Atelier Ryza: Eternal Darkness & The Secret Hideout is the tale of Ryza and her two best friends Lent and Tao as they are just about to hit adulthood while still keeping to adventures that the rest of their town thinks is childish. Adventuring where they shouldn't one day and they come across a girl named Klaudia being attacked and while saving her, they are saved themselves by an Alchemist and his warrior companion. Changing their life forever, adulthood is coming faster than they thought with a darkness coming back again to finish what it started.
When it comes to long running series, Gust's Atelier is up there with the likes of Square's Final Fantasy and Enix's Dragon Quest. Like these other two, it falls into a bit of a trap of what have we done? What have we not done? Do we change up our formula? Or do we keep refining it while still innovating forward AND keeping the magic that has been created over the years.
Like Dragon Quest, the Atelier series had stuck to its core and has experimented with the elements that are almost in their own way, magic. Playing with various chemicals and materials, the Atelier series prides itself on alchemy and the stories of those that practice it. Having had ups and downs with the various entries dating for me all the way back to Atelier Iris on the PS2, Atelier Ryza is probably one of the best damn entries in the series for a variety of reasons.
I could probably go on and on about how much the visuals have been upgraded and how beautiful it's made the various landscapes around the island and the mainland across the water, but I won't. For Robert, I'll mention that characters finally look like they are walking or running instead of gliding around the environments. The graphics are nice, but it's everything under the hood of this latest alchemist's adventure that just blew me away and keep coming back for more.
As “open worlded” as my favorite entry of Atelier Firis was while Firis explored the world on her way to take her alchemist’s exam, there was still a straight line structure and events that needed to happen in order to keep moving forward. Open world or points on a map to be explored, the Atelier series have always kept in line with the standard approach to JRPGs and in that regard, Atelier Ryza is no different. Where things have been adjusted are that you don’t always have to go over to the next point in order to move the story along. Instead, you can keep exploring or do other things until you feel ready to move along as there are finally, NO. TIME. LIMITS.
Further to that, you also get treated to small cutscenes that let you get to better know the people living on this island while either practicing alchemy or moving from point to point on the island looking for side quests to tackle. Time of day is still fundamental to the overall adventure, morning, afternoon, evening and night, but not having to worry about a calendar moving forward was quite refreshing. So with this switch, you can start really taking your time in order to talk to everyone, to hunt for materials, to tackle side quests that not only let you get to know people better, but actually blend into one another as well as progress everything forward. It’s this shift in how things progress that have turned Atelier Ryza into a nice and smooth experience that can be enjoyed instead of stressed over as you worry about meeting the imposed time limits.
Now with all of the time in the world, there are other adjustments in the gameplay that can finally shine and be revamped. You now no longer need to worry about how much time is spent moving between areas or how much time it could take to pick up items and ingredients from each some that you visit. Time now only moves forward as you move from location to location and it isn’t like it’s a killer amount of time either. Moving between parts of the town will maybe cost an hour while heading out to the mainland and your eventual secret hideout will cost a few extra hours. So with time now out of the way, what has it paved? It’s paved a whole new way to explore the environments and gather materials.
While out and exploring you could at one time either pick something up or hit it with your staff in order to break off what you needed. It’s simple, and it worked. Now though, you can pick up items, you can hit them with your staff to gather one type of material or you can now hit them with axes, hammers or scythes in order to gather something else. Hitting a tree with a staff will give you the fruits of the tree. Hitting it with an axe will give you the wood. Hitting it with a scythe will give you bark shavings or perhaps pieces of vines. It’s not trial an error as much as exploring and cataloging which materials can be gathered how. Not all tools are available for use on every surface but those at least are clearly indicated so that you don’t waste your time figuring that out.
As your inventory gets full, you’ll have to make your way back to your Atelier in order to store what you’ve picked up. This hasn’t changed, though in a bit of a twist, how you go back to your Atelier has. Quick travelling is, for lack of a better word on my part, interesting. It starts off with being able to instantly return to Ryza’s room or use a town sign board in order to move between the various districts and the boards that can be found within. It’s neat, but eventually it starts to get old as Ryza’s Atelier goes from being her bedroom to her secret base on the mainland. Going between the two wasn’t exactly the easiest after a while because to hit the mainland, you have to set sail. To get to the Atelier, you had to run through a few maps. And just as I was about to get fully annoyed, Atelier Ryza shifted some elements around once again making everything better.
Quick travel eventually evolves from the town signage boards over to having the full world map that can be accessed from anywhere. While you can always tap your heels three times to go home, you can eventually just pick a region and the map that you want to go to. This makes exploring and picking up materials that much easier as you no longer have to keep running through the same areas in order to get to the new ones. The town signage however still plays a factor as you can use the world travel to hit the district that you want, and from there, you can zoom on over to the particular area within once you’re there. In a nutshell, Gust have created an experience that evolves as your character’s skills do so there’s always something new to look forward to.
Alchemy itself is now a lot more fun than it’s ever been. With no time limits at all, you can now make orders for sometimes twenty or thirty minutes at a time without noticing especially if you’re trying to get something just right for features like extra attack or defense, or trying to make something new. Going into a new avenue for creation, you are now no longer bound by having to find each and every new alchemical formula. Working now on a node like basis, recipes learnt can lead to new recipes after you’ve invested the appropriate materials into each node. What this change has really brought is that you don’t always need to have all of the materials in question, instead, you can get away with following one of the various paths which alone can change the properties of the item.
The same line of thought applies to character equipment. Building the basics, the node like features lead to newer and more powerful models. Following upon these new track of features, items created for battle now are no longer single time uses, but neither are they unlimited. Now, each character, not just alchemists, can both equip and use items for battle. Ryza for example can equip up to three while Tao can equip two and the brawn of the operation can equip one. Even if Lent can just equip one item, he can still use them which is a lot more than many other entries of the series could say.
To use these items, each one has a point usage when you go into battle. Bombs for example use 2pts while your starting healing items just 1pt a piece out of a pool that is shared by the entire party. If you run out of points though, you can always use the items that you have equipped to grant you more points at the cost of losing one of the items you had on hand. It’s a neat little balance as some items come in twos and threes and you’ll eventually want to replace them so it’s a good way to phase things in and out.
Going into the last of the new and shiny features, is the new battle system itself which has gone from turn based to real time. Now instead of turn orders, both your party and your enemies have variable cooldown times until their next actions which are dependent on what previous action was taken. What’s really neat is that you can pick who you want to use in battle while the other two will act independently in either a “passive” or “aggressive” mode. In passive mode, characters will concentrate on physical attacks while in aggressive mode they’ll use their abilities which use up the AP that are accumulated off of each landed physical hit.
Adding a layer to this is that stored AP can be used in order to level up your party’s tactics which allows things such as hitting enemies twice per physical attack instead of just once which in turn raises the AP faster in order to use abilities faster. Also each time that you level up your tactics you can store more AP each time allowing you to do “interrupts” which are perfect for “following commands” such as your allies calling out to you to use magic or items. Doing either of these will allow them to do a follow up and if you can do both fast enough, it’ll result in a mega follow up which is perfect for tough enemies or boss fights.
So between the new format in order to tell the story, the new alchemy system that lets you learn or modify things on your own terms instead of always needing to follow a recipe and the new battle system that goes much faster, Atelier Ryza: Eternal Darkness & The Secret Hideout is not only the best that Gust have ever given us, but it's an example of what JRPGs should be aspiring to be. These well balanced systems and a wonderfully written story mesh so we'll together that it's almost impossible to put down.
Sony PlayStation 4
Nintendo Switch, PC
Provided by Publisher
Article by Pierre-Yves