The Atelier games have been around for quite some time and with twenty plus entries of this JRPG out there it might seem intimidating to jump into the franchise if you wanted to. That very much can be the case depending on which one you pick but Koei Tecmo and developer Gust’s newest entry, Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout, is probably your best bet for a jumping in point. There are a lot of things in this new one that series fans will love but it also is probably the most approachable for brand new players.
The story in this entry follows female main character Ryza who lives on an island called Kurken with her parents who are farmers. Living on an island is nice and all but Ryza has grown sort of bored of life here and wishes to see more of the world. One day she finds a way to leave in the form of a boat and together with some of her friends sets sail for the mainland. Once arriving there she meets some new people and learns what alchemy is for the first time. Ryza takes a liking to it and begins wanting to study it and learn how it works. Her parents and some other folk aren’t too keen about it though and so Ryza and her friends build a secret hideout to operate out of so that she can pursue her new interest. I’ll admit the story can take a bit to get going but it picks up after a few hours and becomes more interesting.
When it comes to the gameplay Atelier Ryza switches things up by no longer using a turn-based battle system. Instead we find a real-time system in this entry which will be a breath of fresh air for long time fans and I found it a lot more engaging than the old system. During battles you have a timer ticking down and you have to make sure you stay on your toes and are making all your menu choices on time. You only control a single character at a time and anyone else in your party will operate on their own until you switch your control to them. Sometimes they will request that you perform a certain action and by doing so they will perform a special attack.
Every attack you perform during combat grants your team AP which can be utilized in a few different ways. You can use it to perform special attacks or when you build up enough of it you can redeem it for a tactics level. The higher you raise this the more times you be able to attack in a row. Quick action is another thing that uses AP and this lets you pause a battle at any point. This is useful in case you need to perform a certain action before the enemy gets another attack in for instance. Item management in combat has been changed up a bit too as you’ll only be able to carry up to four of them into combat per character. You also have to have charges to use them and if you run out you’ll have to break down an item to refill them.
The other big aspect of an Atelier game is the alchemy part of the gameplay so I want to talk a bit about how Ryza works here. Atelier Ryza makes some changes to the system to give you a better understanding of how it works and makes it more fun in general. Past games have put some limitations on what you can do with it until later in the game but Ryza opens things up and gives you more freedom early on. Synthesizing an item presents you with a circle grid system. When you add items for your recipes here you can unlock more circles on the grid to move to so that you can unlock new skills. There is a lot of depth here but certain information on screen makes it easier to know exactly what you are doing when synthesizing. Outside of the combat and alchemy you’ll be doing a lot of exploring of the world and can take on side missions for characters. These aren’t very exciting though with a lot of them being the standard fetch quests that many of us have come to loathe.
The visuals in Atelier Ryza are quite beautiful on a PS4 Pro as you can tell in the screenshots here. The developer has done a great job imbuing the world with a charming, fairy tale feel. The world is fun to explore and see everything that it has to offer and if you’re like me you’ll find a ton of spots that are just asking for you to click that share button and take a screenshot. All of the character models are done well too and in my experience the framerate ran pretty smooth. The only downside is since you do explore some pretty open areas you will notice some pop-in here and there but it isn’t too big a deal. The game has some excellent music tracks whether you are in battle or just in the world exploring. Sadly the only option for voice acting in the game is to listen to it in Japanese as this series has become known for. It’s done well but I do wish one day they would come up with an English option for the game as that would be my preferred way to experience it. Not everything in the game features voice acting either so you will be stuck reading at times.
Overall I came away from Atelier Ryza very impressed and I think longtime fans and newcomers will be very happy with this game. The change to a more real-time combat system is good choice to me as it made battles far more engaging. Likewise some of the changes to the alchemy system make it more approachable to series newcomers while still having depth for those who are into this franchise. The graphics are beautiful and the story was satisfying despite taking a bit to get going. A few things here and there can be improved but overall this is an excellent new entry in this long running JRPG series.
*Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout is available now on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC. Reviewed on a PS4 Pro. Review copy provided by the publisher for review.
Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout$59.99
- Great story and lovable characters
- Beautiful graphics
- New real-time combat system makes this far more fun to play
- Alchemy system is more approachable while still offering depth
- Really good soundtrack
- No English voice acting present
- Side missions can be boring and tedious