Release Date: October 29th, 2019 (Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC)
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
ESRB: Everyone 10+ (Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes)
Western gamers were recently graced with the release of the newest game in the long-running Atelier series, Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & The Secret Hideout. The series has been around since Gust began the series back in 1997 on the original Playstation, and ported later that year on the Sega Saturn. This is an excellent addition to the series as Gust took this game as an opportunity to improve graphics and add more interactions into the game. With that said I am still a relative newcomer to the series and am so glad that they have continued to explore the series! So let’s dive into the good stuff.
The player is first introduced to Reisalin Stout, who is a daughter of a farmer and his wife who live on an isolated island in a small village. She prefers to go by Ryza and loves to go on adventures to the mainland with her friends Tao and Lent – much to her family’s dismay. Her parents don’t approve of her learning alchemy so she feels the need to leave home and create her secret hideout. One day some mysterious travelers appear on the island and everything changes when Ryza and friends decide to assist these travelers in their goal of defeating a great menace that could destroy the village and potentially the world if left unchecked. This, of course, kicks the story into gear and draws the player into the world,
Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & The Secret Hideout is gorgeous! The graphics are beautiful and most of the character models are also well made; however, there are two NPCs that stand out to me as looking a bit odd… Ryza’s parents. Her mother’s mouth looks like a mastiff’s with how droopy it is. Then there is herfather, who just looks like a statue. He shows the least amount of emotion out of any of the characters in this game. The game is not all cute anime characters and rainbows though. The player gets a dose of painful reality with the introduction of Lent’s father, who abuses Lent and is the town drunk. It is extremely heartbreaking and I do not feel like it gets resolved fully. On a slightly happier note, the fan-favorite recurring character Pamela appears in the game! I was really glad to see that she made her way into this game, ghost jokes included.
As far as game mechanics, the player continues learning new things to do until the end of the game. Players still use her diary to save the game and her bed to rest until morning, afternoon, or evening. A change from previous games is that the exact hour can not be selected anymore, just those three choices to make a selection from. Eventually, Ryza leaves her home and creates an Atelier on the mainland where she can keep her cauldron and other alchemical items received throughout the game. The crafting in this game is incredibly unique and completely different from the other games in the series. Materials will be comprised of the elements ice, wind, fire, and electric. The player can choose items based on different categories and they fill certain slots to get to different results. The player can add more items to certain slots to increase the effects of that particular slot. These are referred to in the game as material loops. Another new option is reforging items that are created with alchemy called recipe morph. This allows the player to go into a previously created item and add more items and collect more upgrades, but it costs the player gems. The last thing that can be done at the cauldron is called gem reduction. This is where the player can take their items from storage and essentially break them down into gems. Gems can also be used to duplicate items using an item that is found while playing the game.
Another one of my favorite aspects of the game has to be the travel bottle system. As the gamer goes through the game they collect alchemical items called travel bottles. Each one of these unique items has a name and allows the player to deposit one material into it to select two or three different enemies and two different material types. The difficulty of the enemies and (I believe) the rarity of the materials depends on the materials deposited. Once the player selects the material, they can choose to explore the world that it creates! The player can refill the world they create by replenishing the bottle with the same material that was originally deposited. This allows the player access to rare materials and monsters. Five travel bottles in total can be collected.
As far as combat goes, it is pretty different from how the combat typically is in this series. The player selects three characters to be a part of their team and then choose their positions for battle. Only one character can be controlled at a time and the combat is timed now. The two characters that is not being controlled will be auto-played. The player can choose to have them in aggressive mode or neutral mode. Aggressive mode means that they will use their spells if the player has enough AP saved up. Neutral mode leaves them to just auto-attack. The non-player controlled characters will not use items on their own no matter what. Items are also now selected to specific characters and their use count is determined by core charges. The player can take the core charge of an item to refill their core charge gauge during combat. These items are not lost, though. The player will also collect three core charge items throughout the game. Each one will raise the number of core charges available in combat. Finally, there is now a tactic level in combat. When the gamer reaches level five they will be able to unleash a special attack (once they get to a certain point in the game that is).
Overall, Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & The Secret Hideout was an incredibly beautiful game and I liked it a lot. Gust made a well-structured game that was both entertaining to play and not too easy to complete. The enemies were challenging, but not too difficult to defeat. The story was compelling, the characters are extremely likable, and the mechanics were easy to understand. My only real complaints are that there were not enough different types of materials, the issues with Ryza’s parent’s character models, and I wish the story was longer! I do appreciate the optional DLC and that the player can continue after the final boss and receive a few more quests in the end game. The player can also choose end game plus which is always a nice option to have. This is a worthy addition to such a long running series!
Review copy provided by Koei Tecmo.