Quite the Swell Sequel
Let’s start out this review with a relatable situation. Have you ever been carefully working at trying to synthesize a better version of an item that you have in an Atelier game—it doesn’t matter which one—just to finish it and realize “oh, darn it, I forgot to add that one specific component! This item is still superior to what I had, but it could have been even better!” If you’ve been with the series for a while I know this has happened to you—it’s happened to all of us—and that’s basically how Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & The Secret Fairy feels. It’s like GUST almost synthesized the perfect recipe but they forgot to do something simple like make sure that the Puniball they were adding had the correct traits—resulting in something that’s good, but not perfect.
Meta-level humor and backhanded compliments aside, I really did enjoy my time with Atelier Ryza 2. It did some things that I hadn’t seen the series do in a long time. Heck, it’s done some things that the series has never done before—this is literally the first sequel ever in the history of the Atelier series—and I completely support the fact that they’re trying to implement not just changes, but quality changes. Making improvements on any series can be difficult, and, considering how precariously perched the Atelier series was for a while, the fact that GUST turned things around with Atelier Ryza 1 and, most recently, kept the moment going with Atelier Ryza 2, has given me plenty to smile about.
Just a Small-Town Girl
A lot’s changed in the three years since the end of the first Atelier Ryza, and the beginning of Atlier Ryza 2. Tao and Bos have decided to pursue higher education, Klaudia’s on her way to becoming a business tycoon just like her father, Lent’s on a journey to further strengthen himself, and Ryza… well, Ryza still lives on Kurken island, teaching the local children alchemy and living life one day at a time. But she really feels like that isn’t how things should be. After all, she went on a life-changing adventure with her best friends a mere three years ago—that isn’t going to be the high point of her life, is it?
Fortunately for Ryza, it turns out that the most exciting days of her life are not, in fact, already behind her. Before too long, circumstances see Ryza coming into possession of a mysterious
egg stone, which sees her heading to the capital city of Asha-am Baird to meet up with her old pal Tao—which, in turn, set in motion the events leading up to Ryza’s greatest adventure yet.
I’ve already noted that Atelier Ryza 2 being a sequel is noteworthy enough on its own, but there’s actually more to it than that. The Atelier series has always, for better or worse, taken a heavy-handed approach when it comes to dialogue and storytelling. This is something that I, personally, am completely fine with—it kind of comes with the JRPG territory. However, unlike many other RPGs out there, the Atelier series usually groups its games into trilogies, with each game featuring a new protagonist and the older protagonists—both literally and metaphorically—passing the torch, so to speak. This time around, however, there’s no fledgling alchemist. We’re dealing with Ryza again. And, because of that, GUST couldn’t make her into some wise-beyond-her-years miracle-maker, which is what they seem to like doing with many of their older protagonists (here’s looking at you, Sophie).
If you ask me, the fact that Atelier Ryza 2 gives us a character who is middle-of-the-road in terms of development is one of the most refreshing things they could have done for an Atelier story. And the fact that her friends are all maturing in their own unique, yet equally visible, ways makes things all the more appealing. I understand that “wow alchemy is cool/useful/etc., I want to do that” is a story element steeped in history at this point, but you can only repeat something so many times before it gets stale. In that regard, GUST’s approach to Ryza’s development as an alchemist in Atelier Ryza 2 couldn’t have been handled better.
Bigger, Broader, Taller… Smaller?
Atelier Ryza 2‘s approach to improving exploration is one of the most paradoxical things I’ve seen in a long time, and I’m having trouble figuring out where to even begin. I suppose I should probably start at the basics. Atelier Ryza 2‘s approach to exploration isn’t like most other Atelier games. It doesn’t cram a bunch of tiny, isolated areas that you have to travel around on a world map to get to. It features a single, interconnected world which, while you can quick-travel if you’d like, you’re entirely able to get to where you’d like without any sort of assistance. This is, without a doubt, a boon for the game. Despite it not being the most successful, I still love Atelier Firis‘ semi-open-world approach to exploration. And, while Atelier Ryza 2 is certainly no Atelier Firis in terms of raw volume, the fact that it doesn’t chop up its world into bite-size pieces makes me incredibly happy.
The biggest shake-up in terms of exploration is the inclusion of something that I haven’t seen in an Atelier game in a long, long time—proper dungeons in the form of the game’s five Ruins. Not only are they big, but they’re more complex than what I’m used to seeing from this series. Not only do they include (should the player wish to explore every nook and cranny) the need to employ proper use of tools, the map, and even a bit of platforming here and there, but the fact that you need to collect fragments—which are essentially physical embodiments of history—means that you can’t just zip-zoom through these ruins as you please. Sure, they’re still designed as Atelier areas at their core—meaning that you’re not going to get anything wildly difficult—but the amount of effort put into each of these areas is breathtaking when compared to anything that’s come out of the series in the last decade or so.
While it doesn’t technically directly affect exploration, per say, there was something else that I couldn’t help but notice while running around in Atelier Ryza 2—its attention to detail. Outside of the fact that I desperately want them to start including English dubs again, I’ve never had an issue with the sound direction in any Atelier game. Each and every one has a phenomenal soundtrack as far as I’m concerned, and Atelier Ryza 2 is no different. The visuals, however, are typically sub-par. I get that GUST is focused on trying to make their protagonist’s thighs look nice or whatever, but I honestly don’t care about that (please don’t shun me). I’d like the world that I’m exploring to also be given plenty of love. Fortunately, it looks like they finally got that message in Atelier Ryza 2! Asha-am Baird is hands-down the most detailed city I’ve ever seen in an Atelier game, all of the explorable ruins are gorgeous in their own diverse way, and even the more humdrum areas like traveling roads and plains look vibrant and alive. I don’t know what inspired you to start giving so much attention to the world within your Atelier games, GUST, but you had better not back down now that I’ve seen this.
So, is there a bad side to any of this? Well, yes, sort of. From what I can gather, GUST seems mighty proud of each of the areas you can go to in Atelier Ryza 2. They absolutely should be, because they’re all great. But there don’t seem to be too many of them. Now, I know that the pacing of these games are kind of dependent on the player, however, with that in mind, I felt like I was blazing through this game faster than I had ever gone through any other Atelier game. In fact, the only thing slowing me down was the fact that the game includes its trademark habit of having dozens of individual cutscenes from each character (which I actually found really annoying this time). I get that they wanted you to appreciate each of the areas that were there—especially since you can go back and acquire new ingredients from them—but this “big, new land” actually felt pretty small overall.
Bubble, Bubble 2.0
So, the sub-header for this section might actually be overselling things a bit. It’s more like “Bubble, Bubble 1.2,” or something like that. But, you know, “2.0” is just catchier. Anyway, as with most Atelier sub-series, very little has changed between Atelier Ryza 1 and 2. The game still uses the incredibly flexible Material Loop system, allowing, more often than not, players to use a wide array of items when performing alchemy. The utilization of gems for things like item rebuilding and item duplication is also back and equally easy, making alchemy a largely worry-free experience overall.
There are two particularly noteworthy changes that Atelier Ryza 2 adds to alchemy. The first is the addition of Essence Refinement. A more advanced alchemic technique that you get partway through the game, essence refinement allows you to accrue something called “mist” as you synthesize and battle which can eventually be processed into something called “essence.” Essence, then, can be used during item synthesis to add to, or even change elemental properties of items!
Atelier Ryza 2 also does away with the traditional methods of recipe-learning in favor of a skill tree! This is yet another change that I’m incredibly happy about. In lieu of something like an Alchemy Level, Ryza is able to accrue SP by synthesizing, completing quests, and piecing together fragments of the past within ruins. This SP, then, can be used to unlock things like new recipes, new kinds of synthesis (such as item duplication), and permanent buffs to your gathering abilities. While the way the skill tree works can result in a fairly lopsided Ryza—I, for example, was a great gatherer but had next to no actual recipes in the beginning—having more wiggle room for once was fun.
ATB – Alchemist Time Battle
The first Atelier Ryza really shook things up with its decision to forsake its longstanding use of traditional turn-based combat in favor of ATB-based combat, making combat feel somewhat similar to games like Final Fantasy VII. It looks like that just wasn’t far enough, though, because Atelier Ryza 2 reaches levels of mid-battle player interaction that border on being Super Mario RPG-esque. Not only are you and your pals all fighting at once again, but now you can chain individual attacks, use skills as finishers, and can even defend oncoming enemy attacks—with AP being awarded for perfect guards! It’s a lot to take in for what used to be a series all about taking your time, but, much like in the first game, it works well! Battles stayed fresh and fun, and, while I do miss being able to control more than one character, having the ability to work together with my team by following commands felt great.
There is a problem with battles, however, and it’s one that was present within the last game as well—items. Items used to be a combat necessity in Atelier games—or, at the very least, made things a lot easier. But not in ol’ Ryza’s world. So long as you have good equipment, good timing, and a few good healing items, things like Bombs are a waste of resources. While part of me doesn’t necessarily mind not having to rely on items, another part of me can’t help but feel like throwing something as important as combat items by the wayside is disrespectful to the Atelier series as a whole.
Two in a Row!
Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & The Secret Hideout was a great start, and Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & The Secret Fairy does an excellent job, for the most part, of building on what was already there. Is it perfect? No, it’s not. But that’s okay. Looking past the fact that this, plain and simple, is a fun game, Atelier Ryza 2 once again keeps my faith alive in GUST being on the mend. I don’t know if there’s going to be an Atelier Ryza 3, but I hope that there will be. And if there is, then I know that it will be even better than the two wonderful games that have made up the trilogy so far.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PC; Publisher: Koei Tecmo America; Developer: GUST; Players: 1 ; Released: January 26, 2021 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & The Secret Fairy provided by the publisher.