Fire burn and cauldron bubble
I’m willing to openly admit that I’ve never touched the Atelier series before. Going into Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and the Secret Hideout, I knew very little. It’s a series focused on alchemy and it’s been around for a hog’s age, but that’s about it. However, I was drawn to it purely because you play as a cute anime girl and I was in a mood.
Sometimes my tastes are simple.
Nothing excites me more than jumping into a new series completely blind. I just want to be upfront that these are the views of a fresh set of eyes and not a seasoned fan. I can’t comment on how this entry compares to previous games, only how it stands on its own.
Having lived her life isolated on a small island, Reisalin Stout (Ryza for short), a young teenager with a terrifying wedgie, dreams of adventure. So she peer-pressures her friends into sneaking onto the mainland to harass the wildlife.
That’s the gist of it. She wants adventure, so she goes out and adventures.
Along the way, she meets a group of traveling merchants who teach her the ways of alchemy; the art of jamming random ingredients into a stew to make everything from potions to hammers. She finds out quickly that she has a knack for alchemy and sets out building this newfound skill to prove to everyone what a dependable adult she can be.
At its core, it’s a coming-of-age tale. The stakes aren’t as high nor the villains as defined as you might find in a typical RPG. The plot instead centers around watching the characters and their friendship grow. It’s slow, to be certain, but it’s also very relaxed and laid-back. It’s therefore a bit shocking to see themes of child abuse mixed into the overall sunny plot about friendship — then just kind of not get addressed.
While most of Atelier Ryza subscribes to a fairly typical JRPG formula, the alchemy makes it stand apart. In short, it’s a crafting system, not unlike what we’ve seen in a glut of other games in recent years. However, the way alchemy ties into the combat makes it pretty satisfying.
Rather than simply crafting food, elixirs, and other consumables, you’re able to slot your creations into your inventory and can use them indefinitely as long as you have the available CC in a fight to do so. This, along with building and upgrading your weapons and armor, means you can give yourself a big advantage with the right recipes. Often, when I’d get my butt kicked in a fight, it was only a matter of returning to the atelier and working on my recipes to overcome the next obstacle.
The downside to the focus on alchemy is that it causes the game to flow like a river of congealed milk. You’re often stopped to craft something for somebody and that can mean trying to find the ingredients out in the wild. It feels appropriate, if nothing else, but it leads to a lot of combat, exploration, dialogue, craft, stop, start, stop, start.
It doesn’t help that the main quest moves inorganically and has you crisscrossing the map in a way that only fast-travel makes tolerable. Often, I was left with no idea where I was supposed to go, with only the next minimap waypoint as my clue of where to proceed. It seems like you’re expected to look in your quest journal every time an objective is accomplished. It works, but there’s something a bit odd about opening your journal and seeing, “and then Ryza went to visit her parents,” as a blatant indication of what the game wants you to do next.
The impact this structure has on the overall game is impossible to ignore, but it doesn’t ruin the fun completely — it just doesn’t seem like the most effective way to lay things out.
That’s also not to say Atelier Ryza isn’t an enjoyable game, it most certainly is. There’s something infectious about its optimistic attitude and absorbing about its crafting-centric gameplay. There’s always something available to unlock just around the corner; all that’s needed is a specific set of items that could be hidden anywhere.
The characters have ridiculous designs and dress like they were in the vicinity of a department store explosion, but their personalities are likable enough. Their problems are small and petty, but sometimes it’s nice to have a character motivated by personal growth rather than self-righteousness or the death of their loved ones.
It’s a refreshing change of pace from moody protagonists saving the world from unambiguously evil villains. While I like to poke fun at fashion issues like Ryza’s butt hungrily devouring her shorts, I had fun with Atelier Ryza. It’s not quite enough to get me to run out and pick up the rest of the series, but if I’m ever in the mood for some more anime crafting hijinks, I’ll probably give them a look.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]