For the third time this year, the Atelier series makes an appearance on PC. This time though, it’s for a brand new mainline entry and the first in a new sub-series for the franchise. Atelier Ryza is the 21st game in the series and has also already become the fastest selling Atelier game to date, selling nearly 4x as many copies in the first week as Atelier Lulua did. Now, I’m sure a lot of that was fueled by the massive amount of fan art for the game’s main character, but there’s actually a pretty good game underneath all of those thighs.
Best looking Atelier to date. As someone that played Atelier Lulua earlier this year, what immediately set Ryza apart was just how good it looked. Sure, the game maintains the same light fantasy aesthetic and runs on the same engine as Lulua, but it changes just enough to give it its own unique look. This includes some heavily upgraded lighting and shadows, much better facial animations, and some very cool cinematic-style cutscenes instead of characters just blankly talking back and forth.
Of course, the new character designs are also worth mentioning. They still have that unique Atelier charm to them, but they’ve been done so in such a way as to fit the new direction the series is going for, one that’s less frilly and more adventurous. Whatever the case may be, they’re a nice change of pace for the series and look great in-game.
Atelier Ryza doesn’t just set the bar with its visuals though, its soundtrack is also pretty good for the series. It also maintains that light fantasy theme that the series is known for, but mixes it with Ryza‘s more adventurous direction. You get your upbeat tropical tracks for the game’s island setting, a similarly upbeat battle theme that fits the new combat system, and a bunch of other cool tracks for each of the game’s locations. It’s a much better overall soundtrack than Lulua and one that I’ll definitely be revisiting in the future.
Fun new combat system. Atelier Ryza isn’t just taking a new direction with regards to its visuals though, it also completely changes the combat system. Instead of opting for a more traditional turn-based combat system like the last 20 games, Ryza instead has real-time turn-based combat. This means that, while the combat itself is done in turns, it all takes place in real-time, so there’s no sitting around contemplating what your next move should be — you have to make decisions on the fly and quickly, so as to deal as much damage as possible.
It all works via an action bar on the left side of the screen. Both party members and enemies all move down this action bar and are able to make a move once they reach the bottom, at which point their position will be reset on the bar dependent on the wait time of the move they just moved. Some moves are quick and place you only a little bit up on the bar whereas others are more powerful and reset you all the way to the top. On top of that, there’s a bunch of other combat mechanics to keep track of, including tactics level, action points, core charge, and party formations.
It was honestly a bit overwhelming at first, but after a few hours playing around with it, I grew to appreciate just how different it was. In fact, I thought it was kind of cool how the devs could make such a bold change to the series and still make it feel like an Atelier game.
Excellent crafting mechanics. And of course, it wouldn’t be an Atelier game without the complex crafting system, which in this series takes the form of alchemy. Everything in the game, including exploration, combat, and even major points in the story are tied to this system. New areas you explore will have new materials to synthesize, which in turn can be made into weapons, armor, bombs, and healing items to be used in combat.
The crafting itself is very complex and I oftentimes found myself combining upwards of 10 or so materials together just to make a single item up to spec, which I would then turn around and use to make another item and so on. There’s a lot to take into account here, including item elements, quality levels, and traits, all of which need to be considered if you want to get the highest-possible item effects. In fact, I was pretty much able to make up for the level gap between many of the game’s enemies and my own party due to just how refined my equipment was.
As with the combat system, it was a bit overwhelming at first, but again, all it took was a few hours to get the hang of things. It definitely helped that the game slowly introduces these crafting mechanics over the course of the story, so you’re given ample time to adjust to how it all works. It was fun to experiment with and ended up being one of my favorite parts to the game.
Sloppy writing. As much as I may like the Atelier series, the writing is definitely not one of its stronger points and Atelier Ryza is no exception. It falls victim to the same “starts out okay and then slowly deteriorates” pattern that the last game fell into, but this time in a much shorter time period. I say that because the game this time around is much shorter than the last, only taking me about 18 hours to clear. In that time period, you’ll see plenty of the same old JRPG tropes, rushed story developments, and bland characters that not only plague this series, but the genre as a whole. I will give the game some credit for actually having a pretty good start (more so than similar JRPGs), but by the end, the story had pretty much lost my interest.
Filler story content. What makes that story element worse is not just that it’s poorly written, but that it actually has a decent amount of filler content to it. Now, I’m not talking filler content like full-blown Naruto filler arcs, but rather short gameplay segments that just serve to pad the game’s length. These usually took the form of simple “go here” or “wait here” quests, which had me simply teleporting to where I needed to be or waiting several in-game days to trigger the next story event. Sometimes I would even complete a task and be told to go back home and wait a day, just to return to the area I just completed that task at.
There was no point to the game doing this outside of making it appear that a day had passed within the story, but that could easily have been done in a cutscene or some sort of transition. Instead, it just feels like it was put in there to pad the game’s length. Now, the last game in the series had a bit of this as well, but it didn’t feel as bad as it is here and given that Ryza is much shorter, it really becomes quite the annoyance.
Subpar PC port. In typical Koei Tecmo fashion, Atelier Ryza also features a subpar PC port. Now, I’ll preface this by saying that the game itself actually runs fine and I had no FPS drops, stuttering, or crashes, but there’s more to a good port than just that. Atelier Ryza is a PC game that only has two graphics-related settings: a fullscreen toggle and a resolution setting. These two options are not even in the game itself, but rather in a simple launcher accessed outside of it. In that same launcher you can also configure your mouse and keyboard settings, or rather, just your keyboard settings, as the game does not appear to have any mouse support.
If you do decide to play with a keyboard (which I would absolutely not recommend), you will find that the default controls make no sense and rebinding them is a bit troublesome as it only shows what each key’s corresponding button would be on an Xbox controller, rather than what the key will do in-game. As these bindings can only be changed from the launcher, you’re in for a lot of trial-and-error to find that right keyboard layout. However, even then, it just feels awkward to move around and control the camera at the same time using just a keyboard, so I would definitely recommend going in with a controller.
Atelier Ryza takes the series in a bold new direction, implementing an entirely new combat system and upping the graphics along the way. However, it does this without ever losing what makes the series fun. Exploring the game world and picking up materials is still fun, combining these materials in the expansive crafting system is as well, and of course, the light fantasy aesthetic is as good as its ever been. Although the game may suffer from some sloppy writing and a subpar PC port, it is still a very fun JRPG experience and one I would definitely recommend for those looking to get into the series.
You can buy Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout on Steam here.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.