2019 has been a very interesting year for Gust as not only has the developer released three Atelier games this year in the form of Atelier Lulua that continued the Arland storyline a bit and the spin-off Nelke and the Legendary Alchemists, but also the third game that has perhaps garnered the most attention of any of their previous Atelier games, Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and the Secret Hideout. This attention came primarily due to the developer taking a different approach to a main character both in attitude and design as the Reisalin Stout, better known as Ryza, brought with her a new attitude and some rather eye catching features. So now that this entry in the series has been released, is the game worth the attention that Ryza managed to pull in?
Life in the country can be a boring one for someone with an adventurous spirit and when a young girl grows up and spends nearly her entire life taking care of a farm on a small remote island, it creates a girl longing for adventure and a rather tomboyish attitude. Such is the case with Reisalin Stout, better known around the island as Ryza, who dreams of adventure with her two childhood friends Lent and Tao. One day while hanging out and shirking her duties on the farm, Ryza and her friends take an abandoned boat to the mainland to try to spice things up and while venturing into an area where monsters reside may be adventurous enough for some, this trio isn’t prepared to let a few monsters get in their way.
This continues to be the case when they hear a girl named Klaudia in distress and save her from monsters. Seeking to protect their new friend, the group tries to return home only to find themselves needing rescuing from an even stronger creature. Only with the help of a passing alchemist named Empel and his mysterious companion Lila does the group manage to survive but this encounter sparks a new passion in Ryza. One for alchemy. With Klaudia staying in town with her father’s business, and Empel wanting to research mysterious ruins that Tao appears to have undeciphered books of, Ryza finds her world opening up as her skills as an alchemist continue to grow, and even Lent begins to learn from being trained by Lila.
Generally the Atelier series takes a slower approach to storytelling by focusing on the characters and their own journey and Atelier Ryza takes an even more close approach than normal as most initial problems simply fall into dealing with bullies or troubles within the family. Not only do players find Ryza just when she learns about alchemy and her own potential rather than already being well-versed in the craft but we also find a whole collection of characters looking to grow in their own ways. Ryza’s close friends and even the new ones she just met make for a great cast of characters and, although the specific character stories themselves are unfortunately separated from the standard release this time, they are still given plenty of time to shine and grow throughout the core storyline alongside Ryza.
There are also a few times the game can be a bit vague on progression, relying on an ever updating diary to point the way at times. This does mean that things can be a bit slow going, especially in this case as Ryza’s freshness to the world of alchemy and most of the world in general, but this slow start does settle into a solid storyline filled with charming characters led by Ryza who is probably one of the best protagonists the series has seen since Rorona.
Similar to past releases in the Atelier franchise, Atelier Ryza has made a number of changes to the three core mechanics in the game, with one undergoing a rather drastic change. These happen to be resource gathering, crafting items in Ryza’s atelier, and fighting against enemies and this last one is the one that has changed the most. It is worth mentioning for those who haven’t been around for recent entries, there is no time limit for story progression though passage of time does happen while exploring, fighting, and crafting items.
Players will find that rather than using a standard turn-based combat system this release has changed combat to focus entirely around another style best known as Active Time Battle (ATB). This means that the player’s party and the enemies will all take actions immediately when their turn arrives while combat continues on and if the player isn’t ready yet, their character will be left standing still until an action is taken while combat moves around them. This also means that players will also only have the option of directly controlling one character at a time in a fight, though it is possible to issue Action Orders eventually to tell your party to use certain attacks.
Another unique facet to the combat system is the usage of AP as both a method of using skills and powering up the party as a whole. AP is earned every time an attack is used and using skills with a character expends some of this AP but if the player manages to fill up their AP gauge it can instead be used to boost the party’s total basic combo chain and skill casting level. These various elements plus a few more such as being able to execute immediate attacks or skills if the player is in a pinch makes the fights in Atelier Ryza a faster paced affair that takes some time to get used to and more difficult as a result. This is by no means a bad thing as it helps keep players engaged in the action and, if things do end up being too difficult, there are a variety of difficulties to choose from.
When not in combat players will be spending the rest of their time exploring a lush and varied world where they can gather up various materials to bring back to Ryza’s room and craft together with her alchemy skills. Players will be able to gather various materials from a number of different places and similar to more recent games the usage of certain gathering tools will result in different materials depending on the location. Once the materials are gathered players will find that once again the item crafting system has been given an overhaul and although things may seem a bit more complicated at first glance, it is perhaps the most streamlined it has ever been to the point that players can even auto-fill the necessary ingredients if they don’t care too much about the quality or special effects the item will end up with. Of course, adding ingredients yourself allows for the better adjustment of elemental types, traits, and a higher quality of produced item but the option for streamlining things for newer players is a nice choice.
Alongside these standard features players will find that Atelier Ryza has a number of little extra features that have expanded a bit on the game. First is the fact that side-quests that used to simply be gathered up in one visit to the inn/tavern now have a more personal feeling to them as players will receive them from other people in Ryza’s village while the second is the ability to customize Ryza and friends’ little hideout with a variety of different furnishings, and finally the eventual option to “Rebuild” items that you have already created and strengthen them with new materials, perhaps pushing them to a higher level of quality or applying new traits in the process.
Visuals & Audio
Gust has taken a slightly different approach to the way the world in Atelier Ryza is designed and it is for the better as the environments the player explore are quite vibrant and lush with things to see while the character designs themselves remain as strong as ever. Combat animations are fluid though keeping track of some of the more flashier skills can be a bit difficult at times with every character fighting at the same time with the exception of larger finishing style skills that do pause battle for a cinematic. It is worth noting that while the character models and designs are improved, there does seem to be an unusually high amount of clipping at times so be prepared to see a few odd scenes where pieces of clothing or a weapon is clipping through a character.
Once again Koei Tecmo has chosen to release Atelier Ryza without an English dub of any kind and while the Japanese voice cast is great here, with Ryza’s voice actress really nailing her personality, it would be nice to hear an English cast again especially since combat dialogue is not subtitled in any way. As far as the soundtrack goes there are a number of great tracks mixed throughout the game with a few pieces of background music really standing out.
With the number of changes that Gust has made with Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and the Secret Hideout it feels like the developer is trying to reach out to those who may never have played an entry in the series before and thankfully they’ve managed to pull that off without actually hurting the game for longtime fans in the process. With a faster paced combat system that helps make fights more engaging and an alchemy system that longtime fans will still find plenty of depth in, Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and the Secret Hideout manages to tell a great story that even newcomers will be able to appreciate.