Spanning over 20 years and 15 different games consoles, the Atelier game series has quite the history.
The latest release is Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout. It’s the 21st main entry into the series – or 38th, if you count all the series’ spin-offs and side games. With such a long history, then, if you’ve ever played an Atelier game, you’ll have some idea what to expect from Atelier Ryza. And if you don’t? Well, you have a charming and enjoyable RPG adventure to look forward to.
Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout doesn’t waste any time in getting you involved in the action. After a small introductory sequence, the controls are handed over to you. To its benefit, there are no overly-long cutscenes which are usually synonymous with JRPGs.
The game does ease you in lightly though; your first few hours will be spend doing basic tasks in order to get you used to Atelier Ryza‘s systems. The introductory story mission, split over seven parts, took me around five hours to complete. Only once that was completed did I feel like the game was really beginning, letting me get into my stride.
Many of Atelier Ryza‘s missions will have you going back and forth a lot. Early on there are plenty of fetch quests; heading to one place, finding an item, and going back. Numerous times you’ll be told to “wait one day” or more before you can proceed with the next story mission. It’s fine – you can sleep to pass time, or complete some side quests if you want – but sometimes you just want to crack on with the storyline you’re already invested in. You’ll also find yourself constantly heading into the menu to look at what your next task or objective is. While the lack of a heads-up display means your screen remains cleaner, it does feel like a chore to have to hit the menu button so often.
Of course, this is an atelier game, so alchemy plays a big part. Throughout Atelier Ryza you’ll be crafting items and potions in order to progress your journey. As such, many missions involve finding certain ingredients. Annoyingly, there’s often no way of knowing exactly where to find those ingredients – unless you happen to remember where you’ve picked them up before. Expect to spend a lot of time mindlessly searching areas, collecting everything you can in the hope of finding what you need.
That said, gathering items in Atelier Ryza is rather satisfying at times. There’s a massive range of ingredients to pick up. Some need to be harvested from, say, a tree or a bush, with a specific piece of equipment. And the piece of equipment you use will determine what item you get in return. Using your scythe might net you one type of wood, but use your staff and you’ll get another. Seeing these different combinations in action is rewarding, but what’s more rewarding is simply exploring Atelier Ryza‘s gorgeous world.
This is a beautifully designed game, through and through. Docked on Switch, textures are a little jaggedy and nothing is quite as sharp as it should be – but that’s to be forgiven due to the console’s relatively low pulling power. In handheld mode on the Switch’s small screen, it’s a different story. The world of Atelier Ryza is radiant. There’s a gorgeous, hand-drawn quality to the art, and scenery often looks like a freshly-painted watercolour. There’s a mystical feel to everything about Atelier Ryza; from its alchemy-themed storyline to its enchanted forests and fairy grottoes begging to be explored. While I’ve only played a handful of the vast amount of Atelier games available, the world of Atelier Ryza is my favourite yet.
Atelier Ryza isn’t just about exploring and alchemy, however: you’ll encounter plenty of enemies along the way. Initially, combat poses little challenge so fights can become quite repetitive. They’re at least quick-paced and fairly engaging, though the real fun is coming up against a hardier foe. You’ll be waiting some hours until your first real challenge in battle. Normal enemies will go down by simply dealing regular attacks, but tougher enemies require a mix of item use and magic. While you only have control of one character in your party at any one time, the others will issue commands, so paying attention to what they say is worthwhile too.
The combat, the exploration and the action is tied together with a rather charming story played out by a group of lovable characters. There are perhaps a few too many cutscenes when you simply want to get on with the game, but the dialogue – voiced in Japanese – is mostly entertaining and worth paying attention to. Ryza and her friends are quirky and delightful, and you’ll really come to feel quite attached to them as the story progresses.
If you’re a fan of previous games in the Atelier series, it goes without saying that you’ll enjoy Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout, too. It’s a charming adventure set against a gorgeous backdrop, and even though it may take a while to get going, it’s worth persevering with. Its combat is engaging, exploration is a delight, and its characters are a pleasure to know. Even if you’ve never played an Atelier game before, Atelier Ryza is one worth jumping into.