense of that liveliness from our content, they’ll forget about it, and we’ll end up in a situation where it’ll be hard to attract new players, too.

The Atelier series has definitely ended up in a situation like that before, but as a result of reworking our systems and gameplay for Atelier Ryza in hopes of bringing back that spark of life, I think we were able to not just remind our former players why they’d liked the Atelier games in the first place, but also create an opportunity to bring in new players for the first time who had never encountered the Atelier series before.”

Why did they make Sophie the protagonist again?

The reason for making another game with Sophie as the protagonist was that, with the Atelier series approaching its 25th anniversary next year, they were thinking that they wanted to bring some new surprises to the users, while also demonstrating how expandable the series can be. They also wanted to create content that would be cherished by its users, and after taking a comprehensive look at popularity contests and reactions on social media, Sophie was selected as a character especially beloved by fans of the series. The positive reception for the “returning protagonist” in Atelier Ryza 2 also seems to have encouraged this decision.

“We did get some comments from within the company asking, ‘Why bring Sophie back now?’, but even so, we ourselves really felt the necessity of making Atelier Sophie 2. That was because, ever since Atelier Ryza, we’d heard a lot of positive opinions about the Atelier series, but at the same time, there were also some claims that we were neglecting the users who had always loved the Atelier series, in favor of attracting new users. We wanted them to know that it wasn’t like that at all, that we’d never stopped paying attention to the voices of all of our users, and that we were only able to continue making the Atelier series thanks to the support we received from all our fans, so we wanted to do something to clearly communicate that once more to all the fans of the Atelier series.”

The reason why the newest game is set chronologically before Atelier Firis

Sophie, the alchemist who made her running start in Atelier Sophie, becomes an alchemy teacher in Atelier Firis, and appears in Atelier Lydie & Suelle after having evidently grown a lot.

This raises the question of what exactly happened in the time between Atelier Sophie and Atelier Firis. Atelier Sophie 2’s chronological order has been chosen out of a desire to properly fill in the details for the part of Sophie’s story that would explain how she managed to grow so much. In addition, they were also apparently thinking about how they wanted to dig more deeply into the story of what inspired Sophie to start learning alchemy, as well as more about Plachta.

Making updated versions of the “modern Atelier games”

Next, we asked Hosoi what was most on his mind when he returned to work on the Mysterious series for Atelier Sophie 2, after having worked on the Secret series.

According to him, it was incorporating the techniques he’d cultivated in the Secret series, while still making a game that comprehensively incorporated the essence of the “modern Atelier games” – creative fantasy worldbuilding, combined with a warm and welcoming world and cast of characters.

: Hosoi classifies the games that have followed since Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland, the titles in which illustrator Mel Kishida oversaw the character design, as the “modern Atelier games”

The Secret series placed a lot of importance on liveliness and a sense of freshness, and it incorporated a lot of elements that had been avoided in the series until then. As far as Atelier games go, it felt like a whole different series.

On the other hand, for Atelier Sophie 2, the team challenged themselves with the intention of “creating an updated version of a ‘modern Atelier game’.” Apparently, the idea was, “As part of the process of inspecting, fixing, and updating things overall, let’s re-examine each and every element, one more time, and look at why it became obsolete and why it was interesting in the first place.”

They also did a lot of grappling with how to make the game more enjoyable. “I thought that good pacing is important for turn-based battles, so I designed a principle of drastically reducing stress, and went for a seamless transition from the field to battles. Aside from that, since there’s a tendency to end up watching the same cutscenes over and over in battle, I also put in a fast-forward mode.”

Battle concepts

According to Hosoi, he aimed for battles that would – at minimum – be easy to understand, and have a good, strong core. In addition to making it easy to understand the necessary timing for dealing a lot of damage all at once, he sought to make the basics of the game easy to understand and to establish good pacing, while also majorly reducing stress. “If the strategy and tactics get too complicated, it’s entirely possible that some elements will just stress out the players instead, so I was extremely careful to pay attention to that balance while I was creating the game.”

Sophie’s standing

As the protagonist of the game, Sophie will become a character in a position to lead those around her. As far as the post-Atelier Sophie story goes, she’s reached a high level of synthesis skill and can manage plenty of alchemy as well, but apparently “she’s still immature in many ways, personality-wise, and we show you her insecurities as well”.

The reason why your alchemy level carries over from Atelier Sophie

In Atelier Ryza 2, the game was formatted such that you mainly learned synthesis recipes from the skill tree. All the recipes that Ryza should have learned in Atelier Ryza had to be relearned all over again in Atelier Ryza 2.

There was apparently a lot of dissatisfaction expressed by users who felt strange about it, and after taking it into consideration, Sophie’s alchemy level in Atelier Sophie 2 was set high from the beginning. “Still, there were some really challenging aspects to the level design when it came to unlocking recipes and allocating items, due to starting the game at an already-high level.”

The reason for re-adopting the “recipe ideas” system

The recipe related systems in the Mysterious series were favorably received, and the team wanted to try and keep the basic elements of them. They also wanted to prominently feature the fun of gathering in this game, and they believed that the recipe ideas system would be essential for that. Note that the concept of gathering differs between the Secret series and the Mysterious series:

“In the Secret series, depending on which gathering tool you’ve switched to using, you could focus on actively gathering one particular ingredient to a certain extent, minimizing the cost of gathering as much as possible. In Atelier Sophie 2, in what you might call the reverse of this approach, we’re making it so that the game cycles through a gameplay loop of gathering as many different new ingredients as you can, so that you can unlock new recipes as well.”

Points of the gathering system that were improved

The aforementioned seamless transitions between the field and battle were apparently also intended to improve the pacing of gathering. In the Atelier series, you have a lot of opportunities to walk around the field gathering items, and if you get stuck on the loading screen every time there’s a battle, it can cause a lot of stress for the player.

Also, it’s set up so that you can gather items from a gathering point with a single button push without the compulsory switching between gathering tools. They’ve also put together new minigame-like elements to make gathering more enjoyable.

Differences between synthesizing with Plachta and synthesizing with Sophie

There are three types of recipes: Sophie’s personal recipes, Plachta’s personal recipes, and recipes they both share. There don’t seem to be any major differences between their synthesis abilities aside from their recipe repertoires.

“Since there are some items in the personal recipes that are scenario-dependent, I recommend finding a good balance between the two of them when doing synthesis, and raising both of their alchemy levels, but I think you should start out by having fun synthesizing with the character you prefer.”

Alette’s character concept

Alette is a cheerful, mercenary-minded character, and the first person Sophie encounters in the dream like-world of Erde Wiege. “She’s brimming with curiosity, so she has a strong interest in Sophie herself, as well, and she figures she might be able to score something good out of going on an adventure with her, which is how she ends up joining the party.”

Olias’ character concept

The concept for Olias is that he’s a reliable sort of guy who provides support to Sophie in a big-brotherly role. “He’s very thoughtful of others, but he also has a lot of confidence and thinks pretty highly of himself, so he can act kind of self-centered at times, as well.”

Memorable comments sent from users

We asked if there was anything unexpected or especially memorable among the comments he’d been sent from users. According to Hosoi, he received some comments to the effect that “the story of the Mysterious series seemed like it was all wrapped up, so why get back into it again?” As the developer, he says he’d been expecting to receive comments like that. With regards to that point, he explained, “We hope you’ll be able to appreciate what we wanted to do with it and the story we wanted to write, by playing the game.”

Earnestly consulting the opinions of critical fans as well

Throughout this interview, we got the impression that Hosoi had earnestly taken the opinions of more critical fans into account as well. Hosoi thinks that both critical and positive opinions are proof that fans are interested in the game.

He also said, “I think the worst thing of all, for us, would be to end up in an apathetic situation, where our users have completely lost interest. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than apathy. If we’re being criticized, that at least means that users are looking up information about us, and that they’re interested in something we’re doing.”

Hosoi went on to say, “Critical opinions and positive opinions are both absolutely indispensable in helping us make a game that can be enjoyed by as many people as possible, and we aim to face the opinions of all of our users, thoroughly digest them, and make the best games that we possibly can. And that’s also a part of our company culture, here at Gust.”

What makes an Atelier game feel like part of the series?

There are a lot of things that change with each game in the Atelier series, from the system to the characters. Among all these changes, what is the common thread that runs through all the Atelier games?

All the members of the team have their own differing mental images of what makes an Atelier game feel like part of the series, and after a lot of ongoing conflict with people claiming, “We can’t do this, it’s going too far,” or “Shouldn’t it be all right if we do this much?”, Hosoi thinks they’ve managed to produce something that feels like a true Atelier game.

“It’s hard to get it across in concrete terms, since it’s an abstract concept, but there are some really fundamental aspects, like a world that feels warm and welcoming, or killing people being off-limits. Still, I don’t think it’s fair to say that you can just suddenly produce an Atelier game that feels like part of the Atelier series as long as you abide by those rules.

Really, I think you have to take the culture and abstract images being produced by the whole development team, and factor in the discussions that the members of the team are having while you’re making each title and everything that’s been passed down, as well as all the comments and requests you’ve received from everyone, and once you’ve made something that fits that moment in time and its demands, the result is that unique Atelier feeling, which is the cornerstone of the Gust brand.”

Atelier Sophie 2 is scheduled for release on February 25, 2022, as the “opening title” of the series’ 25th anniversary celebration. When we asked Hosoi if calling it the “opening title” means that we should expect more fun content to come, the reply we got was, “Please do!”

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* The screenshots embedded in this article were taken from the PlayStation© 4 version currently in development.

Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream official website