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The Atelier series has had a special place in my heart for nearly 15 years now. Ever since I picked up the first localized title Atelier Iris, I found myself hooked on these whimsical slice-of-life crafting sims. Their stories are often focused on character growth and development rather than saving the world or thwarting evildoers. Preventing the workshop from getting shut down, finding your estranged mother, locating a spirited-away sister, or even chasing a dream to become an alchemist seems so small in comparison to the grand epics that numerous other games display. Yet, it feels more personal and heartfelt. There’s a strong warm, positive vibe to these games that feels both heartwarming and reassuring. That feeling has been ever-present in the history of the series, and it’s certainly in full force with Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy.
For the first time in series history, the protagonist reprises her role in the sequel. In previous entries, the protagonists would often step out of the spotlight to allow a new protégé through. Often enough, the predecessor is still part of the story and supporting the party. Here, we start our new adventure once more in the ever familiar shoes of Reisalin Stout – or Ryza for short. In the first game, Ryza was an overwhelming force of cheer and positivity despite anything that stood in her way. Watching her and childhood friends Lent and Tao grow as they found their ambitions was both sweet and inspiring. In the sequel, that air of ambition and positivity continues to flow as each character figures out just who they are and what they truly want to do with their lives.
Three years after the secret events within Ryza’s hometown, Kurken Island, she’s settled down into a quiet life teaching alchemy to children. Upon receiving a summons from a friend inviting her to study alchemy in the capital along with a request to investigate a mysterious gemstone, and Ryza jumps at the chance for another adventure. Since the capital of Ashra-am Baird is a bustling metropolis, it serves as the perfect backdrop to reunions with old friends and familiar faces. Catching up with Ryza’s childhood friends brought warmth and familiarity, while new allies introduced an air of curiosity and excitement. The mysterious appearance of a fairy-like creature known only as Fi leads Ryza winding through ruins to uncover his origins.
Atelier games are not your traditionally structured RPGs. They often grant you a long-term goal to strive towards with a few short term tasks to resolve along the way. In Ryza 2, the primary goal is to uncover the mysterious creature Fi’s origins and learn about the ruins surrounding the capital. Exploring said ruins is one of the most prominent pieces of the game, as you spend equal time spelunking, crafting items, and talking to friends. The gathering system has been lightly simplified, removing the need to combine tools. Adventuring gear and gathering gear are separate this time around, leading to a more streamlined approach that offers more customization and flexibility while introducing new mechanics such as climbing, riding, swinging, and swimming.
Stalking the ruins surrounding the city reveals the newest system in Ryza 2 — the Compass of Recollection. This new item, along with the Exploration Diary, allows you to find fragments of memories left behind by the people who once populated the land. Pieces of information may flow in after finding an item on the ground, fighting a mini-boss, or even hearing conversations spoken by fragmented apparitions of the past. This new system takes a page out of Atelier Lulua‘s Alchemyriddle book and makes it more interactive. It presents mysteries that need to be solved in order to move forward. Small bits of information are given, and it’s up to the party to sort through the scraps they’ve gathered and piece together the story.
This new system is surprisingly engaging in both a mechanical and a narrative sense. I’d scratch my chin as I sifted through memory fragments, trying to resolve what an “?immortal guardian?” who “?watches over the graves?” could be while also finding myself incredibly intrigued at the small tales being told exclusively through this new system. I was excited to dig through more of these ruins and see how the characters interacted and explored these long-dead yet vibrant locales.
Atelier Ryza 2 is a gorgeous game in all aspects. The characters themselves have a soft yet defined art style that is both eye-catching and familiar. The city of Ashra-am Baird is grand and sprawling, with daunting towers overlooking the cobblestone streets and numerous shops lining the walls. The city feels full of life thanks to the large number of NPCs wandering and shopping, students congregating between their classes, and kids roaming the parks. It’s a contrasting feeling to the cold and lonely dungeons outside the city. While life flourishes within, it feels all but gone from the ruined structures tucked away behind hills and valleys.
Each of the six ruins has a theme to match its aesthetic. Within the ruins, there are numerous stories to be told simply by gazing around the environment. As landmarks are discovered, they bring about more questions. I couldn’t help but ask myself numerous times, “who built this and why is this here?” A fiery workshop, a city underwater, and a cathedral of bells mark just a few of the fantastic environments. Outside of the city and ruins, the overall world design is also quite vibrant and eye-catching. Rolling green hills dot the land, vast lakes hide treasures beneath, and the skies offer some of the most gorgeous sunsets and starry night skies I’ve seen in years. It’s been quite a while since I’ve stopped running in a game to pan the camera around and stare at everything around me, yet with Ryza 2, it happened more times than I can count. When I wasn’t slowly walking around in awe of what’s around me, I was chasing down the foes before me.
Combat is one of the places where Ryza 2 excels. While the previous installment introduced a whole new Active Time-esque system, alchemy in combat was unfortunately lacking. Ryza 2 addresses this issue by incorporating alchemy into combat quite heavily. The game’s battle system is a clear step up from the original, adding more fast-paced action and tactical elements than ever before. It feels like a synthesis of Mana Khemia’s pace and aggression and Ar tonelico II’s escalation and flow injected directly into Ryza 1‘s flashy yet dramatic battle system. Combat rarely slows or pauses. Skills are no longer tied to a menu, but instead are tied to face buttons. Each has its own Action Point (AP) costs, elements, attributes, chains, and additional effects based on the Tactics Level. The combat is highly aggressive, yet the new Defend mechanic allows you to block incoming attacks if timed well. Successful timing grants additional AP, encouraging you to bounce around from one character to another in combat to achieve higher combo chains, accumulate more AP, and reduce damage whenever possible.
Ryza 1‘s version of Limit Breaks, Fatal Drives, make a return as well. However, a new addition known as Core Drives trigger special abilities by using specific types of items simultaneously in combat. This drastically changes how you outfit your party as far as usable items, as there are numerous options available. Using three types of bombs simultaneously sets off a massive explosion that deals all elements to an enemy while utilizing two items simultaneously that issue status effects can trigger three additional effects at random. Shoring up each character’s weaknesses with the items they carry into battle can yield fantastic results. By equipping Patty — a high damage character with equally high AP costs and pitifully low dexterity — with low-cost support items, I made sure she could dish out buffs to our party/debuff the enemy early on before letting her go back to what she does best: wreaking havoc with a sword bigger than herself. The shouts of orders, the clashes of steel, and the blast of bombs are all backed by some amazing battle themes.
Ryza 2‘s soundtrack is nothing short of incredible. Gust’s sound team has been one of the best in the industry, and their talent certainly shows here. In previous Atelier games, the soundtracks have been quite strong, yet they always rely heavily on a few standout tracks. With Ryza 2, the entire OST is an impressively cohesive package that winds its way throughout the entire game. Each area has a day and night theme with a motif shared between them, and the instruments used evoke new yet familiar emotions. While the daytime themes are sweeping and bombastic, the nighttime themes allow the city to breathe and offer up a soothing ambiance through familiar melodies paired with gentle hoots of owls. It adds quite a bit to the city and makes the world feel both alive and lived in. The music goes full force in combat, as well. The battle themes in Ryza 2 are some of the catchiest and most varied themes I’ve heard in decades.
Out of battle, the voice acting is quite solid and emotional. One can hear the faltering worry in Klaudia’s voice as she shares her concerns for Ryza, along with the spiking excitement in Tao’s tone as he comes across a new relic. Clifford’s lines, in particular, are notable for such a mysterious character. It was easy to tell the voice actor was truly enjoying the role as a secretive and romantic yet lonesome treasure hunter.
When not crushing foes, much of the time is spent in the atelier crafting new items. Gone are Alchemy Level and Alchemy EXP, replaced instead with skill points that unlock old recipes alongside new creations and skills. The alchemy system is very similar to the first game, yet it’s more streamlined, intuitive, and informative. There is greater control over the items placed into Material Loops, though many of these new systems are not fully utilized until later in the game. It’s still quite easy to lose hours upon hours theory-crafting an item on paper, only to synthesize every item along the way and end up with an incredibly powerful weapon, armor, or item that tips the balance of the game.
While Atelier Ryza 2 excels in so many areas, it does fall just short in a few. It sets out to improve upon everything from Ryza, yet it still carries some of the baggage from its predecessor’s experimental yet mostly successful gameplay overhauls. The developers seem to have issues mixing different types of enemies into combat scenarios, as most battles involve a single enemy type in small numbers. While the quantity of enemies in battle and the quality of their AI has grown, their variety is sorely lacking. As with the first game, it’s not until the final areas that you start to see 2-3 different enemy types in battle. Additionally, the game is not particularly clear about when battle skills upgrade, leading to some light confusion along the way.
Finally, the game suffers in terms of balance when played by a series veteran. Despite playing on hard, I broke the game at numerous points and made it impossible for enemies to survive for very long. This ensured that I rarely saw Fatal Drives or characters full kits unless I was facing a boss with inflated HP. It’s a shame, because the combat system feels great. I certainly wish Gust would stop locking the highest difficulties behind a game clear file, as deadlier enemies with new tactics would let experienced players challenge themselves and explore the battle system to its fullest on the first run-through.
Longtime fans of the Atelier series will find a lot to love in Atelier Ryza 2. New fans who started with its predecessor also will be pleased to know that the sequel more than lives up to expectations. My initial impressions of the game were quite positive and full of hope, and I’m happy to say that Ryza 2 delivers on nearly every front. A wonderful art style, a touching story, a fantastic combat system, an intuitive alchemy system, a stunningly gorgeous soundtrack, and a bevy of new systems go a long way in making this not only one of the best Atelier games in the series, but one of Gust’s best games.