Publisher: Koei Tecmo America
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Version Reviewed: eShop Download
No. of Players: 1 Player
Release Date: October 29th, 2019
Every Atelier game has its own charm. With more and more games of the long-running series coming to the Switch, Gust’s newest addition will also be the first title of a new series within the franchise: Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout. Having a quite mysterious name, will the 21st entry still be worth to explore, or should you better hide from it? Find out in my review below!
Visiting the official website of Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout, this beautiful quote is greeting you: “Even though everyone has them, the memories we create with our friends are special to each and every one of us. “
Friendship is indeed something written in big, bold letters through the game itself. It all starts out with three teenagers roaming around in a little, but stunningly beautiful and atmospheric town.
Risalin “Ryza” Stout is a farm girl with a quite never-ending pool of energy. She is bubbly, but also a bit of a tomboy, and quite the leader of the troupe consisting of her, a swordfighter named Lent Marslink and Tao Mongarte, the bookworm.
Being bored and not extremely interested in helping her parents with farm work, Ryza starts to search for a way to fill her desire of stories she hears from far away places. She soon finds a way to sneak off the island nobody ever wants to leave and drags along her childhood friends with her.
Underestimating the power of the unknown, curiosity got the better of her and Ryza ends up navigating the trio into trouble… But thankfully for them, a woman named Lila and a man called Empel to help the damsel (and the wannabe adventurers tagging along) in distress. Introducing them to an item made with alchemy, our heroine finally has something that is so much more interesting than doing chores on the farm! With alchemy she can also sneak out of the village, so she is sold almost immediately on that.
And so the story of Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout begins. Along the way you’ll eventually find Klaudia Valentz, the beautiful daughter of a merchant traveling the land and finding their way in Kurken.
What will the journey for Ryza and her friends bring and what is most important to them? It is for you to discover what the game has more cooked up story-wise! Even though I have to admit, the overall story is not an epic one. It even sounds a bit flat and not too exciting, but as a casual game to pick up and just to enjoy the sweetness of young adults supporting each other, this atelier title does not disappoint.
The dialogues are cleverly written and, from time to time, you can also pick up a bit of darker topics; for example, the background of Lent, whose father is often drinking more than his thirst can hold, is hinted at very early in the game. You can experience some stories highlighting all the previously mentioned main characters – but only if you consider buying the DLC for about 5 bucks each.
A missed opportunity in my books, honestly. The stories of the Atelier franchise is never a bad one, always tackling different tales – but they weren’t exactly new ones to be told. To be fair, coming up with a groundbreaking new story is a hard task with the variety nowadays. But with Atelier Ryza, the timing was off for me here and there. Especially in Lent’s back story. His father being an alcoholic got picked up frequently up to a point where he even causes serious trouble for his son.
You see sequences tackling the individual paths of the protagonists, but while it works on Tao and even Ryza, them exploring and not even picking up on Lent’s father in between or a change in behavior of previously mentioned character felt unreal. Extreme nitpicking here from my side, though, probably because I would have gone more in-depth with such a storyline to built a sharp contrast to the lighthearted flavor of summer and innocent friendship that inhabits Atelier Ryza the whole time.
Self-discovery of young adults is the whole essence of the Atelier series; so, experimenting with an old formula and going on a bit darker, deeper path would have been a refreshing surprise for the old fans and a new audience alike.
Let us focus on the basic gameplay first if you are not quite familiar with the long-running series. Your main task is to perform alchemy. Not a big surprise, I know. Doing so, you need to go on a hunt for ingredients. Comparing to a few other titles I have been playing, the gathering of ingredients to be able to cook up items after a recipe is one of the most important parts obviously. The gathered items can be used to make medicine, turned into useful weapons to gather different and more variations of stuff, armor and so much more. The possibilities are endless, so pick up what you can until your bag is almost bursting!
You first cook in your own room at your parent’s house (wonder why they never complained or found out about what their daughter is doing…), but as the story progresses, you transform an old cottage in the woods into your new workspace.
Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and the Secret Hideout got rid off the time managing system they used in previous games. When crafting an item, it took a certain amount of time to do that. Some quests from villagers asking for medicine for instance had also time restrictions for you to fulfill that.
From my perspective, it wasn’t a big loss. I disliked the time limit which put lowkey pressure on me. It was a good tool for people to get their timing planned out, but I’d like to invest planning more into progressing the story than into that. It would have been a nice option to put it back on again since I feel that fans of the franchise welcome this mechanic. Now you could “just” grind endlessly to fulfill quests and play more casually.
The Crafting-system got a makeover, too. Placing ingredients into fields that look like a honeycomb, you open up new ones. Almost like a little sphere grid-like in Final Fantasy 10. It can be required to use higher quality items to open up new ways to follow the recipe. Doing so not only leads you to a better crafting result but sometimes also to an improved recipe.
The battle system in Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and the Secret Hideout differs from the previous titles. Where you mostly had a turn-based system, the newest addition to the long-run series uses a sort of ATB battle system in real-time.
Personally not being a fan of Active-Time-Battles at all, at first I was not too fond of it, found the attempt to break the old tradition a good idea in contrast. Gust also managed to balance out the mechanics well.
The player is always able to switch the character you wish to control. By this method, you can use your favorite character all the time for example, or complete the battle quests that the game hands to you. Those quests serve as a good base for you to get used to those newly taught things, like using a certain skill over and over or fulfill a task to encourage you to search for your enemy’s weakness.
Because that was not enough strategy, there is also a tactics gauge on the right side of the screen. Filling that meter by collecting Action Points, short AP, is key for a successful battle. Getting a high score there is done by attacking your opponent. Sounds easy and basic but hear me out. There is more to it than meets the eye at first.
AP act as your mana if you will. You can cast a magic spell with them or use handy special moves. If you feel like keeping those points in the bank, you can cash those in by increasing your tactics level. Spending them in boss battles is unquestionably a clever move.
Why go through this trouble and saving them if you could just bash your opponent? Well, leveling up your tactic allows you to attack one additional time, to counterattack (aka Quick Action) when it’s actually not your turn or to use an even more powerful move. It makes sense to not be frugal in boss battles to get rid of those AP! Keep in mind though that they will reset after every battle, so you cannot carry them over into other fights.
The previously mentioned Quick Action sequences are worth going briefly into depth. While using it, you can choose between using an item or a special attack. Without a doubt to be a good move to end the battle when it’s getting tricky is to use the characters’ special skills to strike back. Using an item isn’t wrong – only if you forgot to equip some earlier. It has been like this I the previous Atelier games, though, so maybe that’s old news to you.
If that is your first Atelier-title, make sure that you actually equip both items and crafted armor or weapon in Ryza’s room (or atelier later) prior to heading into the next adventure. Creating the healing items or similar isn’t enough for you to have it actually at hand.
While discussing items, I’d like to cover another thing that comes into mind that you will encounter on the battle screen: Core Charge. Handling items have a new way in Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and the Secret Hideout. All the extra explanations and terms made it first confusing to me, not gonna lie. It also felt unnecessary, but here we go: The selected and added items that you’d like to take with you into battle are called “Core Items”. Registered in your “Core Crystal”, you can take up to four different items with you. How many items you can bring depends on your weapon, too, so choose wisely.
That’s it, right?! Sorry to disappoint you, there is more using the term “Core” again to add another layer of confusion to it. Out and about while exploring and fighting, the so-called “Core Charge” is required to use an item. Like mana for using items if you will. Spent all your Core Charge means that the item is no longer available for you to use. Desperately needing another item to heal yourself? You can give up an item for the rest of your trip to fill up that gauge by using “Item Convert”. Or using the rest function under a “safety zone”; a white flower emitting light. Those appear rather seldom, though, so do not count on that option too often.
Using that “Item Convert” process in battle when no rescue in form of a plant is around can be done by pressing Y (and holding it down, did that wrong a couple of times at first!) performs an “Item Convert” which will replenish your Core Charge. The used item for the conversion will be locked for you to use until you return home, so don’t rush into making a decision out of panic just because the battle isn’t stopping. When not fighting, go to the menu and select your basket to convert items.
The overall battle screen is rather full and I had to get used to that at first. It felt, at least in the beginning where everything was new and fresh, slightly overwhelming. Even though they introduce the new mechanics time after time and not all at once, it is still a bit too much and the depth feels forced.
My eyes never knew where to look first and what to process when encountering my first enemies. Like mentioned, on the right side above the character’s health bars, you see the AP meter, the tactics level, and also the Core Charge icon.
Displayed on the left is two rows, your party’s, and the of the enemies. The head of your member will slowly come down into the ring, indicating when it’s your turn to shine. While the NPCs attack, your character gets “stuck” until you make a move.
You can sometimes also see on the left upper screen a so-called “Action Order” from the members you do not control. They say stuff like “Use your items!” when their health is low. Why don’t you use it yourself, my friend? Oh, right, because the AI is atrocious.
Especially In aggressive mode, the boys or girls tend to save the AP for you to use instead of making that decision occasionally for you. I get where the dev probably comes from; it’ll be utterly disheartening for the game to play itself, but unfortunately, another title where your companions are not very bright. This resulted in me always switching around using L or R to also control Tao, Lent or whoever you cared to pick along Ryza, the battle system was more stressful than it would have been in a turn-based solution.
However, once you had grasped the whole thing, the game became manageable. Even too manageable. It could be too easy at some point and I found myself trampling my enemies on a principle. I do not mind that too much, I am quite familiar with it (no flex intended) since I found grinding enjoyable and relaxing but breezing through that without grinding that much in battle was a bit too unchallenging for my taste.
The changes refreshing and nice to have to change the pace. Some aspects could have been performed better. A few additions/adjustments felt like they purely exist to only add another unnecessary layer on top to make things vary from previous Atelier titles.
CONTENT & FEATURES:
Atelier Ryza works well in both handheld and TV mode. When playing in handheld mode, I made the experience that it can be tricky to read the displayed text there. My eyes are getting old, I know, but that could have been optimized for a play on the go.
The lack of a touchscreen function is not too much of a loss. However, it would have been an attractive proposal to perform alchemy on the go. It certainly would have added variety and “spiced up” the alchemy portions of the game.
The incorporated photo mode in the series is a nice additional feature. It hands down a lot of options for the photographer in you. You can set, for example, the time during the day, so you can snap a photo in a dusk setting even though it’s midday. Or you can add and remove characters that you wish to be in a picture. Select a pose for them to strike and you are up for a fun activity to pass the time and create fun sets of photos.
Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and the Secret Hideout had tunes to follow you along on your journey; I often felt lost in its beauty. The title song with vocals especially tickled my music taste and transformed me into my youth listening to J-Pop. I recommend for you to check out the full version online, even though the shortened one playing through the title screen is splendid, too. For anyone interested, the vocalist is Sayaka Kanda.
While writing up this review, I am still listening to the tunes of Atelier Ryza. The variation is anything but short. Various composers and arrangers made sure that your ears have always some entertainment while playing. The single tracks often were not too short and bursting with wonderful orchestral arrangements, so even though there are a total of 61 of them you certainly will find one that you’ll enjoy likewise.
虹色の夏 (title song, „Rainbow-colored summer“)
ソラミミ(„Sora Mimi“, not sure if it is meant to spell „heaven(ly) ears“
森の密会 („Mori no mitsukai“, probably roughly translated to „Hidden forest meeting“)
Much like I did for Miketendo64 in my Atelier Dusk Trilogy review, I am once again back to critique on Ryza’s random commentary when not doing anything. When idle and leaving your Switch and the heroine alone, she stretches and often wonders out loud about what she should do.
Not the biggest annoyance and certainly me being overly sensitive here, it often had me turn down the volume when doing something different that required our bubbly protagonist to remain still. Complaining about an extremely high level here again. Especially since the voice acting is fitting to its individual owner and on point overall.
VISUALS & PERFORMANCE:
Toridamono, the character designer for Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and the Secret Hideout was asked to take another approach in the character design by the producer of the game, Junzo Hosoi. Noticeably so.
Bursting with frills, ribbons, and other cute and girlish things, our protagonist Ryza was not made of any character trait that would make those things above happy and fitting to the previous titles’ main character. Having a more tomboyish charm, she stood out in a good way.
Personally being a big fan of all things girly, having Ryza dressed in a wonderful frilly dress would have been totally out of character. Underlining her boyish personality with appropriate clothing while sticking to the original style of the series sure was no easy task to master. The other main character and friends of Ryza’s got the same love of detail the heroine did without losing the overall touch of the Atelier-concept.
The environment made some improvements from the earlier titles. I do like the design and the town benefits from the effort putting into it in quite many forms. The designer integrated so many different scenes in Ryza’s hometown Rasenboden. There is a harbor, a small beach and so many other places with lush environments that made me go explore more than I might want to admit. Plus, I got lost quite a bit, but that is nothing new with me and particularly not the games’ fault! Hooray for the fast travel option.
But, and of course, there is a but, open field areas that were quite large were a bit too dull. Maybe sizing it down a little to make it more compact would fill the screen with more life. The balance felt off sometimes when comparing areas outside to gather items and explore and the town itself.
Admittedly, it would be off in this title regarding characteristics and overall presentation, but I absolutely miss the gorgeous drawings in an anime style when a story sequence occurred. I enjoyed those popping up throughout the Atelier Dusk DX Trilogy, even though they were rather rare there as well.
Having a bit of a rough start since it felt that almost everything was new, the expectations I had were pushed aside. That was probably what astonished me the most. While being overwhelmed at first, I quickly came around and the usual feeling of “one more trip until I turn that game off” overcame me.
The main protagonist behaves differently as opposed to the other games. The alchemy system cooks up things in a refined way and the battle system is one that has never been used in the other titles. The successful formula is consistent and proven effective: I enjoyed the title I was handed to review and tested it longer than I should. With it being out quite a while, maybe that late review will help you make a decision or bring it up in your memory if you haven’t purchased it yet.
In my opinion, Atelier Ryza makes a good start in the series. Especially if you do not mind its battle system and even prefer real-time combat. The characters are loveable, but the story is improvable; almost as in all Atelier titles that have a light-hearted story. The game can be endless and worth its money when you wage the time you can put into a playthrough against the cash you’ve spent. The fantastic music also makes the exploration and gathering of items more enjoyable than the task itself.
It is a cheap way out to assert that you have to be the type to enjoy these kinds of games, but don’t let yourself overlook Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and the Secret Hideout so easily. If you tried one of the previous ones and did not like it, you should still consider getting this game nonetheless since Gust made sure to revitalize the series by turning the old system upside-down. I can see myself returning to this game several times more in the future!
A fresh breeze is an understatement; Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and the Secret Hideoutgives a whole new perspective on the series. It shows that the series can change and expand upon previous installments.
THE VERDICT: 8/10
*A Review Key was provided by the Publisher for the purposes of this review.
To check out more reviews by the Miketendo64 Review Team, feel free to click here.
This post was written by LadySugarcube