Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout is the latest in the ongoing Atelier series, which spans more than thirty titles released under the name. Koei Tecmo has brought this title to the PC, Nintendo Switch, and PlayStation 4 which I am reviewing the title on. Fortunately, you don’t need any knowledge of the previous titles to jump right into this one.
For those unfamiliar with the Atelier titles in general, it is a JRPG series that focuses on alchemy. A large part of the focus is on collecting ingredients and combining them to make better items and to progress in the game. You won’t be searching for that legendary sword – you’ll be making it!
The THICCest Alchemist
You play the game as the titular character Reisalin ‘Ryza’ Stout, who describes herself as the normal daughter of a normal father. She starts off as a young woman bored with her life and wanting to do something great, but spending more time running away from chores than working towards anything.
Honestly, at the start of this game, I didn’t like Ryza much. She was very childish and almost acts like a brat at times. I wondered if the reason why she was so popular was her busty design and that the ‘jiggle physics’ is definitely noticeable whenever she moves. I mean, that’s a valid reason to like a character too, I suppose…
Early on in the game, Ryza is saved by an alchemist. This seems like it was a turning point for her. She still worries about her mom yelling at her but decides to do what she wants anyway. She stills runs off from helping with the family farm. Despite this, she finds a goal of her own – to become a great alchemist. She works towards it. She starts to grow not only as an alchemist but as a person. And with that, I started to like her more.
Aside from Ryza herself, you often see her group of friends including the driven and boyish Lent, the timid but smart Tao, and the gentle but courageous Klaudia. Many of the characters do seem to fall into typical anime archetypes, but several have quite well-developed backstories and turn out to be surprisingly interesting. They aren’t the most interesting group of characters in the world on first impression, but they do grow on you. I appreciated that they all had their own issues to face and grow from.
A Relaxed Adventure
The story of Atelier Ryza could be described as a slow-paced adventure story with a heavy dose of slice of life scenes. I think of the story of Atelier Ryza as being split into two parts. The build-up and the adventure. This is also be described in the title too; Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout. Two parts are mentioned and to me, they felt like quite different aspects of the story.
At the start of the game, Ryza and her friends feel like children who want to be adventurers, but there isn’t actually an adventure there for them at first. Instead, we get to spend a lot of time exploring the world and characters. We get to learn about the small island that Ryza lives on and their community. We meet Ryza’s friends and hear all about their dreams and their problems. We get introduced to alchemy and we begin to see what Ryza can do with it.
At the time I felt like the build-up was too long and some of the scenes felt like they weren’t important. I still feel like the build-up is too long and there are some pacing issues, but in retrospect, a lot of those little scenes were dropping hints and adding to the information for the adventure later. Just it didn’t really need to be spread out over the fifteen or so hours I spent on it. With that said, I still did enjoy seeing a lot of the fun scenes like Ryza’s plans, which are at one point described as always being ‘poorly thought out and super dangerous’ by one of her friends.
When we get to the adventure portion, it seems to be a lot heavier on plot points that move the story along. Without spoiling much, this felt like when the adventure really started. We suddenly have more of a focus – an imminent danger to deal with. But we had the power of alchemy to keep up with it.
While I enjoyed both sections, the second part was more enjoyable for me. It pulled in a lot of that backstory it spent so long setting up and kept things exciting.
One complaint I do have is that the ending wasn’t particularly powerful. It kept on the theme for the game though, with its strong focus on the characters rather than the events. When you do finish the game, there is still post-game content and the possibility to play again on unlockable difficulties without losing everything.
How Does This Work?
Atelier Ryza plays like a standard JRPG in many ways, other than its focus on the crafting system known as alchemy. One thing I have to praise right off though is the convenience factor built-in throughout.
As you travel around the world battling monsters, collecting materials, and completing quests, you will unlock new areas. Some areas and other aspects of the game may not be fully accessible until you can create certain items, but there is always plenty to explore and do. Fortunately, you don’t have to spend too much time running around it if you don’t want to – fairly early on, you can fast travel to almost anywhere, from anywhere. Not just to a certain village, but even to a particular section of the village. Unless you want to, you don’t really need to walk that much. Of course, you will miss out if you just teleport everywhere…
As you travel through the world, you will come across a huge variety of materials that you can collect with tools. One thing I particularly liked about this was that many objects you could collect materials from would change what they yielded based on the tool used. Using a hammer to crush something into powder instead of cutting it into pieces with an ax often made sense and was a nice detail.
When you return home, you could drop off all of your collected ingredients and use alchemy to make equipment and other items. Alchemy is rather straightforward in this Atelier game, unlike some of the others. As you get closer to end game, you do unlock more and more extra features though and this can confuse things slightly.
Going back to the convenience factor of Atelier Ryza, items created with alchemy can be placed in a special tool called a core crystal which allows you to use them without consuming the item. Essentially, you never run out of any items you make. This reduces the need for constantly creating consumable items and instead focusing on making the best ones possible. You can only use them a limited amount of times before resting, but there are some options to manage it.
Even the story has a convenient feature. Every time you complete part of the story, you can see a diary writeup of what you recently did and what your goal is next. You’re always able to take a look if you cannot figure out what to do next in the story or if you just haven’t played for a while. As adults with busy lives, that’s a feature that certainly needs praise. It helps as you’re not always told exactly what to do too, with the game letting you figure it out for yourself.
One feature which is common in Atelier games, but not so much in JRPGs is a time system. Unlike some games of this series though, Atelier Ryza does not let you run out of time. You can take as much or as little time as you like. It only really becomes relevant when you are told to come back the next day and then you can skip time if needed.
I did find the inclusion of the time system in Atelier Ryza a little odd. It was never really important to have and did not add anything too significant to the game aside from some changes in the world based on the time of day. On top of that, it came with the occasional odd occurrence like Ryza’s father sending his teenage daughter on a shopping errand at 1 AM. Then seeing a cutscene at 2 AM with the shop open. But leaving the cutscene, the shop was closed and I could not continue the quest until waiting or skipping to the next day when the shop opened. Things like that were rare, but they did break the immersion a bit.
Overall I have to say I’m impressed with the general gameplay of Atelier Ryza. There are a lot of features and it really feels like a modern JRPG should.
As with pretty much any JRPG, there are battles. Monsters can be made into valuable materials for alchemy, so if you want that new leather armor, you need to get the material from the source!
Quite a lot of the battles in Atelier Ryza are optional. Monsters appear on the map and you can generally avoid them quite easily if you want to. I found that I barely ended up fighting at all during the first half of the game.
When you do have to fight, you can choose actions for one of the three characters in your party at a time. Both your own party members and monsters flow along a gauge and when they reach the bottom, they can take action. It’s pretty similar to the old Final Fantasy ATB systems in a way. If someone in your party is not selected, they will choose an action automatically.
I mostly played as Ryza here. I controlled her and let the other characters do their own thing unless I wanted one of their special abilities. I did enjoy that it could be quite hands-on or kept quite simple. It’s nice to see a flexible system like that.
One feature that I particularly liked was what I’ll call the order system. Unlike a lot of games, you don’t order your teammates about. They order you about! Sometimes during a battle, they tell you to use a certain type of move. Do fire damage, heal me, and so on. If you did these, you would be rewarded by the teammate using a special attack on the enemy. The order system is not without its flaws though. I was sometimes told to heal characters who were nearly full on health. Later in the game, I was also asked to do things that I could not such as use ice damage when I don’t have a skill or equipped item which can do that. Still, it usually worked out really well.
There were a few nice features like that if you wanted to go more in-depth than hitting things with your weapon and skills. That said, the game is relatively easy as long as you keep up on your alchemy. Quite often you can just get away with hitting things until they die. And if you happened to die first, the game was quite gentle about it. You would just lose some items and wake up elsewhere.
It’s So Pretty
The world of Atelier Ryza is beautiful and varied. There is a photo mode for taking screenshots and you can create some amazing ones. The characters look good themselves too. I briefly touched on Ryza’s character design being well-received by many people earlier, but many of the characters have great designs and are unique.
The sound is to be complimented too. The soundtrack is quite expansive and there was always a great fit for a scene or place. The scenes were a mixture of fully voiced or non-voiced. Even non-voiced scenes sometimes had small bits of speech or reaction sounds to help convey the tone though.
Overall, I really enjoyed Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout. The pacing of the story wasn’t the best in the world and the characters weren’t as charming as some other titles, but it was a relaxing journey with well developed characters and an interesting world. Overall, the gameplay is one of the better systems I’ve experienced for a JRPG too. I did enjoy Atelier Ayesha more, but I still have to say…
ATELIER RYZA IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks goes to Koei Tecmo for a PlayStation 4 review code for this title.
Support High-Quality And Detailed Coverage
Want to support the cost of us bringing you these articles or just buy us a coffee for a job well done? Click the Ko-fi button below. You can even find some digital goodies in our shop~!
A gamer since the days of Amstrad and DOS and someone who has dabbled in a variety of professions. He enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has been focusing on visual novels and virtual reality in recent years. Head Editor of NookGaming. Follow him and the website on @NookSite.