Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Gust
Release Date: Oct. 29, 2019 (US), Nov. 1, 2019 (EU)


PS4 Review - 'Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Jan. 3, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout begins an all-new storyline arc in the Atelier RPG series.

Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout follows the titular Ryza, a young girl who lives on a small island. The island is isolated and distant from the rest of the world, with little trade and few chances to leave. Ryza loves adventure, and she sneaks onto the mainland with her friends to discover what's there. She runs into a strange monster and is saved by an alchemist and his partner. Together, the two train Ryza and her friends while they figure out where the monster came from and what its presence has to do with Ryza's homeland.

The plot in Ryza is fun but predictable. The characters are the high point, but I wasn't super fond of them all. Ryza is a solid blend of cheerful, optimistic and snarky that instantly made her one of my favorite Atelier protagonists. A lot of her supporting cast is genuinely forgettable, with only Ryza's childhood friend Lent and the alchemist duo of Empel and Lila standing out. There are lots of enjoyable interactions and some fun humor, but this isn't a game that you play for the plot. It's a game that you play to craft.

Atelier Ryza's take on the franchise-standard alchemy system resembles the sphere grid from Final Fantasy X. Each item has its own grid of interconnected spheres, each with its own item requirement. Some require you to use a general item, like "bug" or "water," while others are more specific. Using the item unlocks the surrounding spheres. If the item you use also has a corresponding element (Fire, Ice, Lightning, Wind), then it can unlock bonus attributes on your items. You can even unlock new items by reaching the end of certain trees. You can only take a certain number of actions before the item is finished, and that number increases as you gain Alchemy levels. Early on, you unlock the ability to transmute items into gems, which can be used to rebuild an item by allowing you to add more items to the grid. You're still limited here by your Alchemy level, so you can rebuild far more effectively in the endgame.

I really enjoyed the simple but incredibly addictive alchemy system in Atelier Ryza. Figuring out the paths to optimize your items is pretty addictive, and the ability to unlock new items feels a lot more satisfying than the times you unlock them via a book. The remodeling feature feels half-baked, though. In theory, gems should limit how effective it is, but gems are so easy to farm that it may as well not exist. It takes away some of the satisfaction of making your best items, and it's rather easy to create a max-quality item. I still spent most of my time crafting.

Atelier Ryza does away with the combat systems seen in the previous games for a new and somewhat faster system. Combat now takes place in real time, and players control only one of the three team members, but they can swap at any time. It's still somewhat turn-based in that you have to wait for your character's turn, but once it has arrived, you have to make your actions quickly, or the enemy may attack first. The characters you're not controlling can either be set to a passive stance, where they only use regular attacks, or an aggressive stance, where they use special moves. Each character also has a role (attacker, defender, supporter) that is influenced by their equipment and gives them a bonus ability. Defenders automatically draw enemy attacks, while attackers inflict bonus damage. Supports are the fastest and most effective at giving bonuses. You're best off with one of each, but you can double up if you want.

The system has a lot of neat little twists. You have an AP bar, which is sort of a shared MP gauge. All party members share the same AP bar, and it resets at the start of every fight. You start off with 10 AP maximum in a fight, but if you reach 10 AP, you can spend it to upgrade your tactics level, which improves the overall combat capabilities of your team but drains your AP. Once you max it out again (at 20), then you can raise it again and again … and again. Few fights last long enough to let you get above two or three tactics levels, but it's a neat trade-off between using powerful attacks now or building up for later.

Alchemy items, ever the focal point of the Atelier franchise, are even easier to use than ever. Every character can equip alchemy items, but certain ones are restricted. As with your AP, the entire party shares a "CC" gauge that is retained after battle. Starting at 10 (and increasing with upgrades), the CC gauge is what you spend to use alchemy items. Cheaper ones only cost one or two, but they get more expensive as they get more powerful. Once you run out, the only way to replenish is to "convert" one of your items, which instantly refills your CC but disables that item until you return to town.

This system is absurdly overpowered in a fun way. Aside from a few areas, you're never more than a Select button press away from returning to your atelier, and even when you're limited, you can get a ton of usage out of the most powerful items by converting everything in your inventory. You may want to consider using more CC-effective items for tougher boss fights, but otherwise, you're free to enjoy the various gimmick items rather than worrying about them being consumable.

Fighting together with your party members is also key. Whoever you're not controlling will call out requests based on their personality, such as, "use an item" or "do fire damage." If you fulfill the request, those characters perform a bonus attack. You can also spend 10 AP to instantly take your next turn. This is effective to quickly use items, but if you save it for when an enemy is charging up a powerful attack, you'll be able to link with your party members for an even more powerful attack. There are a variety of twists in the combat system that encouraging optimization, but they're not necessary.

The new combat system is a mixed bag. On the one hand, I like how fast it is, and it does a good job of automating things. On the other hand, it's not very well explained, and a lot of the cool mechanics don't come into play very often. The system is reminiscent of Final Fantasy XIII's combat system with a few updates, but there are far fewer chances to use it to its full extent. With that said, it feels pretty cool when the combat system comes into play, and it adds a good sense of strategy to the game. I can only hope the inevitable next Atelier title builds upon the system. As it stands, the combat is too easy in Atelier Ryza to really enjoy the system.

Aside from alchemy and fighting, there are the usual Atelier side-quests. In Ryza, they take the form of helping people around the island. These are simple collection or crafting tasks, but each one advances a townsperson's story, eventually even causing the stories to interlink. You also have the new secret hideout, which is a customizable atelier where you can change certain appearances and capabilities. There's even a semi-randomly generated dungeon creator that lets you turn specific items into dungeons to explore for more rare loot. There's a fair bit to do, but it'll seem familiar to Atelier veterans.

Ryza's visuals can generally be filed under the same basic line as the rest of the franchise. The character models are nice, the combat animations are simple but have some moments of flair, and the environments are pretty but repetitive. Again, this is nothing new for the Atelier franchise. Ryza does lean significantly harder on the cheesecake than past titles, including one character who I'm amazed can stand upright without falling face-forward, but the characters are as cheerfully wholesome as they've ever been. As is also standard for the franchise, the music is excellent, containing a lot of atmospheric songs and some great battle music.

Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout is a solid by-the-books Atelier title. It does everything pretty well, and its only real flaws are a somewhat lackluster story and an overall low difficulty level. If you like the Atelier titles, then you'll like this one, and if you're interested in getting into the franchise, this is a solid starting point. There's no lack of Atelier games to play, but Ryza is one of the more enjoyable ones available. Besides, who doesn't like crafting a bomb so powerful that it blows up a dragon?

Score: 8.0/10

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