I don’t think anyone could have truly predicted the success of Atelier Ryza. It found just the right balance between classic Atelier‘s slice-of-life touch and a more streamlined approach to game design that did away with some of the series’ more arcane ideas—as I said when I reviewed it, it’s “a perfect introduction to the world of Atelier, and what might just be my favourite one yet.” The fact that it quickly became the all-time best-selling game in the whole series just confirms how well it managed to appeal to old and new fans alike.
Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy is all of that, taken to a new level. It brings plenty of fresh ideas to the table, but more than that, it takes everything that the first game did well and does it even better. Where Atelier Ryza struck a fine balance between old and new, between intimate, personal stories and grand adventures, between depth and approachability, Atelier Ryza 2 perfects it.
Taking place three years after the first game, Atelier Ryza 2 sees Reisalin “Ryza” Stout leave her small island hometown for the big city, where her childhood friend Tao has made a new life as a scholar. Tao is investigating a series of ancient, mostly-forgotten legends in the hopes of unearthing the hidden ruins they refer to, but his research needs an alchemist’s touch—thus his call to Ryza, and the start of a new adventure for the two of them and their growing crew of new friends and familiar faces.
It’s not long before they manage to find the first ruin, but as such things go, it poses more questions than answers. Not least of which: what is this teddy bear-like creature who hatched from a mysterious egg gifted to Ryza before she left her hometown, what is its connection to the ruins and the city’s lost legends, and why is it so gosh-darn cute?
This sets up Atelier Ryza 2‘s biggest departure from its predecessor: ruin exploration. Dungeons have always been a common feature of Atelier (as they are of any other JRPG), but Atelier Ryza really doubles down on the exploration side of things. With new adventurer tools, Ryza can grapple across chasms, dive underwater, climb vines, and so on, and with these come new opportunities for more creative, more involved level design. It’s not quite a full-blown Tomb Raider-style action-adventure game, but the influence is there, and it makes delving into Atelier Ryza 2‘s ruins far more interesting and enjoyable than they might otherwise be. And while ruins benefit the most thanks to their puzzle-like design, adventurer tools also feed into the design of the rest of the world, with plenty of big, open spaces with lots of navigational quirks that are rife for exploration.
Likewise, exploring a ruin is never just about finding your way to the end or finding some treasure hidden deep within; it’s also about understanding the history and legend of the place. As you explore, you’ll find remnants of a past civilization in the form of fragmented old artifacts, notes from earlier adventurers, and even phantom memories that still linger in place. By taking these disjointed pieces and fitting them together, you can glimpse into the ruin’s history, earning some nice rewards and unlocking new paths deeper in the process.
Most importantly, ruin exploration is closely linked to the alchemy systems at the heart of any Atelier game. The adventurer tools you find are typically far below the full potential you can achieve by crafting your own versions of the same—like a grappling hook that can reach places that can’t be reached by the one you find lying around. Deciphering a ruin’s history is often a source of new recipe ideas, too, which in turn allow you to fix broken old mechanisms that otherwise block your way.
The archaeological framework also nicely sets up Atelier Ryza 2 for a finely-tuned balance between adventure and the quiet, slice-of-life storytelling that’s part of Atelier‘s DNA. The first Atelier Ryza mostly struck a good balance, but there were times when it felt like the quieter moments got a little drowned out by the high stakes of a quest to save the world. By contrast, Atelier Ryza 2‘s main quest feels far less urgent—at least until the latter part of the game—allowing it to naturally coexist with those sweet little character vignettes and quiet moments where people are just living their lives. You can explore an old ruin one day and catch up with your new farming buddy the next to shoot the breeze about different regional agriculture techniques, without feeling like you’re dooming the world by doing so.
It means those close, personal stories—Atelier‘s real strong suit—get to truly shine. Ryza crosses paths with many a familiar face, and if you’ve played Atelier Ryza, it’s wonderful to get the chance to see what they’re up to now and catch up with old friends. A new city means plenty of new acquaintances, too, who all manage to be both down to earth and slightly eccentric. It’s a delight to get to know them and spend a bit of time away from the action, just enjoying life’s simplicities in good company.
And just like in Atelier Ryza, the ensemble cast is charming, but it’s Ryza herself who’s the real star—and who steps up to the challenge of being the first protagonist in Atelier history to step into the leading role a second time. She’s still the same happy-go-lucky girl who acts before she thinks, has a tendency to get herself into trouble in hilarious ways, and always wears her heart on her sleeve. But she’s a bit older now, and facing the new challenges that come with moving to a big city and trying to make a name for herself—opening the door to plenty of new character developments both thoughtful and entertaining.
In most other regards, Atelier Ryza 2 sticks close to what worked in the previous game, but with some welcome little tweaks. Combat uses the same semi-real-time turn-based system, but with more focus on actually using your abilities and items instead of hoarding them thanks to some improvements for how you earn the resources that those things cost—there’s no more need to sacrifice items to replenish Core Charges for item usage, for example, with those instead being accrued when you use other skills.
Synthesis keeps the same system of adding materials to different slots in order to unlock new traits for the final item, but you can now modify those slots to change their elemental properties or add whole new effects. On top of that, there’s a new skill tree through which you can learn new recipes and improve your overall alchemy capabilities, using points earned through successful synthesis, quest completion, and successful deciphering of ruin fragments.
In short, Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy keeps close to everything that made the original Atelier Ryza such a wonderful game to begin with, while also finding ways to build upon those ideas. Sometimes that means little tweaks to fine-tune systems that were already excellent to start with, and other times that means bringing in a whole new Atelier riff on a Tomb Raider-style archaeological adventure. Most of all, it’s a chance to spend a few dozen more hours with Atelier‘s most loveable heroine and her merry band, enjoying those quiet, personal moments as much as the big adventures—that’s what Atelier does best, and what Atelier Ryza 2 does best of all.
Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy is developed by Gust and published by Koei Tecmo Games. It comes out January 26 (NA) / January 29 (EU/AU/NZ) for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Nintendo Switch, and PC.
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.