We pride ourselves on being a great source for JRPG reviews, but there are admittedly some franchises that travel right under our noses never getting the attention they deserve. The long-running Atelier series is one such example, and I’d personally say the reason this is the case is because I’m someone that’s fairly turned off by annualized installments. There has almost been a new Atelier game released every year since it came to the states in 2005, and quite frankly, that’s a lot.
However, the series sort of reinvented itself in 2019 with Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout, which resulted in it selling 500,000 copies–easily making it the best selling game in the series. In fact, finding a Switch copy these days is rare. After trying it, I was fairly impressed, but if I’m being honest, it wasn’t my cup of tea. Its direct sequel, though, might have done enough to make me want to go back to it, and that says a lot because I never go back.
What Is It?
Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy is a sequel that takes place three years after the events of its predecessor. The game has Reisalin Stout (Ryza), frustrated by her progress as an alchemist, leave home for the capital city with a mysterious stone in tow that turns out to be an egg that that hatches a mysterious creature. Along the way, she comes across a bunch of friends old and new and sets off on a journey to learn more about the greater world away from her tiny island back home.
It’s worth noting that it’s been a little over a decade since an Atelier game got a direct sequel, but with its aforementioned success, the fact that it got one surprises no one. What’s really surprising is the amount of enjoyable (but uselessly complicated) content Atelier Ryza 2 boasts.
Why Should I Care?
Other than being an annualized installment, the Atelier series has long been a JRPG where crafting (or “alchemy”) is its main draw. Progression in the game requires you to craft everything from your items, to your weapons, to equipment, and it being a JRPG means the narrative does its best to use the crafting to hook you to its story. The problem, at least for me, with Atelier games is the fact that its explanations of the crafting system are always so long-winded that it’s easy to lose interest in its complex nature. Throw in the fact that the stories were mostly uninspired small plots, and you have a recipe for something that has too much substance to be worth any flash at all.
Atelier Ryza addressed this by giving players the ability to automate the crafting process, allowing players to focus on the game’s other features which are actually superb–mainly its innocent story with solid character progression and a re-tooled active turn-based battle system that really makes it feel more like an action-oriented one.
What makes Atelier Ryza 2 particularly impressive is the fact that it doesn’t just rest on its predecessors laurels to be good. The game actually begins with a short sequence giving some background on Ryza’s story before throwing you into a fight, and it’s funny that it’s paced that way because when you have two characters in your party, the battle system is pretty dull. It’s not until you recruit more members to your party where it really starts to shine.
To briefly go into detail about how it works, it’s sort of a variation of Square’s active-time battle system. It’s still just a bunch of menus to go through and act upon with a timer, but you can do things like timed button presses to do some damage combos similar to timing jumps in the Paper Mario battle system. You can also defend against attacks in the same vein. It’s in item use where the system gets intense (and annoying), as you have to keep an eye on another counter to make sure you’re using them at the right time. Healing is also weird, as you have to craft items and attach them to various characters to even give them that ability. Maybe it’s because I’m used to other JRPGs just making item usage be part of the menu, but it’s a weird and cheap way to get people into the game’s crafting feature–which is required anyway.
So let’s talk a little bit about the crafting, or rather, alchemy. As mentioned, it’s central to pretty much everything you do in the game. You’ll need to craft to finish sidequests and obtain items to progress your journey in addition to providing pretty much everything you’ll need to be successful in battle. Moreso than other games in the series, Atelier Ryza 2 has a larger emphasis on exploration and the game’s environments are extremely lush, especially when playing on the PlayStation 5, and virtually every place you explore has more ingredients to bring back to Ryza’s atelier to engage in alchemy.
There’s two main parts of alchemy. First of which is its spheregrid-like interface where you have to use points to create recipes. Once you have said recipes, you can use the cauldron in Ryza’s atelier to synthesize whatever you want with those recipes, provided you have all the necessary ingredients which are both necessary to not only synthesize items, but to give them traits or modifiers essential for battle or requirements from NPCs putting you on alchemy-based sidequests. If you don’t care about going into all those specifics, you can automate the process–which is the best thing this series has done as far as making it more approachable to new players.
Still, even with improved tutorials, the game doesn’t do a good job of explaining the ins and outs of alchemy. For example, one of the most important things you’ll need to craft are tools, which are used to help you gather items Ryza wouldn’t normally be able to collect on her own. Whether it’s something as miniscule as a pick axe or something more significant like the bomb rod–the tools are all essential, and the game doesn’t really say that.
Earlier, I talked about using items. Not only do you have to craft them, but you have to activate them to the character you want using them, and you only have so many slots, so you feel limited. This is the same case with the tools you craft. One of the most painstaking mistakes I’ve made in the game was craft a tool, set it to one of the slots occupied by a tool I didn’t think I’d need only to come to an obstacle that required me to get that tool, which forced me to backtrack to Ryza’s Atelier to set it up again. There’s a lot of awesome depth in the Atelier series, and Atelier Ryza 2 does a good job further streamlining it, but it’s clear that there’s still a lot of work to do to make it approachable to the mainstream. Yes, you have access to an in-game guide to go over things again, but having to constantly go back to it is just something gamers won’t often have the patience to make time for.
Part of its lack of approachability is the fact that despite how cheery the game is, it doesn’t really hold your hand in places where it really should. Essential to the game’s story are various ruins outside the capital which are pretty much the game’s dungeons that require you to use your wits on both gameplay puzzles as well as text-based puzzles that rely on context clues to get through. Aside from the puzzle solving, there isn’t a whole lot of stuff keeping you from going wherever it is you need to go, save for not having the right tools or powerups. At that, enemies are also avoidable for the most part, but it isn’t out of the ordinary to come across battles you’re severely underleveled for. If you’re someone who likes to explore without much background or context, you’ll probably suffer as a result. Without saying it, the game really encourages you to take part in sidequests in order to get as much background as you can despite its emphasis on exploration.
Part of what holds the series back is you really need to play the game a specific way to get the most out of it, and without much to guide you aside from lengthy text-based tutorials, it makes the whole ordeal tougher than it should be. With how cheery the game is, it’s supposed to be easy, but it’s not because it expects you figure the most basic things out. Still, Atelier fans should feel right at home with this process, but we can’t help but feel that while there’s a lot to appreciate, some more work is needed in order to discover its potential.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
A major thing Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy has going for it is the fact that this is actually the very first “next-gen JRPG.” It’s not a Final Fantasy, Persona, or even a Dragon Quest, but the fact that it’s also the latest PS5 game since the release of Hitman III has a lot going for it. I don’t have any experience playing the game on the Switch or PS4, but various parts of the game load extremely quickly, and the game’s extensive use of lighting and bright colors really sets the art style apart from any JRPG I’ve played before. It also has a pretty catchy soundtrack. Its main issue with being the first JRPG available on the console is the fact that it’s also a direct sequel.
That said, if you’re someone that thoroughly enjoyed Ryza’s last adventure, you’ll absolutely love Atelier Ryza 2. Like I said at the beginning, I never finished Atelier Ryza, so the fact that I got as deep as I did (28 hours or so to complete the main story) in the sequel is a testament to how much this series continues to improve, and with the newfound knowledge I’ve gained on how to play the game, I’m definitely interested in going back so I can further appreciate the character development that Ryza 2 has, and there’s a lot of it. $60 might be a bit steep, but considering the amount of content there is to enjoy in the game along with the fact that the previous game can never seem to stay on store shelves, that might be a bargain.