Thanks to KOEI TECMO GAMES for the review code
Title: Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and the Secret Hideout
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 10/29/2019
In this entry in the long-running Atelier series, you take control of a girl named Ryza, who upon setting out with her two best friends in search of adventure, discover the nature of Alchemy and gain a desire to help others while going on all sorts of adventures in their own secret hideout!
Since Lulua was the previous entry that I finally got around to reviewing not too long ago, I was honestly stunned to see a shift in traditions here, for the story in Ryza is a lot different in tone and style, mostly for the better!
In a way, the plot reminded me of the carefree moments from the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series, with a focus on friendship and an adventurous spirit, and it’s definitely one I wanna go back to in full before jumping into the direct sequel (Which yes, did come out before I finished this review of the first game! …Along with yet another recent Atelier game. And a sequel to the sequel to this game. These come out quick!), since the characters and writing here were a lot more compelling than in the other Atelier games I reviewed, despite being a carefree Summer Vacation game.
Visually, this game is surprisingly impressive, especially for a Switch port. While Lulua didn’t look too bad, it still definitely had some essence of a simple budget, and some aspects felt rather barebones, along with a musical score that I may remind you, I opted to swap out in favor of retro tracks.
Yet Ryza manages to be a step up, both in handheld and docked form! While it still obviously pales compared to the PS4 version, the Switch port here is very well done and I noticed it running a lot better than Lulua did, with lovely, more open scenery, a locked framerate, and the models and textures getting a nice bump as well. There’s even a photo mode here, which goes to show that the dev team were confident in how this world looked, and I managed to have some fun setting up a few shots in this mode as well.
Even better, the music is actually pretty good this time around, too! Nothing that’ll blow your mind, but a lot of songs here are very well fitting for the carefree tone, and like before you can download and use older songs from the series as BGM if you wish, but this time around, I didn’t feel the need to do so, since Ryza’s normal score was just fine and accompanied the chill aspects.
In prior Atelier games I covered for SFG, their formula was remarkably safe: synthesize and use the nature of Alchemy to craft new items, find materials, complete quests, and progress the story with RPG battles sprinkled in every now and then. Both games were enjoyable chill experiences with fun characters, but didn’t offer much in terms of a narrative hook or complex battle system.
Well, here with Ryza, a lot of things have shifted around to make it feel more like a bigger adventure, even with the narrative continuing to really lack much of a hook. The areas are far bigger, there’s lots more materials to go after, and alchemy is tweaked in such a way that I couldn’t even find a way to fail anymore: every combination gets you something, and I feel that’s a rather positive change, and encourages fun experimentation to get the attributes you want.
Nevertheless, Ryza still does maintain the Alchemy/Quest/Battle stuff from prior games, just with aforementioned revamps. This time around I felt much more compelled to go hunt out of my way for any alchemy materials that stood out to me, and just do the recipes I hadn’t tried yet to see what I could do, all to build my alchemy level and unlock even more stuff. Indeed, this and the sidequests you can take up are a great way to kill time and just goof around, but the main narrative is easy to follow if you just want to focus on those objectives. Battles are fine, but still pretty uneventful, but are quick enough to still be worth doing for rare materials, and once you build up enough points to level up your skills in battle, unleashing them on foes is incredibly satisfying.
In fact, I have to give Ryza a lot of credit for one thing I noted during this unorthodox review period: It’s perfect for jumping back in after long play sessions. The other Atelier games were easy to jump back in too, but Ryza is moreso since the minimap always indicates wherever you need to go next, (and with this town having a lot of components, that’s a good thing) plus the story recap is just a button push away. Considering the on and off nature of covering this game due to my stacked queue and IRL shifts over the past three years, coming back for note taking and just to have a fun evening was a real snap, and certainly worth highlighting for those in situations akin to me; whether you work full time a lot, get distracted often, or have stuff come up, Ryza will be there for you and is more than welcoming enough for you to easily pick up where you last were, and I feel that is a great quality of life aspect the series has been getting better and better with.
Otherwise, Ryza is just a natural step forward in the series’ progression, one that definitely has had influence on the several games that came out since. I’m not even that surprised that compared to the other Atelier trilogies, Ryza is now the first one to have the same protagonist for all three of them. Sure, she’s not that special, and is more or less just a leader of a group of friends wanting to have a fun summer vacation, but the relatable vibe of this game definitely makes this cast of characters far more compelling than some of the leads from other entries.
In conclusion, Atelier Ryza was a game I had heard tons of good things about over the years, and while I meant to review this closer to launch, it launched during a pretty rough time for me, and then the world’s stressors kicked in the year after. After covering Lulua and finding it decent, I was certain this game would be a quick way to burn me out of the series, but even after a break period, and having gone through to play enough for review, I found Ryza to be a significantly more charming, higher step up in quality and polish than the two prior Atelier games I covered.
Not only does Ryza tread new ground by changing some aspects of the formula, but it also just is way more fun to play and has a way better game loop than those that came beforehand. It still manages to succeed at being the cozier RPG option out there, but also takes in aspects from other big RPGs and refines them in a fun way to not overcomplicate things, and I for one cannot wait to check out the sequels once I give this a full clear in the future, after catching up with the other games here on Switch.
I don’t know how Gust managed to go from one style of Atelier game to another in the span of a year, but they managed to pull off quite the fun adventure, one that manages to refine the alchemy mechanics to make them more addicting, and being a perfect game that works great for getting back into no matter how long you take a break or get distracted from it!
I give Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and the Secret Hideout an 8 out of 10.