Despite their low-key tone and slice-of-life settings, many games in Gust’s Atelier series can be surprisingly impenetrable. Older games, in particular, confined players to rigid time-management systems that asked players to carefully manage how they spend their time between fighting monsters, gathering materials, synthesising items, and resting. Even more recent games that relaxed such systems still required some degree of micromanagement and juggling of priorities.
Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout is a step in a new direction. It’s abandoned most of the series’ more arcane ideas, and it playing it feels much more like playing a “typical” JRPG. At the same time, it still holds fast to the themes and tone that define Atelier: coming of age in a tight-knit community, finding adventures in one’s own backyard instead of going on a journey to save the world, and taking each day as it comes. With that balance, Gust have created a perfect introduction to the world of Atelier, and what might just be my favourite one yet.
Atelier Ryza centres, as most Atelier games do, on a young girl from a small town with a budding talent for alchemy. In this case, our alchemist is Reiselin “Ryza” Stout, a farmer’s daughter who dreams of adventure. Her wish comes true when some strangers show up in town to investigate the old ruins that dot the nearby landscape, and one of them introduces Ryza to the science of alchemy.
So begins her life of helping out her neighbours in whatever way she can, whether it be inventing new types of bait for fishermen who are struggling to catch anything, making medicines, or just entertaining people with magical creations. It also leads Ryza to the adventure she’s always dreamed of, with venturing out into the wilderness outside her village in search of new ingredients being a key part of alchemy. Luckily, she’s no slouch in combat herself (and the alchemic weapons she can make certainly help), but she’s also got her ever-reliable friends Lent and Tao to join her.
A lot of Atelier games would leave it at that, as far as an overarching story goes, and focus on the individual character arcs and subplots that develop through the daily life of an alchemist. Atelier Ryza still does that through its many sidequests, but there’s more of a linear, main storyline to play through this time. As you might have guessed, there’s more to the town’s plentiful ruins than first meets the eye, and alongside the visiting researchers and her group of friends, Ryza finds herself roped into an adventure to save the future of her town.
It’s not quite fighting a god and saving the world from destruction, but with this setup, Atelier Ryza leans more heavily into the typical JRPG structure than other games in the series. There’s a good balance between the main plot and the usual slice-of-life elements, though I would have preferred to see more of the latter. Still, as a way of easing newcomers into the fold, it works well—the stakes are higher than your usual Atelier game, but far lower than what you’d normally expect from a JRPG.
I’m absolutely here for Ryza‘s many efforts to streamline and innovate on the series basic systems. There’s nothing even resembling a time-management system anymore, so you can freely gather, grind, and craft to your heart’s content whenever you want to. There’s no more panic about wasted time if you accidentally travel to the wrong location or have to go back to your base to collect an item you forgot to bring with you, and a very liberal fast-travel system makes getting from place to place effortless—letting you instead focus on doing what you went there to do.
Atelier Ryza completely revamps the combat and crafting systems, with fantastic results. Instead of individual MP bar, everyone in your party now shares an Action Point (AP) gauge that starts each battle at 0 and fills up with every action. Instead of fighting a battle of attrition with your MP gauge (or just never using skills for fear of wasting precious resources), each battle now revolves around its own internal resource management. Items, too, have been revamped—instead of having limited uses that forced the need to keep replenishing your stock, they can now be equipped, and use comes at the cost of “Core Charges” that can be replenished.
The reworked crafting system is especially fascinating. Basically, crafting an item involves sticking different ingredients into something akin to a skill tree, where putting an item into one node unlocks those connected to it, and so on. Each different node adds different traits to the finished result, and requires different materials. Atelier has always had deep crafting systems, and this one retains that depth while also giving you a lot more control over the outcomes. It also smooths out the learning curve a lot, since a lot of the more complex crafts—even with basic recipes—depend on using rare, high-quality materials that you won’t get until late in the game.
Between the revamped combat and crafting systems and the wealth of quality-of-life improvements, Atelier Ryza is really enjoyable to just sit down and play. Micromanagement still plays a role (especially if you want to go down the rabbit hole of creating the best items you can), but there’s less of the stress that came with the older games’ systems. Coupled with a more plot-driven narrative that nonetheless plays into the slice-of-life tone and charming characters Atelier games are known for, Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout is a perfect introduction to the series.
The publisher provided Shindig with a copy of this game for reviewing purposes.