Summer in the city
Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout was my introduction to the long-running Atelier series. And while I definitely enjoyed it, it didn’t leave enough of an impact for me to run with it and check out the rest of the millions of other games in the series. That’s a big commitment, and that sort of thing terrifies me.
However, it did leave me thirsty enough for a sequel which has now arrived in the form of Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy. It’s time to hit the cauldron again and stir up some adventure and also find out if anyone has gained some fashion sense since the last game. Spoiler: they haven’t.
Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout (PC, Switch [reviewed], PS4, PS5)
Developer: Gust Co. Ltd.
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Released: January 26th, 2021
It’s been three years since the events of the first Atelier Ryza, and Reisalin “Ryza” Stout’s booty still won’t quit. She’s spent the last three years practicing her alchemy on her own since her friends all ditched her to go to the capital. She’s asked by the local rich guy to investigate some pretty stone, and she’s not sure her experience is enough to figure it out, so she decides to shove off to the city to join her friends.
Atelier Ryza 2 is a bit more immediate than its predecessor. Your first battle is just down the road and you have your atelier before the prologue is over. Then you’re ready to get down to cooking up some bombs in your apartment.
Like the first game, however, the narrative is a bit of a slow boil. You want adventure, so you go on an adventure sums up the character motivation pretty well. Things just kind of develop from there. There’s a series of ruins around the capital city, and they seem like the perfect place to get yourself killed, so it’s time to plumb them for their secrets and figure out how your flying pet hamster, Fi, connects to everything.
If you’re new to the series, you’re probably wondering if you need to play the first Atelier Ryza to enjoy the second, and the answer is: yes, probably. A lot of the game involves meeting up with old friends, and a tonne of the dialogue addresses how much everyone has changed in the intervening years. I’m not saying you couldn’t figure it out from context, it just might not have the same impact.
If you’re unfamiliar, the Atelier games are JRPGs with in-depth crafting mechanics. Alchemy, they call it, which is apparently the art of throwing specific ingredients into a pot to create a bridge. While that may just sound like an over-complication of your typical equipment system, it actually adds a layer of progression to the game. As you journey, you gain access to more ingredients that can be used to make better weapons and equipment. It’s important because while you can buy stuff in the stores, nothing compares to what you whip up in your atelier.
I had an issue with the previous game’s progression; it felt like there was a lot of starting and stopping as you’d journey until you hit a wall, then return to the atelier to improve your gear or make a key item. That hasn’t exactly changed, but I feel that the game’s progression is a bit more involved. You still go out on adventures and then return to make a nicer shirt, but there’s a firmer divide between the two activities, and that seems to work better.
The ruins don’t necessarily unlock in a linear manner. If you focus on side-quests alongside simply beating up unassuming wildlife, you may find that you gain access to new areas without necessarily needing to complete the previous one. This can give you access to new sources of ingredients that allow you to improve your alchemy in tandem with your adventuring. It makes discovering new areas all the more tantalizing as you don’t merely progress the narrative, but also your skills.
There’s a dizzying amount of depth to Atelier Ryza 2, some of it completely disposable. For some reason, you can decorate your atelier, but I don’t know why you would. You can also farm ingredients and upgrade shops by selling items, but crafting supplies litter the ground and can be found in every monster’s butt. They do provide alternate methods for you access to some items you otherwise wouldn’t get until later, but whether that’s worth the extra effort is up to you.
The crafting itself might take you a bit of time to grasp the little niches to it. Some of this is because it’s not well explained. It has multiple terms for healing, for example, and for the longest time, I thought the only healing item I had access to was grass beans. Near the end of the game, they weren’t doing the job anymore, and I had to experiment to discover that “healing taste” was analogous. Afterward, I created the most amazing desserts ever devised by man and reached the end by frequently force-feeding my teammates donuts.
The benefit of this is that you get out of alchemy what you put into it. If you take your time to find the right ingredients, learn the mechanics, and discover new recipes, you can turn your party into an unstoppable force really quick. If you ignore them, however, you might find yourself struggling.
While Atelier Ryza had some difficulty grabbing me, I didn’t have quite the same issue with the sequel. I’d spend hours clearing side-quests and stirring my cauldron, sometimes neglecting the critical path. This broke down toward the end of the game, however, because I got seriously tired of its absolutely inane dialogue.
Like its predecessor, Atelier Ryza 2 is irrepressibly cheerful, which tends to be a breath of fresh air in an industry full of gloomy protagonists with dark pasts fighting against unambiguous evil. The optimism was something that helped Atelier Ryza stand out in my mind, but here I just got absolutely sick to death of it.
There is so much wasteful dialogue, it’s dizzying. A lot of it revolves around Fi and how much everyone loves it and it loves everyone. I do not need deeper insight into why it humps someone’s head. For every cutscene that actually includes meaningful character or narrative development, there’s about another dozen where characters prattle on about the cafe’s food. Even the parts that do get into the characters’ heads play coy for way too long before delivering anything of value. It tends to run in circles, going over information that is either already obvious or has already been provided.
It gets maddening. I went from listening intently to the dialogue to skimming through it for important tidbits. When the text in the final cutscenes in the game became unskippable, I actually got annoyed because I had to watch every single member of the group say how important this fight was to them. Save me.
As much as I can gripe about the inescapable vortex of dialogue that ambushes you every scene transition, I’ll still admit that I enjoyed the actual game a bit more than the first when it wasn’t talking. Maybe not for narrative reasons, but the progression and mechanics just clicked a lot more solidly for me this time. I wound up clocking around 50 hours getting through the game, but I probably could have cut that down if I didn’t spend so much time refining the tastiest donut. However, I probably would have also enjoyed it a lot less.
I’m sort of in the same position as I was last time around: I enjoyed the experience, but I’m not exactly in a hurry to go out and pick up the rest of the series. If anything, I’ll wait until the next opportunity I get to slip into Ryza’s incredibly tight shorts. Given the series’ typical pace, that will probably be in another year or so.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]