Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout brings us on yet another journey of self discovery in an all new world. This time players will follow the adventures of Ryza and her two friends who are on the verge of adulthood, having lived their entire lives in a small secluded village they hope to break free from their ordinary lives for a chance to go on an adventure and follow their dreams. Unlike previous entries in the series, Atelier Ryza focuses far more on what it means to grow as a person although it still maintains the alchemy and adventure aspects that are the foundation of the series. There is also far more that we can personally empathize with when it comes to the characters and their development, we definitely see far more natural growth of the characters than in previous entries which makes the entire experience far more Immersive. Though it takes a somewhat different approach the game still features the awkward moments, whimsical dialogue, and alchemy mishaps that we have come to know and love.
Atelier Ryza begins in Rosenboden Village, a quiet little town on a secluded island where Ryza and her friends live. One day Ryza finds an abandoned boat and uses it to venture off with Lent and Tao, their adventure starts off very rough until they meet two silver haired strangers who will change the course of their destinies. Ryza begins training in alchemy to help her accomplish her dreams of living a life of adventure, Tao begins learning a lost language, and Lent begins his training in order to become a stronger fighter. As the three of them continue to grow in their talents an evil force targets their island and they are the only ones who can save their home. Through their adventures the three friends will discover what is most important to them as they near adulthood, this is a coming of age story that puts focus on what is most important in life. The story is beautifully thought out with a fantasy filled adventure wrapped around a deeply immersive and realistic coming of age theme. Atelier Ryza is the most story centered title in the series since the PlayStation 2 Atelier Iris trilogy.
The gameplay is heftily updated since the previous Atelier title and features a real time battle system, two battle modes for AI controlled allies, a unique ability point and tactics level system in battle, and an entirely upgraded alchemy system. The real time battles make the game more challenging by allowing enemies to attack more freely instead of them having to wait for you to complete your turn, it is by no means an innovative idea but it is entirely new to the Atelier series. In battle you can control one character at a time while the others are controlled by an AI that immediately takes action on that character's turn. You can change the way that AI controlled characters behave in battle with negative mode and aggressive mode, with negative mode you can save up AP quicker in order to execute Ryza's special attacks or to increase the tactics level. Increased tactics levels allow you to hit enemies multiple times within one basic attack and allows you to perform attack variations. It is worth experimenting in battles to see what best suits your playing style, there is a lot more freedom to try new things in Atelier Ryza despite the increased difficulty.
The upgrade alchemy system allows more freedom to experiment when creating items, you can even change the item's effects of an item and create something unique. I haven't seen this kind of freedom in item creation since Atelier Iris and Mana Khemia, and better yet the system is almost entirely unique. In many of the previous games the alchemy system was a series of lists in which you would pick from specific sets of items, usually there was not much room if any to have fun experimenting in item creation. In this game, there is a node system in which the only rule is that the item placed in the node has to be the same type as the item in the original recipe, this gives a lot more freedom to experiment and change the traits of the item. As usual materials are collected by finding them as you travel around and recipes are earned at certain points in the stories progression or by finding them, in this aspect it is the same as previous titles in the series. Another feature that makes Atelier Ryza a unique experience is the core charge system for item use in battle, the core charges determine how much an item can be used instead of the item itself being used up. You can say goodbye to the frustration of constantly have to hunt down the materials and create the same item over and over to use in battle.
If all of these other amazing upgrades aren't enough, the graphics have also been heavily upgraded from previous titles in the series. The graohics in Atelier games have always been stunningly beautiful and full of color but in Atelier Ryza we get so much more. The environments have a lot more life to them thanks to a great deal more effort going into the light and shadows, there is also a lot more detail to every object in the game all the way down to every little blade of grass. The character designs are a bit more unusual after getting used to the more cutesy designs in the Arland trilogy to Escha and Logy but at the same time it feels much closer to the Atelier series' roots. Ryza's design feels more authentic. While many would say Ryza's design is full of clichés and tropes as it is I honestly found it to be a breath of fresh air, it steers away from the far more common clichés and tropes that are presented through many of the previous games in the series. Finding a balance in character designs can be tricky and it shows that Gust put a lot of thought into making Ryza unique from the female leads of all of their previous games even if it didn't come out perfect.
Atelier Ryza goes above and beyond what we can expect from an Atelier title, the game presents us with the whimsical dialogue and exciting item creation that the series is best known for but also gives us a well thought out story and a touch of realism that is entirely uncommon to the series. There is a hand full of upgrades and new features that make Atelier Ryza stand out, while all of the features can be frustrating even for anyone that is more than familiar with the genre, it is all well once you get the hang of it. If you didnt find previous games in this series exciting enough this is certainly a great place to jump back into the series.
PROS (+): Detailed and Colorful Graphics, A Well Thought Out Story, Touches of Realism, Upgraded Crafting System, Upgraded Battle System.
CONS (-): New and Upgraded Features can be frustrating to learn.
SCORE – 9.0/10
This review is based on a purchased digital copy of Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and the Secret Hideout for the Nintendo Switch.