The Atelier series has been around quite a while, with the first entry, Atelier Marie: The Alchemist of Salburg, first releasing on the original Playstation in Japan in 1997. The games, always revolving around alchemy as a base mechanic, are classically styled, yet light-hearted JRPGs featuring turn based combat and a stories that often fall into the sillier side of things. I’ve been an on-again-off-again fan of the series since it first hit the PlayStation 2, and it was great fun to revisit the series in Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout.
While we didn’t review Ryza when it came out in late 2019, we thought revisiting now it was timely, as the sequel, Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & The Secret Fairy, drops in North America on January 26, 2021, and it’s never been a better time to dive into this engaging series!
Atelier Ryza follows the exploits of Ryza, a young woman who desires nothing else than to explore the world beyond her town, and yearns for adventure, for something more. She’s joined by a few friends for the journey, and while they are all pretty stereotypical archetype caricatures, it’s refreshing to play an RPG where the entirety of the world/existence isn’t hanging in the balance of the story. It’s more character driven, or rather, character focused, and I really enjoyed getting to know the ragtag heroes during the course of the game.
This is the 21st entry in the main Atelier series, and the first in the “Ryza” subseries. There are also a mess of side games across a lot of platforms, so if you like what you see here, there’s a lot more to explore. Atelier Ryza has sold more than 500k copies, making it the best-selling game in the franchise so far!
Of note, I also really enjoyed Ryza as a character. In the past, the protagonists in the series have leaned more towards the blank-slate type of avatar, best embodied by Link in the Legend of Zelda franchise. Getting to know Ryza over the course of the game was really fun, and it really enhanced the experience for me.
Ryza introduces several major overhauls to the systems traditionally in place for the series, notably giving options in how alchemy is performed. The new web-system is very visual and quick to grasp for both veterans and newcomers, and the game now gives you the much-needed option of simply selecting an auto option after collecting materials. This action will generate the best possible items based on your inventory and really lowers the entry point to a favorable level. There’s a lot to like here, but due to the series’ crafting mechanisms traditionally being quite complex, it sometimes was seen as an intimidating point in past entries.
The combat has also received an engaging overhaul, adding a real-time element to the turn-based battles. It’s very dynamic, but not so frantic that it loses its vibrancy by adding stress. You control Ryza by default, but can swap to her errant companions as you like, to enable combos and get a different perspective on things throughout the game.
There’s adjustable difficulty as well, if you’re just here for the story, and combined with the auto-alchemy option, really shows why this entry in the series found acclaim across a wider audience than usual. Even though I’ve been a fan of the series for a long time, I find these additions extremely welcome and smart. Some of my favorite games are traditional 16-bit JRPGs, but I also appreciate how a genre can evolve, and, do it in interesting and innovative ways.
GRAPHICS & MUSIC
The world of Ryza, while not ridiculously immense or epic, is a gorgeous expanse, rendered beautifully in 3D, while still retaining a lot of stylization and fantasy aesthetic. For me, it evokes the vibe of Dragon Warrior, while applying a slightly-more-anime visual filter over top of everything. The result is charming, and I spent the entire game wondering what would be around the next corner… A new rival? A mysterious cave? The possibilities were vast, drew me in, and never disappointed.
The character models are a bit exaggerated, in that same vein, but it’s not really a Dead or Alive situation here, and it doesn’t detract from the game. At many points, I felt like I was playing an anime feature, and while that’s not something that’s usually a part of a JRPG in my mind, it was a more than pleasant experience.
Finally, music… it’s fantastic.. The main themes are catchy, fun, and memorable. The piano-filled score solidly reinforces the light and vibrant tone of the game and, in a move that is extremely rare for me, I actually found myself hunting down the soundtrack to listen to outside of play sessions. It really gave life and movement to the world and story, and is a real highlight.
Overall, Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & The Secret Hideout is one of my favorite RPGs that I’ve played in years. It’s fun, a little silly, still tense at times, and the systems are as deep you’d like them to be. You want just the story, you’ve got it! You want to dive into some alchemy at a deep level? Also there. Wrap that in the engaging combat system, gorgeous visuals, and catchy music, and you’ve got the whole package. If you’re an RPG fan, this is a must buy… AND there’s an anticipated sequel right in the wings next week. It’s the ideal time to check out this wonderful series, whether you are revisiting it from an older generation or a first experience. Let’s go on an adventure!
Charlie’s first attempts at gaming did not go well. Repeated, failed run-ins with the first Goomba in Super Mario Brothers 1 plagued his maiden gaming voyage. Undaunted, he would go on to become an avid gamer of all platforms, with Nintendo always sitting atop the highest pedestal. Except for that Halo 3 incident in 2007. We don’t talk about it. It never happened.
Currently, Charlie enjoys playing games on as many platforms as he can get his hands on, with current favorites being the Switch, 3DS and Neo Geo. When he’s not playing games, Charlie is a live sound engineer and manager for his production company, Clear Harmonies, based in Washington, D.C.
Charlie enjoys talking about games nearly as much as playing them, and loves meeting new people, so hit him up!
Plays: All of them games. Seriously.