Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and the Secret Hideout Review – Returning to Alchemy

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The latest entry in the longstanding Atelier series puts a new spin on old mechanics while introducing a brand-new alchemist to the Atelier family with Ryza. However, we’re curious, can she and her friends make the cut?


Pros:
+Revamped alchemy systems
+Spectacular art design, from characters to environments
+The game is both relaxing and engaging; an easy experience to slip into that will consume your attention.

Cons:
-Battles often feel repetitive
-Tutorial railroads your progress
-Losing a battle bears no real consequence


The Atelier series has been an obsession of mine for several years now. Admittedly, my knowledge of the series is very limited as I entered into the franchise fairly late. Not playing my first Atelier game until the series had already migrated to the PS2 with Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana. I never had the opportunity to finish Iris, and by all means, my experience with the game was only skin deep.

Over the years I’d have opportunities to try several more entries within the series, whether borrowing them from a library or a rental store when those still existed. The first Atelier game I managed to complete was Mana Khemia: Student Alliance on Playstation Portable. I had finally sunk my teeth into more than just the surface of the series, I found myself well and truly hooked. This fairly niche series had won itself a place in my heart, and I would struggle to find others to fill that void.

As the years went on, I, unfortunately, missed out on a great many following titles. Whether due to financial restrictions or a simple lack of the platform the games released on. And so I now find myself here, playing Atelier Ryza and jotting down notes with gusto.

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In Atelier Ryza, everyone wants something in life

A shoreline, a young woman, and her desire for something grander than her day to day. That is how the game starts and introduces us to our main heroine Reisalin Stout. As she describes herself, she’s the normal daughter of a normal farmer. A fact that, while she may not lament, she makes very clear leaves her feeling very unfulfilled. Reisalin, or Ryza as everyone calls her, has a very strong personality. She is exceptionally outgoing, upbeat and ever eager to avoid her daily chores. Often acting as a driving force behind her two close friends, Tao Mongarten and Lent Marslink.

The three regularly meet in Ryza’s room, talking about their aspirations and potential adventures. Ryza, as stated above, wants for something to break the monotony of her daily life. Tao wishes to be able to read his library of books, left behind by his grandfather, written in a language he doesn’t understand. He is of the timid sort, always erring on the side of caution even for the most mundane things. His is the voice of reason, which often gets drowned out. Lent wants to prove to the villagers that he is strong. Fortunately for Lent and Ryza, their goals line up fairly well. So what is a young woman who wants excitement to do? Go on an adventure that violates the rules of her island home, while dragging along her friends of course.

With the destination of the mainland in mind, the trio sets off to find a means of passage. Unfortunately for them the best Guardian, akin to town guards, is at the port. This makes it impossible for them to find a way off the island. Luckily for her friends, Ryza discovered a small pier with a boat right next to her home, the shoreline we see at the very start of the game.

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Exploding local wildlife through the use of skills and items

The combat of Atelier Ryza is broken up into several systems. We have our basic attack, of course. Each character uses a different type of weapon. Ryza uses a staff, Lent uses a large sword, and Tao uses a hammer. Additionally, we have our skills that consume Action Points.

We acquire new skills for the party as we level up and progress through the game. Our AP is also used to build up our Tactics Level, once our AP gauge is maxed out you can hit the touchpad(on PS4) to increase it. Increasing your Tactics Level carries a few benefits. First and foremost it allows you to use additional combos, each Tactics Level, up to the third, adds another press of your basic attack button.

Having a higher Tactics Level also applies additional effects to your skills. We only directly control one character at a time. We can select which character through an input and determine their actions while the other party members attack automatically. To aid in the collection of AP you have two Modes, which will be enacted by your auto-attacking allies. Negative Mode restricts their use of Skills, while Aggressive enables their use of skills until your AP has run dry.

While in battle, your party may occasionally tell you what to do. You’ll have small messages pop up in the top left corner of the screen. Should you take the action a teammate wants you to, it can result in them using a followup skill to further attack an enemy.

Next, we have our Items. Items in this game aren’t directly consumed, but rather each character can “store” an item in what is called a Core Crystal. Each item used consumes a set amount of Core Charges, which can be replenished by absorbing an equipped item or by finding a Safety Flower in the field. If you choose to convert an item into a Core Charge, it becomes unusable until you return to your hideout.

Each character can have a specific Role. Roles are determined by Role Level totals granted by equipped weapons, armor and accessories. The attacker will grant you a boosted attack. The defender will see an increase in defense while also being targeted by enemies more. Support characters build AP more quickly, allowing you to pull off high-cost skills and increase your Tactics Level sooner.

This is the general flow of every battle in the game I’ve experienced. Unfortunately, at times it can feel as if it’s lacking something. The systems layered on top of one another are nice, but at times it feels as if there’s not much strategizing that can go into a battle. A few times will you win a fight by a slim margin, you either completely crush the opposition or you get crushed yourself.

Don’t worry about losing fights, however. For better or worse, the only consequence of actually getting reduced to zero HP is retreating to the hideout and losing some of your higher quality materials. Just make sure to retreat when you feel you’ve found something rare, or you may wind up losing that new find.

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So what about alchemy? Where does that come in?

Alchemy plays as central a role in Atelier Ryza as any other entry in this series. You can make everything, from mundane items such as Grass Beans, to your weapons and armor. This series puts a new spin on the crafting system, introducing a grid that denotes additional effects based on the overall quality and element value. These different nodes, called Material Loops, ask for specific items or types of items, as well as a certain amount of an Element Value.

Reaching those requirements can bestow benefits such as increasing the potency of a healing item, or adding additional attack to a weapon. The quality of your synthesized items matters, these have a bearing on their strength as well as making searching for even grander items a priority. You’ll notice when you make your first item, the quality of your materials and the final item won’t be spectacular. As you synthesize up a storm you will raise Ryza’s Alchemy Level, which will allow you to use additional items per individual synthesis.

As in other Atelier games, you must harvest your own raw materials. Some materials you can buy from the various shopkeepers, but the vast majority are found out in the wild. Battling enemies, harvesting from felled trees or boulders with tools. The bounty of the world is at your fingertips if you know how and where to look. Different tools can have different effects on resources.

The game encourages, and rewards, the vigilant gatherer. Take note that you can only carry so many items at a time before you must return to the hideout to unload. This also serves as the perfect opportunity to check your recipes and see if anything new can be made. Just as before, recipes can be changed to completely new items just by using a single item, which you can see in the recipe itself so you can keep an eye on it.

One last thing to note about Atelier Ryza’s Synthesis system is the new Item Rebuild feature. Through the use of Crystals, which you obtain by breaking down unwanted or excess items and materials, you can fill in more of the Material Loops of an already crafted item. Keep in mind that unless it’s an effect of the loop it won’t raise the quality of that item. Additionally, if the individual level of an item exceeds that of a character, they can no longer use it.

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To define the game in a single word, I’d call it “Comfy”, but I still have a few minor issues

The game is very easy to lose track of time. For someone like me who is a total nut about the ability to create items, and optimize them as much as possible, it’s a dream come true. I’ve had moments where I return to the hideout just to drop off a few items, and then look at my phone and find I’ve just spent an hour on crafting new and more powerful items. This game has scratched an itch I’ve had for a long time, and overall it feels extremely gratifying.

That said, I do have a few issues with the game itself. Nothing major enough to steer me away from the game, or make me want to chase others away from it. But issues nonetheless.

First and foremost, the tutorial section of the game very much so railroads your progress. Should you try to turn away from your objective once you reach the mainland at the very start, the game gently prods you towards the direction you need to go. Fair enough, but once I’m in an area I can actually fight it does the same thing.

Once you’ve reached a certain point the game essentially tells you “Right, enough of that. Time to go home.” You have no choice but to listen. You can hang around and snag a few more enemies on the way out, but that’s about it. Another aspect of this I find to be an oddity is, certain materials you can gather after this point of the game don’t even spawn into the world. Instead of presenting you with an object you have “no need for at this time” a basic item like Rainbow Grapes, which grows in a grove right next to Ryza’s house, hasn’t spawned in at all yet.

My second and third issues are actually intertwined. The battles often times feel extremely repetitive as I’ve said before. You can utilize Negative and Aggressive to conserve AP, but beyond that, you’d have to swap between characters constantly. While that may sound like a nitpick, each character does have a speed stat. Unless your character has equipment that greatly reduces their speed, or uses an item that causes your Wait Time to increase, characters will attack very close after one another, making it impossible to jump between them.

Thus leads into my last issue with the game. Losing a fight doesn’t really have any consequence aside from losing items. Even against a boss or powerful enemy, you don’t get booted to a game over screen and potentially lose progress. I know I must be insane for saying that should be a consequence. But I’d prefer something more than simply losing a few resources here or there.

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What’s the final verdict?

I’ve said it before, I’ll definitely say it again. I have fallen in love with this game. I implore anyone who has played an Atelier game before, try this one. I beg anyone who has never even heard of the series, check it out.

Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 4
Developer: Gust Co. Ltd
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Release Date: October 29th, 2019
Cost: $59.99

While Atelier Ryza may not be a perfect game, if such a thing exists, it is an exceptionally enjoyable one. I highly recommend it and I will recommend it to as many people as I can.


Our review is based upon a retail version that was provided to us by the publisher of the game for review. For information about our ethics policy please click here.


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About the Writer(s):

kennard_daniel_prim_01.jpgKennard Daniel Prim isn’t just your average gamer, he’s a die-hard fan of the single-player genre, specializing in imported games from Japan as well as his love for everything RPG related. As a contributor to Blast Away the Game Review, his knowledge of such games becomes just as invaluable as his critiquing of games.

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