To begin here is the usual rundown that accompanies every review I make of Atelier; I’m a massive fan of this series ever since Atelier Annie and more importantly Atelier Rorona’s original release. I’ve completely loved the franchise and it became basically my favorite long running game series. Some of the games are misses but the vast majority are really wonderful and unique and are some of the only video games to actually feature ingenuity in the modern age. Every single game builds upon the last except for the DX and other remake/port versions (which are shit), with the combat system and synthesis being upgraded and changed every time. Atelier mixes a really fantastic free-form feeling of adventure and exploration with a full focus on crafting and character focused stories. That being said, as usual, I was extremely excited to get into the newest iteration!
Ryza 2 is the first time Atelier has made a sequel where the lead character does not change, but apart from that this is a fairly standard sequel in the franchise with some caveats. The first Ryza I reviewed back when I finished and it might be my favorite of the entire series with the exception of the story and cast in Ayesha still being the absolute best, so I was looking forward to the sequel and subsequently not sure how to feel when they said it was just Ryza again.
The first thing you’ll notice when starting the game is a large issue you’ll always encounter – though luckily it really only impacts you each time you start the game – is the insane load time it has to actually get you to the main menu. Launching the game kicks you near immediately to a loading screen from the game and, having timed it myself, it goes for about a full minute and a half. That sounds like not a lot of time, but in terms of video game loading its main menu time that is pretty fucked.
My biggest issue with this game is something far more important than an initial 90 second load – it’s that the story felt meaningless and somewhat disappointing. I still loved the game, it might even have the best synthesis and combat in the series to-date, but the rest is just kind of alright and I DO think the choice to keep Ryza as the lead and her old friends as most of the main cast is what caused that. Usually the sequels in each trilogy will bring the lead and their friends from the prior game as relevant characters and some of them as party members, allowing the new lead and new main cast to really develop and have their own stories. Ryza’s story was done, her friend’s stories were done, and so there wasn’t really much of anything to do in Ryza 2.
That’s not to say it’s horrible or anything, it’s just kind of lacking because there’s no room for much to happen with the cast. You do see them a few years later and how they’ve changed, but a few years is nothing and they are all basically the same people they already were with some slight changes. The thing is you already get to see characters years later in all the typical trilogies as well, only in those cases the understand you can’t do much with fully developed characters and so have them as party members or side characters.
Here though there’s barely anything to balance these already completed character arcs; Tao is less lame but still lame, Lent is more of an asshole for awhile but then his usual self, Klaudia is even more of a lesbian but the same as ever, and Ryza…well, Ryza has not changed whatsoever, not even a tiny bit, she is just identical and never changes even within 2’s story. There is just no real development and even the new party members – of which there are only 3 – are really lacking, though not unlikeable. Patty is good and she has a cute little story about the fight between being a noble and loving a normal person, the girl from the other world whose name I don’t even remember is cute but her story is just a repeat of the first girl from the other world in Ryza 1, and the treasure hunter guy is, again, fine but has nothing going on with him really. Fi is the only one with any hint of development…and it goes literally nowhere and even everyone’s favorite recurring ghost Pamela (Pamila in Ryza) is completely put to the side with very few scenes that had nothing going on in them.
You basically end up with none of what Atelier excels at in terms of the storytelling which is always the character stories and watching them develop and instead this is just a bunch of nothing and then a generic adventure story about going around to ruins and discovering the obvious fact that, just like in Ryza, the Philuscha have a gate to our world. The whole plot itself kind of just feels half-finished too, without anything in it being fleshed out at all. Even Fi, the cute little creature you hatch out of an egg early on, has no real depth at all. It seems like it’s leading to him being some big important being but in baby form and then he just ends up nothing at all and you send him back to the hellscape of the other world as the big final moment of the game.
But as I’ve said, none of that makes it a bad game. In fact, a lot of Ryza 2 stands out as some of the best in the Atelier franchise to-date.
Visually the game is gorgeous – even more than the first Ryza, though the PS4 takes terrible quality photos and then crushes them down even more so don’t judge the looks based on the images in the review. It’s also got some really great location designs with everywhere being beautiful to look at while also being memorable and fun to navigate. The weather effects are also fantastic – especially the rain which, after it rains, will leave puddles and stones glimmering and such and it looks incredible.
The combat is another area where I feel this game excels; it’s ‘one of’ the best versions so far, though a bit too easy perhaps. The key for me was just maxing out a rose bomb (I think that was the name) and that ended up basically killing everything immediately for the entire rest of the game – bosses of course took more than that, but not much. There were very few times I felt remotely in danger or had a fight last more than like 20-40 seconds where all I did was throw the rose bomb and decimate everything, but it was still fun. Without wiping out everything that quickly it was even better, with you going HAM on bosses and such with skill after skill after skill, bombs, more skills, more bombs, swapping people out to do more skills – it looks and feels cool as fuck when you get high tactics level and can just do a massive combo like that non-stop.
Last, and arguably in an Atelier game most importantly, the synthesis system has to be my favorite of the franchise so far. I really loved Ryza’s but in Ryza 2 it’s even more understandable (which allows you to dig into it more deeply) and has a lot of little additions that make it a lot more fun and rewarding to work with. The problem is there just aren’t that many recipes this time around, maybe I’m wrong about that – I didn’t count, but it certainly is presented in a way that makes it feel like there’s barely anything to make and that kind of disappointed me, especially when I had so much fun synthesizing things.
And while the story may be lacking the actual way that story is told is something I really liked. The exploration of these ruins felt a bit more genuine than you get from Atelier usually and I felt like I really was on an adventure – though still not on the level of Totori’s feeling. I also really enjoyed the little notebook system where you go through the area finding clues and texts and then try and puzzle out the story behind those ruins. In a way I also appreciated the lack of a stronger plot, as this felt like a true “adventure for adventure’s sake” story, which Atelier has kind of gotten away from with deeper plots in recent titles, I just don’t know if this really hit that note as well as it should have and instead feels like it was a slightly awkward side step rather than a forward or back one.
So, while it does lack in a strong plot and doesn’t do much with the cast, it is still a really great game – just not as strong of a title as it’s predecessor. The thing is, Ryza 1 was easily one of the very best Atelier games, so saying it wasn’t as good as it isn’t nearly as damning as it sounds. I think the best way I can put my feelings on this into words would be to say this feels like a good follow-up to Ryza, but maybe not so much as its own title. It works because it IS a sequel and so the lacking development and plot isn’t as damaging, while with other Atelier games they all absolutely lean on their prior games but also stand on their own two feet. Not a disappointment, not a bad game, but definitely one that only works well because of being so dependent on the first game – and contrary to the negativity I absolutely recommend playing this especially if you enjoy Ryza 1 as much as I did. Also, still HUGELY recommend Ryza 1 as it is seriously the best of the series after Ayesha. Ryza 2 might be lacking in some ways but seeing these characters again was still nice and learning what they’ve been up to, who they’ve become after a few years off the island and after their first adventure, and being in this really great world with these really great gameplay systems makes this still a really good Atelier.