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Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout Review

Edited by: Jade Swann

Atelier Ryza is a fresh, engaging release to the start of what might be yet another Atelier trilogy — at least, I hope so. New visual details and synthesis and combat systems are sure to grab the attention of long standing fans and newcomers alike. The developers always find a way to keep Atelier games fresh while holding true to the core of the series.

QUALITY OF LIFE

While the story might be slower-paced and a tad lackluster at first compared to more recent releases such as Sophie or Lulua — Ryza is simply bored and wants to adventure and although her commitment is certainly present, it doesn’t feel as gripping — other features and mechanics in Ryza offset this. Part of what might make the progression feel slower is that features such as quick travel options to an area you’ve entered before are locked initially. The inability to fast travel and having to manually travel to previously visited places (besides the boards within the town) grows burdensome. However, the possibility of other quality of life or neat features helped compel me to progress. There always seemed to be a quality of life improvement or intriguing innovation lurking right around the corner. Of course, sometimes it’s relaxing to revisit past areas and restock supplies — there’s no time limit here, which has been a recent trend (setting aside the spin-off Nelke) in the Atelier titles.

One of the more intriguing and functional features is a farm near your hideout (which you can customize). Customization options aren’t available initially, so you’re stuck with its interior look until later. Having a customizable atelier is something I hope Gust further expands on in later releases. Periodically, companions will add random items to your hideout, typically something representative of what they like. While your hideout’s area is initially barebones, it soon enough becomes a place worth just relaxing to break from combat and exploring. Besides these mementos are also exploration logs: after you’ve discovered all the landmarks in an area, you may ask someone to write a short record that depicts their thoughts on that area. Unfortunately, you’re unable to change or add another writer for a specific area, so if you’d like to see what another character would say about a place, you’ll have to do another run.

The farm permits a few slots in which to plant seeds you create through alchemy. What you acquire from harvesting these plants is random; the amount is decent enough to warrant synthesizing seeds, but not nearly enough to ever rely on the farm as the main source of your ingredients. Later on, you’ll unlock the opportunity to raise a puni (a feature introduced recently in a free update) and send it on missions, yet another potential source for ingredients. Another feature you unlock for your hideout’s atelier is the ability to enhance equipment with an item, providing a stat boost and, in some cases, a special effect. You may enhance an item only once, so make it count. 

OVERHAULED FEATURES

Unlike previous Atelier releases, excess inventory feels more purposeful in Ryza. Besides using a surplus of an ingredient to make something quick for a quest or to use in subsequent syntheses, two new options are available. You may rebuild crafted items and reduce ingredients you don’t want to gems, which are used to rebuild items. Rebuilding items permits you to place more items into the material loops during synthesis. Given that your alchemy level at the time of synthesis limits how many total ingredients you may use when constructing an item, rebuilding is a way to boost an item’s usefulness, unlock more trait slots for it, add or strengthen traits in it, and so on. Here, you’re limited by the amount of gems you possess and your alchemy level — each new ingredient added when rebuilding increases the item’s level, which can’t surpass your alchemy level. 

Atelier Ryza also features an overhauled combat system, rendering it far quicker and more streamlined compared to previous installments. It’s still turn-based, but this release offers an active battle system and only having to control one character in your party as opposed to all three. You may switch to any other character mid-fight, useful for times when they’re equipped with an item (bombs, healing items, etc.) that could turn the tables in a battle. How many items a character can equip as a core item depends on how many slots their weapon has. Equipped items aren’t consumed upon use in battle, but they do deplete your core charges, a combat resource that once fully depleted renders you unable to use any more items. Your charges can quickly deplete if you liberally use items in battles, but they can be recovered out on the field by converting an item (which renders that item unable to be used until after you’ve returned to your base). 

Quick battles are, however, something that can get in the way of fully experiencing what the combat system has to offer. A significant portion of one’s strategy during a fight relies on AP (action points), used for skills and for increasing one’s tactics level. Besides increasing the number of times your characters hit during a normal attack, your current tactics level for the fight also influences particular skills, adding an additional effect or increasing their power. Oftentimes a fight would be over before I’d reach higher than the third tactics level, assuming I didn’t use any skills. So, a high tactics level is meant for longer, more drawn-out battles, and not quite necessary when grinding out levels or farming for an item from monsters. 

Some party quests unfortunately require you to reach a certain tactics level so many times; for these, I had to equip my worst gear just to prolong the fight enough. The idea behind party quests is neat, despite some making you worry about whether you happen to be too powerful to complete them. Your reward for completing these quests is a passive skill for the respective character to which the quest is attributed. The earlier ones typically increase a character’s defense or critical rate, while passives for characters you unlock later on can take the form of increased attack while a particular person is in the party or your tactics level is above a certain amount, inevitably reducing the versatility of those skills. Other side quests come from citizens of Kurken Island. They’re worth looking out for, if only for the possibility of a new recipe or a clue to treasure. By contrast, the Alchemyriddle tasks from Lulua felt more rewarding, considering some of them provided a new gathering area to explore.

7

The Verdict: Great

Atelier Ryza certainly boasts several new and engaging activities for players to do besides fighting and gathering that renders this a rather versatile addition to the series. Between that and the lack of a time limit, Ryza is a great starting point for newcomers (almost as much as Sophie was). Some long-time fans of the series might take issue with the new combat system, but if anything battles feel faster. Other mechanics feature intriguing changes, such as the party quests and their rewards, but if this system is utilized in a future release, it might need some tweaking to account for problems that arise when the characters become overleveled.

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Chris Hubbard
Written by
Friday, 13 December 2019 05:11
Published in Adventure

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A fan of RPGs above other genres, Chris has been playing video games for as long as he can remember. Some of the games that had the most influence on his gaming preferences have been the Final Fantasy and the Diablo series. More recently, most of Chris' gaming time has been going toward Gems of War and Clicker Heroes (give it a try, it can be addicting), along with open-world RPGs such as Skyrim and ESO. He's also dabbled with RPG Maker software, and it is a goal of his to someday create an RPG.

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