The Atelier franchise has really been going on for quite some time now – and it has tried a variety of themes, main characters, visual styles, and even change-ups in gameplay. The latest, Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout, changes things up once again with a new graphics engine, new alchemy mechanics, and new battle mechanics too. To top it all off, the protagonist, the titular Ryza, has a unique, cute, and yet sexy design that has had fans and newcomers alike practically losing their minds leading up to release. How does the newest in the alchemy simulator franchise stand up to its predecessors? Are the new tweaks to core gameplay mechanics enough to make things fresh and fun? Read on to find out!
Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Platforms: Windows PC, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch (Reviewed)
Release Date: October 28th, 2019
Atelier Ryza is the twenty-first game in the long-running alchemy franchise by Gust, and it sports a new graphics engine that really looks fantastic. I played the game exclusively on Switch and it really looks nice, and definitely a step-up from its predecessor, Atelier Lulua.
I played the game in both docked and handheld mode, and the interconnected maps all looked beautiful and well-detailed, apart from some tiny shadow pop-in here and there. Framerate was consistent and solid, while the character models and enemies look great as well.
While Ryza’s default costume would lead to think she’d be distracting or the game would really focus on those thunder thighs – but that’s not really the case here. Ryza is simply another cute thing to look at in a game filled with really cute things. Enemies could use some variety, though.
Alchemy has always been the focus of the Atelier series, and if you jump into Atelier Ryza thinking you’ll be brewing potions and crafting gear quickly, you’re in for a surprise. The game begins to cleverly weave a strong narrative with fun main characters before you even get near a cauldron.
Once you do get into alchemy, however, the system has been overhauled and happens through a colorful, connected web of elemental nodes where you can add materials you gathered. The new system is a nice balance of both complex recipes and streamlined ones, for vets and newcomers.
With the new alchemy system interface you can still get totally lost in deciding which materials to use, what weapons, potions, armor, and powerups to create, and more. Regardless, it’s really satisfying to upgrade things and unlock new alchemy options as you progress.
If you don’t like sitting there for hours deciding on the best materials to craft equipment or weapons with, you can also mash the R button and have the game automatically create the best gear possible with the available materials. It’s a nice option for users that want to just dive into combat.
Speaking of the combat, Atelier Ryza has also overhauled its staple turn-based mechanics for a mix of turn-based and real-time combat. Ryza, her friends, and your foes all attack in real time once their meter fills up, just like those older Final Fantasy games. It’s a breath of fresh air for the series.
You control Ryza by default but can switch to Tao and Lent so you can really max out your special attacks, as well as combinations of skills and attacks. There’s also the option to change the overall behavior of your teammates, making them more aggressive or more defensive.
As you progress in a battle and do regular attacks, you’ll earn AP which you can use for special moves – or spend a nice chunk of them to raise the tactics level of your team and let you attack more each time you attack.
You can also use crafted items in battle, which are now mapped to core crystals that have a set number of core charges. When you run out of charges, you can break down the item to get a few more while away from your atelier. You can then restore the item fully the next time you’re at an atelier.
Between the overhauled alchemy mechanics and the overhauled combat mechanics, Atelier Ryza is a wonderful refresher for the series and will appeal to both veterans and newcomers. Combat and alchemy now feel more intertwined, and like they naturally compliment each other.
As mentioned earlier, Atelier Ryza sets up the story quite a bit prior to you ever getting near an atelier to start crafting. The titular heroine, Ryza, or Reisalin Stout, desperately wants to leave her quiet life on the island of Kurken behind. She’s joined by her best friends Tao and Lent.
While Ryza’s home is overseen by strict parents that want her to stay home and life a quiet, safe life on the farm, the bookworm Tao is constantly bullied by others and Lent has an alcoholic father that is abusive. So, it makes sense when Ryza is ready to leave they both accompany her.
This setup honestly feels more organic than previous games when adventurers kind of just randomly ended up together. The slow and relaxed pace at which the story is started and even when it progresses is nice as it lets you really enjoy the interactions between the characters.
Roughly nine to ten hours in you’ll probably feel comfortable with the alchemy system in its entirety, and maybe four to five hours in you’ll get to hit your first dungeon. The story has you exploring the mainland while making trips back to your home on the island.
This is not a story focused on saving the world – the games have never really been about that kind of tale. Instead, you get to follow Ryza and her companions as they come of age, learn how to face their fears, and overcome foes and troubles alike. It’s a wholesome and enjoyable story.
While most of the story is fun, there are side missions that can get somewhat boring and tedious, as they’re mostly fetch quests and chores that feel a bit like filler. There is a fast travel system that helps save you time with backtracking through old areas, however.
Atelier Ryza has an enchanting and thoroughly beautiful musical score much like its predecessors. If there’s one thing I thoroughly enjoy about this series, it’s the music which is typically outstanding. Every area, every track, it all sounds whimsical and magical, just like its alchemy theme.
The voice acting in the game is great as well, with the various actors putting a lot of life and love into the various characters. There is no English dub for the voices, but the majority of people that play this game probably aren’t looking for one anyway. Ryza is cute and spunky in looks and voice.
While I may have small gripes with the game like its boring side quests and the lack of enemy variety, Atelier Ryza has been a treat for both the eyes and ears. Its refined gameplay is simply the icing on an already delicious cake, and both newcomers and veterans will eat this up.
All in all, Atelier Ryza is a welcome breath of fresh air for the series with its overhauling of core mechanics, as well as its visuals – which look better than ever. This is yet another excellent game in the series, and makes me feel like Gust is thinking of ways to refine the formula even more.
Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a review copy provided by Koei Tecmo. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.