Atelier Ryza is not just another entry in the Atelier series, it paves the way forward for a new saga that could be covered in future sequels. It hasn’t just changed gameplay mechanics for the series but also switched the game engine to one that feels a lot more modern and visually prettier than its predecessor. Most of the changes that are made for Atelier Ryza make it an ideal candidate to introduce for newcomers, especially those who are looking to get into the series but keep getting confused by the different iterations.
There are a lot of Atelier games released in recent times so it is hard to track which one is the most accessible for newcomers. After the launch of Atelier Ryza, it is easy to recommend it for anyone who wants to get a taste of what the Atelier series can offer, and it is not just alchemy recipes. Every Atelier game has a colorful cast and memorable characters and now this has continued with Atelier Ryza taking charge of leading the series into a new direction.
Atelier Ryza presents a teenager’s journey led by the main protagonist, Reisalin “Ryza” Stout, who has two close friends that take part in every activity together. They are Lent and Tao, who always stick by Ryza’s side whether it calls for trouble or simply goofing around. They live on Kurken Island and carry an adventurous teenager spirit that makes them attempt otherwise dangerous tasks.
The group hears about some merchants arriving at a nearby island one day and decides to go against their parents’ advice. They find a boat and then use it to get to the new island where they soon discover some threats in the form of monsters and save a girl from trouble. This girl ends up as the daughter of one of the merchants. As they head back with the girl, they are attacked and get saved in the nick of time by a mysterious man and woman.
It is from this point that alchemy gets introduced in the game. This mysterious man and woman turn up as renowned alchemists and this tickles the imagination of Ryza, who wants to start her Alchemy practice. The game continues to offer sufficient character development for its main cast even though the overall story tone feels rather light, there are some serious moments as well. It is not the story that is exciting but rather how it is told and characters being an important part of any story, they are given their due attention here.
Combat in Atelier Ryza has been revamped to make it more dynamic. All the party members along with enemies now have to wait for their turn as time passes in real-time during a battle. If no action is taken by the user, the battle continues. Party members can be given a limited set of commands while the player can freely switch between the different characters.
Attacks are performed with repeated button presses giving them the appearance of an action-based battle system but it is still a turn-based in nature. Action Points (AP) are introduced as a way to accumulate points for using powerful skills or increasing the number of chain attacks. It is up to the player to decide how a battle plays out. Character positions can be also strategically adjusted to gain an advantage during the battle.
This won’t be an Atelier game without gathering materials and for this purpose, tools are required to harvest for resources. Tools like Axe, Scythe, and Hammer all lead to a different material being harvested from a product. Changes have been made to the Alchemy portion to streamline the process and now it only requires the main ingredient to synthesis any recipe with additional materials added to enhance it. You can also learn new recipes by using more Alchemy so there is less headache to deal with here compared to the past games.
Atelier Ryza uses a brand new game engine which means it has some limitations when it comes to open-world exploration. It feels like a step back from some of the past games. Maps feel linear and the story limits how far you can explore a location, which means the game doesn’t offer much freedom to discover on your own. While running around locations is fine in the beginning, fast travel is available from the start that lets you easily explore different locations as needed in the story.
Performance-wise, it is mostly solid and the visual presentation is gorgeous. It feels like an anime at times but the one major issue is the stiff animations. This applies to both the cutscenes and general exploration animation that makes it apparent that the game carries a low budget. Still, it is a step forward for the series which had been long known to offer dated visuals and with time, the game engine can hopefully evolve in addition to the budget to make the world feel more immersive in general.
Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and the Secret Hideout Review (PS4)
Game Reviewed on: PS4
Game description: Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout. The concept of this title, the latest in the series to depict a new "Atelier" world, is "True-to-life youths that develop together, even if just a little bit".
Final Score - 8.5/10
While keeping most of the series traditions, Atelier Ryza manages to stay fresh by making just enough changes to its gameplay that it doesn't outstay its welcome. This might not be the best game in the series, but it is one of the most enjoyable ones.