Title (JP): Ryza no Atelier: Tokoyami no Joou to Himitsu no Kakurega (ライザのアトリエ 常闇の女王と秘密の隠れ家)
Title (NA): Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout
Platform: PS4, Switch, PC
Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games
Release date: 26 September 2019 (JP), 29 October 2019 (NA), 1 November 2019 (EU)
This review was written based on the Japanese release of the game, and may not reflect changes made to versions released in other regions.
Atelier Ryza is the 21st game (excluding re-releases, ports, etc.) in Gust’s long-running Atelier series in almost just as many years, and the second to release in 2019 after Atelier Lulua.
The new art style and setting, as well as the participation of writer Takahashi Yashichirou (Shakugan no Shana) drew attention to the game before release, which resulted in it being one of the winners in the Japan Game Awards 2019’s future division and selling 150,000 copies in its first week in Japan, setting a new record for the series and reaching nearly twice the first week sales of previous record-setter Atelier Meruru.
The game begins with the titular protagonist Ryza. Born and raised in a small insular lake island town filled with rules about things not to do as a farmer’s daughter, Ryza dreams of leaving the island and making something more of her life. She soon finds herself at a turning point after she and her friends venture out of the island and meet some people from outside, one of whom is an alchemist named Empel. Dazzled by his alchemy, she decides to learn it from him.
The story of the game mainly depicts youths and their dreams being pitted against an insular, exclusionary and old-fashioned community where everything is done the way it always has been, drawing heavily from real problems in small Japanese towns and villages where the younger and more liberal-minded are prone to leaving for the bigger cities resulting in communities growing more reclusive. Indeed, much of the buzz about the game in Japan post-release focused on what many perceived as an accurate portrayal of country life.
On the gameplay side of things, almost everything has been revamped, with entirely new battle and alchemy systems. The new battle system is particularly noteworthy: Aside from certain special actions, battles are entirely in realtime, which results in frantic and fast-paced combat the likes of which have never been seen before in the series, with the player taking control of one character while the other two party members are automated.
Spots for collecting ingredients can be influenced on the tool used for collection (with new tools made via synthesis): For example, hitting a tree with Ryza’s staff will result in collecting fruit while using an axe wield yield wood, and using a sickle on a bush would result in obtaining herbs while using a net would result in catching insects.
Synthesization now has each recipe have its own grid, with the player distributing ingredients throughout nodes in order to get effects and unlock new nodes. Many new recipes are also learned through unlocking nodes in recipes the player already knows. There are also other new features such as the “travel bottle” system, where the player sacrifices an item to generate a small area with its own ingredients and enemies.
Possibly as a way to balance the fast pace of the battle system, the player is given less chances to use items in battle than usual: Each of the three party members can equip up to three items, and any character using an item draws from a shared 10 point cost pool, with most low tier items using 1-2 points and high tier items using 3-4 points, and any one item can be sacrificed until the player next rests to restore the point pool to 10.
Seemingly due to the changes to how items work in battle, item synthesization is simplified to some degree: Unlocking and levelling nodes will add pre-determined effects to items, but there is far less room for experimenting with effects attached to ingredients. Additionally, the game later gives the player the ability to go back into an item and continue adding more ingredients to its grid, with the only limitation being that its level can only go up to the player’s.
The graphics in Atelier Ryza are massively improved over previous releases, and the sound design is spot-on as well (Japanese players noted the distinct cry of the oriental turtle dove, which is proliferant in the Japanese countryside). The soundtrack too is of overall high quality and has a few particularly outstanding tracks, like the battle theme Kokuu, Mugi no Kaze.
It should be noted that Ryza is particularly short game, with this reviewer taking only a little over 20 hours to clear Ryza’s main story with some (but not all) sidequests and decent amounts of experimenting with alchemy included. Additionally, while this may be on par with some other Atelier series games, those games had multiple endings to encourage multiple playthroughs, while Ryza has only one.
Atelier Ryza is a short and sweet RPG, ideal for players who are not used to RPGs, or want to try out an Atelier game for the first time. People who are interested in the setting will also not be disappointed. Series fans, however, might find the experience to be somewhat lacking due to its short length and simpler synthesis system.
The Good: Great setting and fun fast-paced battles.
The Bad: Somewhat short, and while the new synthesis system is good for new players, series fans might find it a bit shallow.
Conclusion: Atelier Ryza is a perfect starting point for anyone wanting to get into the Atelier series, or even just RPGs in general.