Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & The Secret Hideout [PS4 Game Review]

Atelier Ryza is the newest in the Atelier line of games from Gust and is the story of a young girl trying to protect her ordinary life in extraordinary ways.

I always start my reviews of Atelier off the same way so here it is again; I’m a long time fan of Atelier – not since the start of it, but since Atelier Annie released. I bought it at an early release of it during Anime Expo from the NISA booth with no clue (same as everyone else) what the hell it was but it looked kind of cute. I started playing while sitting on the floor in the dealers room and was completely hooked to the point I just wanted to keep playing and didn’t really care about the convention anymore.

Rorona was shortly after and everything changed – Atelier was near immediately at the top of my favorite franchises from that game alone and it seems that was true for many people, as even in Japan this franchise was pretty niche until Rorona showed up. Now, 10 years later in a year where 3 different Atelier games released (one being a new game with Rorona herself in it), Ryza is the start of yet another new “series” in the franchise – and boy does it ever do a fantastic job of being the beginning of a new adventure. As usual with every single Atelier, possibly the least stagnant gaming franchise ever aside it’s re-releases, it’s also a great big step forward in many ways with loads of familiar concepts done in totally new ways.

Synthesis this time around – something they always innovate on with each game (aside DX versions) – is the most “freeform” its ever been, adding a lot more complexity and personal choice yet also making it far simpler, more understandable, and making some of the esoteric bullshit that never really made sense finally be easy to grasp and take advantage of. Sadly the one thing I forgot to take a single screenshot of was synthesis, so I took this image from the official Ryza website’s game manual which is apparently a thing and actually pretty well put together.

Now you can use as as few (typically 2 at minimum) items as you want if you’re just trying to throw crap together for a small quest or as a material to use in a more important synthesis – or, more importantly, as many as you want once you unlock the ability to create and use Gems which essentially lets you 100% anything you’ve created already at the cost of gems (you simply turn any items be the materials or gear into them, super easy to do and also hard to not have enough of), limited only by your alchemy level at the time. So that super powerful bomb you have? Well, you can totally make it even more overpowered by simply adding onto the already completed one and maxing it out and giving it better traits.

Also, as you can see in the image, each element of your synthesis is really clear about what it does (they don’t in the image, but when you’re looking at, say “Effect 2” it’ll tell you exactly what it is not just “Effect”) and you can use this to choose which paths you take in the synthesis and where you want to focus. I know some people have always understood the more complex aspects of synthing in these games, but it’s always been pretty difficult for me and even when I kind of grasp it I’ve never gotten great at it, but here I felt like it finally all was presented in the most understandable way possible without losing its complexity. That’s pretty important for a game series devoted primarily to synthesis, so it’s pretty great to finally “get” it.

Another thing I actually really enjoyed about the new synth system is that recipes, while still found often in books you can buy as well as gotten from doing some quests, are primarily found within other recipes. If you look back up to the picture again you’ll see little papers next to some of the items you can create in the left menu. These indicate new recipes hidden within the synthesis of that item. So, instead of finding a book or being told how to make, say, an Ice bomb, you actually learn the recipe through unlocking it within the synthesis for creating a regular bomb and going down a certain path to the recipe. It feels rewarding and gives more of a reason to continue making older items you might ignore otherwise after creating them one time and it also pushes you to want to chase after every recipe because it’s right there, you can see it, but you haven’t made it yet…so then you do. And then that recipe ends up with another one in it too, so then you keep going. It’s great.

Combat is another aspect of Atelier that they always heavily change with each release, however from what I recall of the titles I’ve played and know of those I haven’t, I think this is the very first time the combat is basically the full-on ATB system of something like Final Fantasy 7 (without Wait mode on) – and in general a pretty rare style of non-stop combat in a JRPG. It never stops moving even when you’re picking what to do, and to command other characters you have to constantly be swapping who you’re in control of mid-combat. The AI will only do basic attacks or offensive/debuff skills based on what mode you put them into (stupidly, the only person with a healing skill will not use it even in that mode as far as I could tell) but they do alright, but because of the constant momentum every aspect of fights has changed.

CC is back, items are limited both in what you can carry and how much you can use them before returning to the Atelier, and combat is much more focused on balancing skill usage and raising your Tactics level. Though the CC system in this case actually makes the game a lot easier as you only need to make the items you want to use a single time and it has infinite uses after that aside running out of CC which you replenish either by going to the Atelier or making another character’s item unusable (until returning). It seems very harsh at first but then it becomes a great thing you take total advantage of once you get used to it and also make stronger items. Another thing they added is the Tactics level. It starts at 1 and can go up to 5, and with each of those 5 levels it adds 10 more AP to how many you can store up while also letting your basic attacks hit an extra time based on the tactics level (so for tactics level 2 you hit twice, and 2 characters that already do a double hit hit 3 times). The downside to doing that is you can’t have your AI or yourself using skills because you’re using up the AP, and the skills are all pretty useful here, so it’s a balancing act. I found myself typically starting fights by hitting an enemy on the field – and thus starting combat with 10AP full already – leveling up my tactics right away, and then turning on the mode for the AI to use skills and just smashing the shit out of things after that.

Another addition I really liked were these ‘orders’ they added in which are basically shout outs from the other 2 combat party members to do this or that and if you do it they’ll do a special skill right afterwards. In general this is nice, but it’s best when the enemies enter their mode where they charge up for a very damaging AOE attack – which all enemies start to do when about halfway on HP, literally all of them – because you get special orders then which are always to use up your AP in an instant to make it your turn and use a skill, then they unleash extra special skills of their own that do high damage but even higher stagger damage and will break the enemy; cancelling the charge and also typically killing it anyway.

The sad part of all this though is that combat skills, special attacks, item usage…it’s all kinda bland to look at now, even the big super attacks you unlock near the very end of the game that you need level 5 tactics to use. One of the most fun things of Atelier combat has always been the over the top madness of your skills like Sterkenburg literally cutting the fucking moon in half because he’s fucking insane and silly item animations, but now almost all items just kinda don’t do anything aside a bright light or explosion so you know you used it, and most skills are kinda just okay to look at. Fun fast paced combat, sure, but not as flashy and exciting to look at as it really should be.

Something else they changed up quite a bit is how important and useful the gathering tools are. They’ve been in a bunch of the games but usually it’s just “okay now you can hit rocks too”, but here it changes the entirety of what you get out of the same resources. In a way you could say it was lazy so they wouldn’t need to make more areas or more things, but I found it really innovative and a creative way to get you to re-tread the same places and have them feel new and in a way make the game feel bigger as a whole. Now you’ll hit a bush with your wand and get certain items, but if you hit it with, say, the EXPLODING HAMMER, you get completely new items that fit the way you harvested that resource. So instead of getting like a taun you’ll get ash or plant juice, or if you use the axe you’ll get a branch, etc. It makes you want to go back to everywhere you’ve been and find all the new materials because pretty much everything you can harvest will have completely new ingredients for each gathering tool. This might sound like a huge pain, but luckily they have recipes for combining 2 of the things together (like the exploding hammer is actually a combination of two different gathering tools originally) and so you can just hit the thing with the combined one and get what both would give you. Plus, each tool does something useful when hitting an enemy with it to begin combat (for example, the axe will give them a defensive debuff, or the exploding hammer will start them with damage already being done – plus all will still give you the 10 free AP from initiating combat).

On the note of gathering; you’ve also now got these mini-worlds you can create with items or from codes other players found with making their own worlds that can be shared. It’s nothing amazing, but it’s a great idea for when you need specific materials or a specific enemy you need to kill for its ingredients because you can just make this little world specifically to farm that stuff. I didn’t use it too often, to be honest, but the concept is great. It seems like the worlds are also randomly generated – someone looked into it and in the game code there are apparently over 140,000 unique worlds you can make, even if they’re very small still a cool thing plus in a story way it really shows the amazing level of alchemy that was going on in the prior kingdom.

The story is another good one that fits the way Atelier has gone since the Dusk trilogy. It’s not quite as dark in its overall tone, but the story is pretty fucked up with a kingdom that basically genocided an entire people just to exploit their resources for alchemy then being entirely slaughtered by a mutual enemy in return – and their exploitation still living on and costing the world and the living to the current day. Of course the main, I dunno, “feeling” of the game is more about youth and stuff – but as always with Atelier, the happy go lucky and charm is kind of obfuscating the dark, violent, and awkwardly ironic anti-alchemy themes of the game as alchemy in almost every single Atelier game to-date ended up wiping out millions of people and civilizations (or is on the cusp of doing so) in their lore and it was pretty strongly shoved in your face this time – only going less far than Ayesha to really get across how fucked up alchemy always inevitably ends up destroying everything.

It’s Atelier though, so don’t expect another Ayesha level storyline full of so much powerful emotion and huge moments, it’s simple and even childish at times, in a charming way of course. You won’t get your grand JRPG plot and crazy set pieces here, you’ll get a final boss that looks like a kamen rider character that literally originally shows up as a robotic-looking bug monster and even something like this kid’s dad canonically beating the fuck out of him (and the kid’s mother, before she ran away because of it) regularly due to his alcoholism being treated like not that bad of a guy. If you’ve played any Atelier aside just Ayesha though you should know what to expect in that regard. This is a game about protecting an every day life for everyone, and that’s what it feels like even when you’re fighting demon monsters in what is literally called the Underworld. Instead of big action moments or anything, you get things that stick with you just as well because of how personal they are – like building the Atelier yourself for once, which I think was a great idea and made me feel more connected to that actual location than usual because I created the stuff it was built out of.

Visually the game is just outright stunning. The PS4 compression of screenshots kinda fucked me over in showcasing how beautiful it is, which feels like it’s WAY WORSE HERE than it was with other games so I’m not sure what went wrong or if its even a compression thing and not some other problem, but it really is a gorgeous game and one of the first times in a video game I’ve really just stopped and soaked in the view. I’m so glad they added photo mode in too as I was using it on a regular basis for some great pictures (basically all of the images in this review, though again keep in mind they look kinda shitty from compression).

The great visuals also translate into the cutscenes – which are now very cinematic and much less clunky than in the past while still being in-engine and having the same charm as ever.

The OST is as beautiful as the world itself is, with almost every track getting across a strong feeling of “adventure”, setting the mood perfectly and being great to listen to.

As for the cast, honestly this feels like one of the most “first game in an Atelier trilogy” group that’s ever existed and reminds me a lot of Rorona. Not so much the archetypes involved at all, honestly they’re very different from Rorona’s cast, but the feeling of this whole game – including the cast – feels very similar in a hard to explain but very positive way. Well, that doesn’t really matter, point is it’s a good cast but also feels very “we know this won’t be a 1-off game” and is prepared to be built upon just like every Atelier trilogy, this just felt more…traditional? It’s clearly the basis that the next couple of games will build upon would be one way to put it, I suppose.

Well, whatever, I liked them all. I’d like them MORE if Agatha was a party member but she’s not even DLC, and I can only hope they’ll let her be in the party next game and not make it like Esty where she’s only allowed in for the final game and when she’s in her 40s.

As for the actual party though, I didn’t really USE most of them in terms of combat (the main party I used once I could consistently being Ryza, Lila, and Klaudia) but their stories were all equally good and they all had simple but good development and personal motivations. Again, this is non-Ayesha Atelier, it was nothing groundbreaking there are no super deep introspective character dramas at play here or anything, it’s not that type of game, but they’re all great in their simplicity all the same. I’d say the nerdy kid Tao was my least favorite but even he was totally alright, especially for the character type he is which I usually can’t stand. Ryza turned out way better than expected, being a genuinely charming girl and not just fanservice like they advertised her and the game as – she’d feel right at home in Arland and I could have seen them making her Rorona’s daughter just as easily as they did Lulua. Lila’s enormous tits are just magnificent, but she’s also got a cute kuudere personality. Klaudia is sweet and while she’s not my type I actually found her to be one of my favorites of the cast right up there with Ryza herself. Big Boi is okay and gets beat by his drunk dad. And Empel is a well done but fairly simple take on the always-present-in-every-game master alchemist who you learn from in game 1 for each trilogy.

When it comes to non-party members, obviously Agatha would be my favorite. She’s a super cute short hair who almost became a knight but was too rambunctious and wanted her freedom so she quit before being knighted and instead came back to the island to basically run security. She’d be a great pair with Sterk from the Arland series who is the opposite way and loves every bit of knighthood. Bos is pretty alright, his developments are pretty obvious in terms of where they’ll end up going early on, but he works pretty okay in his role and I’d like to see that go somewhere with him and Ryza by the third game (not that they make any relationships canon in this series fucking ever, not even Rorona and Sterk). Klaudia’s dad, Gina, and Fressher all felt memorable enough for mostly irrelevant NPCs too – the type where I wouldn’t dislike seeing what goes on with them in later games or simply coming across them, which is super likely with Klaudia and her dad as he’s a traveling merchant (the rich kind who runs a massive trading company, not the ones who actually sell anything) and Gina is a young girl who wants to leave the island and become a novelist so she could be out and about too. I also liked Romy, whom I assume will show up later as she is a (normal not rich) traveling merchant girl (ironically, you can’t actually buy anything from her).

Then there is of course my actual favorite, so I lied a bit about it being Agatha; it’s Pamela, of course! She’s here again and is back to her ghostly cuteness, visiting your island purely to eat everything that is an island specialty. This time she’s in cute armor instead of her usual dresses, which I liked because even the few times she’s been a party member she’s dressed like she usually does so it was fun seeing her in something so different. Sadly it is explained away and, yet again, Pamela is a ghost. I always hope to see her before she died but I don’t feel certain they’ll ever give that to the players.

The only true negative is the influx of non-Atelier fans piling on because of shitty fanart that came well before the game even released. MUH SEXY ANIMOO GURL!!!! YUMY THIHGSSSS!!!! It’s the 2B situation all over again and it’s obnoxious. I’m far right, everyone knows that, and fuck if I care about objectifying women let alone fictional ones who don’t fucking exist – but there is almost nothing more godawful than people who pretend to like something purely because it gets their dick hard if it doesn’t exist at least in a large way to serve that purpose. Ryza is attractive, she’s drawn sexually, but hell look at the book girl in Sophie she’s basically naked and she’s cute too yet nobody really gave a shit – but unlike that, this catered to specific normie fetishes (zettai ryouiki and ass) and suddenly everyone wants to pretend like they love Atelier now or always did. It’s fucking obnoxious, get the fuck out of my fandom, you probably played on a goddamn Switch your wife’s big black bull got for you so you could play in the cuck corner while they fuck. Only retards buy things ‘because it makes dem cwybabby sjws mad ;)’ and because of some weird idea that playing a video game is better than just looking at the porn that made you want to play the game anyway, you are as fucking cringe as you can get. Thanks for raising the sales numbers, but I don’t want you playing or discussing Atelier again. Go back to reddit and /vg/ and stay contained. Also, if you play the DX games you can fuck right off too.

Beyond that, the negatives I have are infinitesimally small like how the information guide pages lack useful information. For example if you need a Dragon’s Eye and you look up the item in the guide…it doesn’t tell you how to get it because unlike normal they decided not to list what monsters drop items now and only list locations if they’re harvestable from a thing like a bush or tree and things like that – BUT if you go to the monster part of the guide it DOES say what the monsters drop. It’s just an annoying extra step because if you need something from a monster and are not sure what drops it you just have to kinda guess and check through the guide with assumptions. This was an issue a whole one single time literally for that Dragon’s Eye which was easy to guess what would drop it anyway, I just wanted to be sure and it kinda bugged me that it wasn’t as simple as it should have been, especially for an item required to finish the game.

Overall, I have to say Atelier Ryza is probably in my top 3 favorites of the franchise if not outright second place. It can’t beat Ayesha, but aside from that one it’s really nearly the very best they’ve done. This is a perfect time to jump in to the franchise as well, whether you never played any or if you have been taking a break from them for a bit or if you simply want a new JRPG to play, because this is the start of a whole new story again and it’s a great one so far.

Really, I fucking loved my time with this game without even a moment that I felt any less strongly about it for. This game does everything right and while it may not beat Ayesha it really brings me back to Rorona and where my – and many worldwide – love began for this unbelievably unique and wondrous series. I love Atelier and this game did a perfect job of reminding me why and giving me those feelings of my first time entering this universe fully again to the point that both the first launch of the game and the start of the credits (let alone the very short moment after them) had me teary-eyed, and it all comes packaged with top-notch gameplay and a very strong adventurous feeling.

3 responses to “Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & The Secret Hideout [PS4 Game Review]

  1. Pingback: Atelier Ryza 2 [PS4 Game Review] | 24 Frames Per Second·

  2. Pingback: Top 5 Games of 2019 & Various Awards (GOTY) |·

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