Gust's series of lighthearted JRPGs may not be popular in the west but this latest installment definitely proves that it should be.
I've been playing Atelier games for quite a long time and find that it's one of the most underrated franchises in all of gaming. Each installment takes risks which is something that can't be said for a lot of games in the genre. Sometimes, these risks are huge such as how Atelier Firis offers an open-world experience while other entries play it a bit safer like the recent Atelier Lulua.
With all of that being said, Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout may be the biggest departure for the series so far yet it feels like it belongs perfectly with its gorgeous game world, lovely cast of characters, heartwarming story themes, and awesome orchestral soundtrack. So, allow me to explain what makes it so different and why I, as a huge Atelier fan, enjoy it as much as I do.
Before diving into the gameplay, I'll describe Atelier Ryza's premise and characters. Reisalin Stout (AKA Ryza) lives on a small farm with her parents which is located on an isolated island. There aren't many folks her age so she's good friends with a couple of chaps named Lent and Tao. Lent is a muscular fellow who aspires to be a warrior while Tao is a little nerdy guy who desperately wants to decipher his family's collection of books. As a result, Ryza is a tomboy who knows what she wants and goes to great lengths to achieve her goals. Namely, she wants to go on an epic adventure so she hatches a plan to evade her parents and explore the continent.
Shortly into the tale, Ryza meets a girl her age (Klaudia) who she is delighted by and the gang eventually meet many more friends like the warrior Lila who trains with Lent and is friends with Empel who assists Tao in his geeky endeavours. The 2 of them also introduce Ryza to alchemy and needless to say, she has quite a knack for it. Overall, the cast of characters is phenomenal and I find them to be the most likeable and relatable chums in any Atelier game. Plus, their world is magical, beautiful, and a wondrous place to explore.
Of course, Atelier Ryza wouldn't be much of an Atelier game if it didn't feature alchemy. Let me just say that the synthesis system here is the most rewarding and intricate one so far. First of all, it can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be and by that, I mean that you can just throw stuff in the cauldron and make items or carefully plan how to craft the best version of the item that you can. The system itself takes place on recipe diagrams which consist of connected nodes. Each node represents an ingredient or item type and it's your job to fulfill these nodes as well as place multiple items on each node to make them more potent until you use up the amount of required items. On top of all that, some nodes result in brand new recipes so once you fill those in, you can begin crafting all new item types. I won't get too in-depth because this is merely a review but let me just say, the possibilities are mind-blowing.
The other major change is the battle system which is much more action-packed and surprisingly challenging. For starters, battles occur in real time so you must issue commands rapidly unless you use a Quick Action which stops time and allows you to get in an extra move. Keep in mind that you only control 1 character at a time and can cycle through your party of 3 whenever you wish. Anyway, as you fight, you'll earn AP which can be used for skills and once you reach certain thresholds, you can cash them in to increase your Tactics level which lets characters attack multiple times in a row. There are many more factors to consider such as your enemy's weaknesses and stun gauge as well as your Core Charge which depletes whenever you use an item. Heck, you can even toggle your teammates between passive mode and aggressive mode as you wish. Overall, it's one engaging system that makes every fight exciting.
Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout features so many gameplay mechanics and systems that it's absurd. I mean that in the best of ways, of course. As you progress through the campaign, you'll find yourself utilizing a wide variety of gathering tools like fishing rods, bug nets, and even a scythe. You'll also earn the ability to fast travel to any previously visited location which shaves loads of time off traversal. There are a ton of quests to master, too, which come in a few varieties such as story-related ones, requests from townsfolk, and party-based ones which act like achievements. Additionally, you can alter the way your hideout looks, reinforce weapons at your forge, manage a garden, and use a thing called a Gathering Synthesizer to generate distinct locations that may contain special items to add to your collection and monsters to fight. See? I told you that the amount of content in Atelier Ryza is absurd!
I honestly don't have much negative to say about this masterpiece of a JRPG but I do have a couple of complaints. The first is that I wish it had English voice acting. I understand that voicing a huge game such as this is a substantial endeavour but surely, Koei Tecmo has the resources to invest in that. I mean, Idea Factory always adds English voices to their games and I'm certain that Koei Tecmo is a bigger company than they are. Anyway, my only other complaint is that some information is needlessly difficult to find or is blatantly obscured. For example, when you have to meet a character but they're not in their usual spot and the waypoint isn't pointing to them, it can get super-annoying although that doesn't happen often. Also, you have to really dig through the menus to find where unattained items that you need are located. Considering these are the only complaints that I have, you can trust that this is a top-notch game.
With so many JRPGs remaining stagnant or trying to appeal to the masses, Atelier Ryza stands tall amongst its peers as a truly amazing experience. Whether you're a fan of the series or just a JRPG enthusiast, you need to play this masterpiece.
- + Incredibly innovative and rewarding new battle and alchemy systems
- + Beautiful world and charming characters
- + Copious variety of content to master
- - Lacks English voice acting
- - Some information can be unclear