After about a week or so of quarantine, the inevitable boredom began to sink in, so I bought Atelier Ryza for the Nintendo Switch! The reason I chose Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and The Secret Hideout to be my quarantine obsession was the colorful artwork and unique game mechanics. After around 15 hours of gameplay, I knew this was a game worth reviewing, not only for its story but also its unique battle mechanics.
Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and The Secret Hideout is a colorful Japanese Role Playing Game (JRPG), created by Koei Tecmo Games and released in 2019. In this game, you play as the adventurous Ryza who wishes for more than just simple farm life. With Lent and Tao by her side, the trio of friends go off to the mainland for adventures–some of which they are not quite ready for. With the help of a wandering alchemist and his warrior companion, Ryza and her friends learn exciting skills to help them battle against monsters they encounter during their adventures.
This edition will cover the core facets of the game and other details worth noting. Specifically, we will cover Atelier Ryza’s story quality (ex. lore and characters), gameplay (ex. battle mechanics and alchemy), and user experience (ex. graphics and controls).
I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised at the subtle backstory of not only the island but also the characters. With every side quest or main story section, you gain more information about this fantasy world. These nuggets of information may be about one of Ryza’s friends, the townspeople, or the town itself.
You are pulled into the story with a mystery surrounding the island’s ancient ruins. As you progress through the main story, Ryza’s journal updates to provide direction and explain the journey thus far. This is perfect for the casual gamer who plays every once in a while and easily forgets where they left off (story of my life).
Japanese anime is not for everyone, but if you are like me and love anime–then this game is definitely for you. All the main characters are bubbly, full of life, and have their own character flaws. Ryza is spunky and a little full of herself, Tao is smart but needs a confidence boost, while Lent is the muscle of the group and has a few things to prove. After only a few hours through the game, you can see all of these character strengths and quirks during in-game cut scenes. The first section of the main story sees the characters grow and change with their experiences.
At the beginning of the game, you are prompted to choose a level ranging from Easy to Hard. Don’t worry, you can change this setting at anytime afterward as well.
Similar to Persona 5 and Final Fantasy, the battles in Atelier Ryza work on a turn-based system. However, these turns rotate in real time–giving the battle a fast-paced and strategic spin. As you decide on the action for the selected character’s turn, the enemy and other party members can take their upcoming turns. This unique battle style is a little intimidating at first but is a great change from the slower pace of classic turn-based battles. The game provides tutorials as you learn new things, but they are not as understandable as I would’ve liked.
These battles can be initiated by Ryza or the monster and have their own effects on the preceding combat. If Ryza has the chance to attack the enemy with her staff/tool first, the party starts combat with a full store of AP (Attack Points). These attack points can be used by any party member to make special actions/attacks. While in battle, all your basic attacks build up to create AP.
The special attacks are your run-of-the-mill major magic or physical action. Each character has their own starting role to play in a fight, but this can be altered later on with specialized equipment. You can also change the fighting style of the party by switching from Negative Mode (regular attacks) to Active Mode (all-out special attacks).
Gaining tactic levels does multiple things: it increases your maximum AP, skill level and some effects, and the experience gained (if you reach level 3). It also allows combos for regular attacks. (Pretty sweet, huh?) This point system is highly effective on the tougher baddies in the game.
Items that can be used within combat include things like food, medicine, and bombs. These are absolute life-savers, especially during your first few serious battles (Uni bombs for life ?).
Overall, these battle mechanics have been immensely enjoyable so far. They run smoothly and are complex enough to keep you invested. The party members also use their turns automatically–which I love because sometimes it can be overwhelming to coordinate a whole group. But, if you are someone who likes more control, switching from one character to the next is accomplished quickly with the Left and Right bumpers.
Alchemy and Synthesis
The biggest game mechanic other than monster battles would be alchemy performed at Ryza’s atelier (French for the term workshop). Throughout the game, you help Ryza become familiar with alchemy and make new items out of basically anything you can harvest. By learning new recipes, you can create better weapons, new tools, armor, and more. You can also add different effects and increase the overall effectiveness of an item by using different ingredients These ingredients are found all over the place, from the ground to up high in trees. The further you are in the game, the more ingredients become available.
At first, the matrix of synthesis may be a little confusing (I had no idea what I was doing at first). The game does provide some tutorials but leaves a bit to be desired. However, by watching YouTube videos from users like Backlog Battle, it is much easier to understand. I found discovering new recipes, ingredients, and better methods of synthesis to be very satisfying.
Content-wise, this game provides a decent amount. There is a large variety of different items that can be made with Ryza’s alchemy and even more ingredients to pick up during adventures. There is a great deal of different alchemy recipes to unlock as you progress through the main story and complete side quests.
While the characters’ outfits do not change cosmetically throughout the base game, you can buy additional outfits as downloadable content (DLC). I am typically not a fan of DLC other than in Sims, but the price point of additional outfits is fairly reasonable (approx. $2). There are purchasable side quests and challenges as well (approx. $6).
Atelier Ryza does offer a Deluxe Edition for $71.99 (approx. $12 more than the base game). The Deluxe Edition offers different color palettes for the base game outfits, early access to gear, and a supply of starter gems for alchemy.
The graphics in this Atelier Ryza are super stylized and colorful. I’m a sucker for good lighting, and this game showcases the sun shining through the trees perfectly. As you run across the beach, the shadows of clouds pass underneath, and the night sky would become speckled with stars. The attention to detail is quite surprising. As Ryza walks around, her hair and clothing move–a nice touch. On top of that, Atelier Ryza has a mode where characters can pose for a photo shoot!
The controls for this game are fairly simple. The user has full control over the camera, which is amazing. The only thing that could be jarring would be the scrolling for the main menu–but this is rather minuscule. I would definitely recommend this game for the Nintendo Switch if you prefer relaxed games on the go. You can also buy this game for PlayStation 4 and Windows.
One of the characteristics that might be a little tedious for some would be the beginning stages. The start of the game is filled with getting to know all the mechanics, characters, and their motivations. Hence, the start may seem a little tedious for some but the wait is worth it.
For me, large maps are important. This suggests a decent amount of player immersion, content to find, and areas to discover. After reviewing the map of the game and experiencing it myself, the world is tastefully detailed. However, there are quite a bit of invisible walls. Invisible walls are always a bummer, especially since this game is all about adventure. But, maybe a true open-world concept will be added to future games.
While Atelier Ryza does have English captions, it does not offer an English dubbed version. This is unfortunate for English speakers, but I barely noticed after a few hours of gameplay. If you should be wary about captions when considering this game, it is not something that disrupts immersion. It may even make the storyline more meaningful.
Overall, I absolutely love Atelier Ryza. All the beautiful scenery, colorful characters, and thoughtful mechanics are wonderful to relax to after a long day’s worth of work. The plot is interesting, the characters are lovable, and the gameplay is insightful. In my opinion, the base game is definitely worth the $59.99, as it has the potential for a great deal of game time. This is especially true if you are a completionist like myself.