Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout [REVIEW]

Released on October 29th 2019, Atelier Ryza is the newest entry in the Atelier series by Gust.The story revolves around Reisalin Stout, or as everyone knows her, Ryza, and her group of friends going an adventure in their village on the Kurken island. Ryza and her friends, Lent and Tao, follow Ryza and her usual antics trying to find a way from the island into the mainland in order to go on a childish adventure. The trio then proceeds to find an old boat and sail away to the Pixie forest in the mainland, as they explore they find a merchant’s daughter by the name of Klaudia being attacked by a monster. The trio saves the day and returns to the island until they are ambushed by an even stronger monster, luckily they are saved by an alchemist named Empel and his companion Lila.

This meeting leads Ryza to discover alchemy, Empel teaches Ryza the basics and our story begins.Atelier Ryza is a coming of age story, the story follows the main cast transitioning from their childlike adventures to them finding their calling in life. Ryza finds alchemy, while her companions each find what they want to do and in their own way try to figure out how to reach their goals.

Atelier Ryza delves into sensitive topics that have not been explored in previous entries, nor in most games. The topic of domestic abuse and bullying is very prevalent in certain characters’ stories which is very fresh and helps to understand certain characters and their struggles, and is something most games wouldn’t dare to touch, but in this case, Atelier Ryza conveys the character’s struggles relatively well. As a result the game can be very relate-able for some people and appears to be more grounded in reality. The role of the village and communal life play a large role in the world building and story of the game, as a result a certain extent of knowledge regarding Japanese culture is needed to appreciate and understand the context.

Many of you might have grown up in a small rural town or village, which can make this even more relate-able to you. Everyone in the Kurken Island has a role, such as Moritz who acts like the self appointed village chief or Peter who is the local journalist, the game makes it apparent that everyone has a role to fulfill and nothing really chances, everything is in a state of harmony and tranquility. Throughout the story we follow Ryza and her friends trying to find their way in the village as well as changing people’s perception of them, while challenging expectations or norms. It might seem obvious but a big part of the story’s focus is about growing up, things aren’t like they seemed and everything is changing, this is a message that is consistently conveyed through the game. The villagers question Ryza’s alchemy and the influence the newly arrived foreigners are having on the village and the people as expectations and norms are being challenged by the protagonists. Which is something that can be related to Japan and their modern day problems. The game really forces you as a player and the protagonists to go out of your comfort zone, exploring new things and experimenting with the unknown. Overall, compared to previous entries in the Atelier series feels very mature and very real, for those looking for a great coming of age story, this is definitely the perfect fit.

The world itself is also a highlight of the game, we start of in the island of Kurken and later explore the mainland, a dangerous place full of monsters, where children are not allowed. The game is incredibly smart at playing with world building and shaping the lore of the world. It is the player’s as well as our protagonists’ first time delving into the outside world, taking a step out of your comfort zone and be faced with a giant world, unknown and seemingly vast. We learn little by little certain facts about the world and have our expectations constantly challenged.

The player learns how the world works little by little and is something the Atelier games have always been good at, making you grow constantly through the story. The information and world building never feels forced or like an afterthought and uncovering the truth is very exciting and has you constantly intrigued. If compared to previous entries, Atelier Firis would come as close to Atelier Ryza in terms of world exploration but with improved and painless fast travel. We also explore what is referred to as the ‘Klint Kingdom’, a long lost civilization which mysteriously no one knows much about, despite Kurken Island and the mainland being surrounded by ruins of said Kingdom. Uncovering the truth behind the Kingdom becomes a main motivator for our characters and piece by piece we are able to solve this complex and intriguing puzzle.

The way alchemy is conducted in this entry is very standard, the protagonist finds a reason why they want to pursue alchemy and then their journey takes off, however the alchemy mechanic in this game is vastly different from previous entries in the game. This time around alchemy is very beginner friendly and very easy to get into. Alchemy essentially is the core of the game, it allows you to craft weapons, armor, items for healing and buffing your stats, and items for exploration and gathering materials for alchemy. You use materials you gathered to create new items and essentially build up from previous unlocked recipes. The way alchemy is handled in Atelier Ryza makes it extremely easy to craft high powered items due to a feature known as item rebuild in which you can improve previously crafted items in order to improve their potency or usefulness. With a little bit of grinding this makes the alchemy process rather redundant compared to previous games, which is good for beginners but takes away the satisfaction from crafting a really good item in previous games. Throughout my play through on normal difficulty I did not lose a single time due to the item rebuild mechanic.

Unlocking recipes is also now pretty straightforward as now there are only two ways to learn a new recipe, derive a recipe from an existing recipe or learn new recipes from books which can be purchased from in-game NPCs. One can say that this makes the Atelier experience rather bare-boned but I think it made the game more accessible to newcomers and considering Ryza is the best selling Atelier game to date this serves as a good entry for people new to the series. Alchemy in previous games could also be tedious as not crafting something or having to grind long hours just to make a good item, but with Ryza all the grind and micro management of resources is rather shortened, which depending on you might be good or bad.

The new battle system is vastly different from anything we have seen before in the Atelier games, it is in real time similar to those in the final fantasy series. The game places a heavier role on combat compared to previous games, previously you would need to craft very good items in order to defeat bosses or monsters but this time around, characters have unique skills which in certain cases are more powerful than crafted items. This new balance of combat and alchemy is very fun indeed but I can see why longtime fans would be distraught over the role of combat in the game.

The roaster of playable characters is also reduced to a select few compared to previous games, which makes the characters more meaningful and creates a deeper bond between the player and group of friends. That being said the combat really shines and is probably the best combat system implemented so far in any Atelier game, as a new layer of depth and complexity is added, timing also becomes of greater importance and battles become very satisfying when long combos are executed. Compared to previous games there would always be a select few items that would dominate the opponent but in this case most of the items crafted are of equal strength none really outshining either, meaning exploiting alchemy to succeed in battle is no longer the standard.

Gathering materials for alchemy has always been an important aspect of the Atelier series, you need good traits for good items, but this time around, gathering has been drastically changed, the tools used for gathering items are now 6, through a hammer, axe, sickle, bug net, a ‘bomb rod’, and a fishing rod. This adds a further layer of depth to a mechanic which could be seen as simple, it is incredibly fun going around with different tools and seeing what you can gather, although it might seem convoluted at first the further you go into the story the easier and funner it becomes.

Traits and effects have also been watered down as their importance due to the new combat mechanic has been diminished, there are certain side quest in which you might have to look for a certain trait or item effect but other than that, the quality of item and its traits no longer play as big of a role as they once did. Furthermore gathering materials has been incredibly eased due to the bottle mechanic introduced in late game in which you can pay by using in game gems to create farm-able areas to collect materials, which in a sense becomes the new meta as you are expected to exploit these areas to generate more gems and use those gems to improve your gear tremendously. However improving gear is tied to your alchemy level which serves as a boundary but rendered obsolete as long as you craft every recipe you can.

I personally do not think graphics are an indicator whether a game is good or not, yet Atelier Ryza’s graphics are stunning and vibrant. There is a sharp contrast between colors and the lighting used makes the game look rather dreamlike, somewhat like a distant memory, which encapsulates a bitter sweet childhood memory. The game and its environment are enhanced by the graphics and it does wonders for immersion. Cut-scenes are also used with the in-game graphics which makes the pacing and game flow better, it also has reduced loading times compared to previous games and overall feels like a visual improvement, it makes me excited for what the Atelier series could look like with the next generation of gaming, and seems somewhat inspired by the newer generation of triple A western games, which gives it a rather modern feel to it. The camera angles are also rather impressive as the stylistic choice benefits the game and improves immersion. Although comparing Atelier Ryza’s graphics to a game like CoD: MW would be silly so I would still say that it truly feels like a next generation game and rather revolutionary, it truly feels like Gust took the time and effort to make Atelier Ryza successful. There were numerous times throughout the game where I took a few moments to admire the grass and environments just to admire how far the series has come.

Although I hold the game with high regard, it would be dishonest to omit the flaws. There were many moments in Atelier Ryza were I felt frustrated or did flat out did not enjoy what was happening. As previously stated, many elements of the game such as alchemy felt rather bare-boned due to trying to appeal to new players, which is not a bad thing but compared to previous entries it felt rather lacking. Obtaining recipes was also a big part of previous entries and trying to figure out how to craft certain items was a big part of the challenge of the game, in Atelier Ryza it feels like everything is straight up handed to you without doing much. Even though the game has a very compelling story, some parts felt brushed off, for example Klaudia, there was a relative build up to her character but some things such as why she uses a flute as a weapon are unexplained which takes away from the grounded reality the game tried to build.

Certain characters also sidelined and feel forgotten about too later in the game, which was rather disappointing as I felt like I wanted to know more. The game itself is also rather short as people have beaten the game in 17 hours or less, I personally got the platinum trophy for the game in about 25-30 hours which seems about average for the newest entries in the series. The game itself was a complete cakewalk, and I only lost a battle once in the entire game, which really takes any incentive away from preparing your items consistently, which is a sharp contrast from the previous Atelier games. Most of my complaints are grounded in comparison to previous entries in the series, however this feels more like an issue as a long time fan. I do believe that people who are just getting into the Atelier series will have a great time with the game.

Without spoiling the mid-late game and story, the conclusion to the story was incredibly satisfying and left me feeling accomplished, all the hours I spent learning alchemy and learning recipes felt meaningful, the connections made to different characters felt real and when it was over I felt empty, the game is incredibly good at conveying emotion, and I felt like I along with the protagonists, had grown. There was quite a lot to take away from the story, the themes presented were as previously mentioned grounded in reality and very relate-able to not only me but to a lot of people, such as stepping out of your comfort zone and becoming independent. It definitely was one of the better coming of age stories in gaming, and one of the best Atelier games story wise. Although I was a bit disappointed at how ignored barrels were in this entry (no trophy for interacting with barrels).

I do believe Atelier Ryza was wholeheartedly a great game, and one of the best JRPGs we have gotten this generation, I am very excited for the future of the series as more people have been exposed to it thanks to Ryza’s thighs. I can see why long time fans would dislike the game, and despite its flaws the game still managed to leave a positive and lasting impression on me, I kept on thinking of this game while I was out doing things, and when I beat the game it was incredibly satisfying and delved into very interesting topics and themes. I recommend anyone who is interested in the game to pick it up when they can, as it is a great entry into the series and no prior knowledge of the series is needed to fully enjoy the game.