Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and the Secret Hideout Review
Developed by Gust Co. Ltd. Published by Koei Tecmo Reviewed on PlayStation 4 (also available on Nintendo Switch and Steam)
With Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists and Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland, the Atelier roleplaying franchise has really made a splash in 2019. Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and the Secret Hideout retains the series’ hallmark features such as compelling tunes, a laid-back character-driven narrative, and alchemy-driven progression. However, it also showcases the series’ visual and mechanical evolution to new heights. Ryza and her friends traverse grandiose environments that are intricate and vibrantly lit, and exploring such vast interconnected spaces is a breathtaking experience. Furthermore, the brand new alchemy system and battle mechanics are exciting and provide plenty of meaningful choices. Atelier Ryza is a wonderful entry point for series newcomers, but even those who have extensively played earlier games will thoroughly enjoy what this game has to offer.
The game is a coming-of-age story that follows the adventures of Ryza, who wants to go on an adventure by leaving her life-long island home. Her family maintains a humble farm, but she tires of her ordinary circumstances. She sneaks off with her friends Lent and Tao by taking a boat offshore, but her life quickly changes when a mysterious figure introduces her to the ways of alchemy. She soon becomes enamored with the craft, and she pursues ways to help her friends and her fellow townspeople. However, she must soon work together with her friends and use her alchemic abilities to defeat encroaching dark forces.
Atelier Ryza fundamentally involves fulfilling goals that include exploring maps, crafting certain items, helping townsfolk, and more. The game clearly displays goals via extensive instructions and designated points on the map. Atelier Ryza continues the series’ recent trends of not having a time limit so that players can progress and explore freely at their own pace. Every map is quite expansive, which makes traveling quite enjoyable. Rather than having a home base and traveling to isolated gathering points via a world map, players can freely gather materials everywhere and walk to new areas. The experience therefore feels much more interconnected than ever before. While the game follows a familiar flow of traveling, gathering ingredients, battling, and creating items, the map design leads to a more enjoyable and enthralling experience.
The battle system is a bit more tactical this time around. Unlike earlier games that featured turn-based systems, Atelier Ryza’s combat takes place in real-time. Players control one character at a time as the other two are automatically controlled. Performing attacks builds action points, which can be consumed for skills or for increasing the Tactics level. A greater level boosts the party’s proficiency in combat for that particular fight. Players can also fulfill mid-fight conditions that lead to additional attacks, which can give even more of a combat advantage. The action-based flow feels natural and empowering as players unleash a flurry of attacks.
Furthermore, the game handles battle items in a completely new way. Rather than having the alchemist throw items from a bag, every character can slot items into their weapons. Using an item will consume some of the entire party’s core charges, which replenish when players return to home base. However, players can also temporarily sacrifice an item in order to regain their charges. The system is therefore more organic and gives players a bit more freedom with how they choose to use their resources.
Alchemy occurs via a refreshing new format that provides plenty of opportunities to explore without being overwhelming. Rather than simply picking from a list of required ingredients, each item involves progressing along connected nodes. Placing ingredients allows players to move to the next node just like a skill tree. Reaching certain nodes will boost effects, bestow traits, and even lead to new recipes altogether. As each ingredient represents fire, ice, lightning, or wind, fulfilling certain element quotas can often lead to different nodes. Since players can insert a limited number of ingredients per synthesis, they often have to decide which branch to pursue. The catch is that players can even enhance items with additional resources, which leads to further fulfilling customization.
One of the series’ most notable aspects is its emphasis on character interaction. Right off the get-go, we can easily tell that Ryza, Lent, and Tao each have their own motivations and distinct personalities. Although these three characters have fairly straightforward and familiar personalities, the way they bicker and support each other is charming. Ryza’s aspirations feel relatable as she seeks to prove herself to her family, mentor, friends, and nearby townspeople. While her sheer sense of recklessness often comes in conflict with those around her, the way she resolves problems and even gains companions with the power of alchemy is entertaining.
The series is also known for its incredibly well-built audio-visual experiences, and this game is no exception. The environments are extremely well-lit, and they often appear luminescent even at different times of the day. With so many props and pieces packed into each area, I often walked around buildings because I wanted to see how everything fit together. Ryza and the other playable characters are a bit more plain compared to those of prior games, but they are nonetheless expressive and pack plenty of details. The tunes are also laid-back and soothing, and they really set a relaxing tone as players create items and travel across town. The game’s Japanese voice acting’s exuberance and upbeat nature is entertaining and helps the characters feel distinct.
Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and the Secret Hideout is a bold new entry in the Atelier franchise. Its intricate well-built areas and brand new battle and alchemy mechanics are a joy to behold. Anyone can jump into the game and have a good time, especially since it is not connected to any other prior subseries. Other new ideas such as customizing a Secret Hideout help differentiate Atelier Ryza from its predecessors. Atelier Ryza embraces the series’ laid-back roleplaying nature yet still feels fresh, and we eagerly anticipate how the series evolves in the future.