In 2016, Atelier series developer Gust made one of their most ambitious games ever: Atelier Firis: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Journey. The game featured massive maps, an expanded alchemy system with unique tricks and mechanics, and a grand world with a dizzying array of optional content and areas. While the game was certainly ambitious, it didn’t quite live up to the hopes it created and the promises it made. Now, six games and seven years later, Gust is back with a new, highly ambitious project. However, this time, they have what they’ve desperately needed: time, money, and some breathing room.
Atelier Ryza 3: The Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key is the final entry in the Secret sub-series, and for this one, Gust has pulled out all the stops. It is, without a doubt, their most ambitious project to date and easily the largest Atelier game by a country mile. Atelier Ryza 3 may be massive, but it thankfully isn’t an open world. The game is split into four large regions — one of them being the entirety of Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout’s world map — alongside a few additions. As noted in my preview, every zone from Atelier Ryza is connected and expanded. Players can now walk from the secret hideout all the way across the mainland without a single loading screen. Additionally, some new areas await, effectively doubling the original game’s map size in a single region of Atelier Ryza 3.
Gust didn’t stop at making the maps larger. Improvements and expansions in Atelier Ryza 3 are notably far-reaching. In synthesis, recipes can change into others seen in previous games, yet the Link Morph system allows even further customization with every single item. Want that defense boost changed to critical damage boost? Want ice bombs that also inflict burns? What about changing a negative effect into a positive one? It’s all quite simple with the Link Morph system. The possibilities grouping this system with item rebuilding and the titular secret keys are nearly endless.
Per the first section of the subtitle — The Alchemist of the End — Atelier Ryza 3 is about the fall of kingdoms lying in ruins, the sins of their past, and the dangers of abusing alchemy for personal gain. The story continues with a glimpse into Klint Kingdom, which was introduced in Atelier Ryza, and extends deeper into history to cover older eras and clans of alchemists who set out to satiate their own greed at any cost. While Atelier Ryza 2 focused on using a mechanic to piece together secrets and clues while raiding tombs, Atelier Ryza 3 is more straightforward in delivering its main story. That said, every scene is expertly crafted, and adding an active glossary in dialogue windows does wonders to keep names and locations straight.
For the second part of the subtitle — the Secret Key — Atelier Ryza 3 introduces the concept of secret keys used to unlock the world’s secrets and grant knowledge to those who seek it. Many doors are locked in a physical and metaphorical sense, and with newfound knowledge flooding into her head like a crashing wave, Ryza quickly learns how to create keys to unlock the world before her. While the keys can seem like a gimmick at first, they offer a massive array of gameplay effects alongside an intriguing conceptualization of unlocking the past.
Atelier Ryza 3‘s story is a direct continuation of the previous games, though this time the time gap is only a year between titles versus the three years between Ryza 1 and 2. During this time, Ryza’s life hasn’t changed as dramatically. She spent her days studying how to be a better alchemist and how to better serve her hometown of Rasenboden. Yet one day, out of thin air, a string of islands appear near the mainland. Upon investigation, Ryza and friends quickly learn that the islands may be a sign of calamity that threatens her homeland.
Atelier Ryza 3‘s cast mainly comprises the main cast from the previous games, though only one of Atelier Ryza 2‘s cast members — Patricia — manages to reprise her role in the sequel. While the familiar faces of Klaudia, Lent, and Tao are always welcome, the newcomers (Kala, Federica, and Dian) have their own charm that makes them fit in quickly. With the previous game, the extended cast tended to suffer from feeling tacked on. This isn’t the case with Atelier Ryza 3, despite the cast nearly doubling in size. However, the most notable casting is Bos, the pseudo-antagonist of Atelier Ryza 1. For fans of this sub-series, having Bos along for the journey is a grand reward. After waiting for nearly four years, the payoff is immense in both a narrative and mechanical sense.
Regarding mechanics, Atelier Ryza 3‘s battle system shares many similarities with its predecessor, yet gone are the action timelines. The UI has been cut down to a few important elements, yet it’s far easier to read and much sleeker in design. Combat is fast, flashy, and there is a notable impact to every blow that lands. Much like Atelier Ryza 2, the combat is quite action-oriented, with a focus on making mechanics work with one another.
Basic attacks build Action Points (AP) to build toward chaining skills together. Skills may have physical or magical properties, and some even have elements tied to them. Similar to Atelier Ryza 2, skills have their own chains that extend the combo and add increased abilities and new effects. The Tactics Level returns and determines the length of the basic combo, total available AP, and adds additional effects to skills, such as guaranteeing criticals, adding a status effect, and dealing greater stun damage. When using skills, each move generates Core Charges (CC), which is the resource used to utilize items. Thus, a simple flow emerges: combo with basic attacks to build AP to use skills to generate CC to use items.
However, a noted change from the predecessors is the use of secret keys. When an enemy falls to 80% of their HP, a secret key can either generate based on monster type or be used to grant numerous effects such as boosting all stats, converting all damage to an element, or generating even more AP. The secret key system works wonders in combat, and it’ll even allow the user to act almost immediately after use. Though creating and using keys consumes the Tactics Gauge, it can build back up to get that rolling momentum. Every bit of the battle design ensures there is a resource that feeds into a mechanic. Finally, the order system from previous games — a system where allies make a request in battle, then follow up with an attack once the request is fulfilled — is much simpler. In the past, Lent may have asked for healing, Lila may have asked for lightning or physical damage. Now, the requester simply asks for magic or physical damage, ensuring that order attacks go off quite frequently.
Another new addition is the Order Drive. Players can set up to four special abilities that have their own cost. Completing orders fills the gauge, and players can choose which Order Drive to use when once the gauge is full. Order Drives may be HP regeneration for the whole party, attacks that reduce an enemy’s resistance to damage types, status boosts, AP regeneration, or even the ability to increase the Tactics level. With these systems rounding out the almost dizzying array of mechanics in battle, it’s incredibly impressive how well every one of these systems works together. It flows like a well-oiled machine, keeps battles exciting, and ensures that combat is both kinetic and strategic.
With fast and flashy combat, world exploration is comparatively slow-paced and relatively peaceful. As massive zones sprawl across the map, there’s a certain joy found in roaming the countryside and following whatever path one may find. The visuals in Atelier Ryza 3 are quite stunning, and I lost count of how many times I climbed atop a hill or rounded a corner only to stop and turn the camera around to get a look at the vast landscape before me. While Gust tried their best back in 2016 with Atelier Firis, they have finally nailed the feeling of that gigantic world just waiting to be explored.
While Gust succeeded on the macro level, they didn’t sacrifice fidelity for their vision. On a smaller scale, the visuals stand out with a sense of beauty and serenity. Every character is expressive, capable of showing complex emotions without saying a word. The way the camerawork has improved tenfold over the years finally leads to moments that might grip one’s heart and twist it just a little as characters struggle to share their feelings. The scene direction is top-notch, the visuals feel like a next-generation leap for the series, and the choice of music for every scene makes each interaction feel meticulously hand-crafted. It shows the developers truly care about the story they want to tell and the feelings they want to evoke.
Finally, as expected with a Gust game, the soundtrack is simply gorgeous. Once again, the composers created an expansive, heartfelt, and lovely soundtrack that elicits a bevy of emotions. With peaceful guitar and piano creating a soothing atmosphere while exploring Ryza’s hometown, the soundtrack has a warm and welcoming feeling to it. Yet, an exciting assortment of drums, horns, and strings up the ante for exciting boss fights and threatening foes. Of course, Hayato Asano once again lends his unparalleled creativity and uniquely chaotic style to the battle tracks, ensuring there is an almost artcore aesthetic when it comes to creating soundscapes.
On all fronts, Atelier Ryza 3 shows its massive scale. The world is huge and sprawling, combat is even more frantic, the synthesis system adds extensive possibilities, and the characters show immense growth as they deal with their fears, hopes, and ambitions. Yet, with such a grand and ambitious project, there are a few shortcomings, albeit blissfully few. While Gust has finally nailed the basic difficulty balance, the order system feels a little too simplified with only two options to fulfill. While the player can set up conditions to trigger such order requests, fulfilling them only requires doing physical or magic damage. I would’ve liked to see higher-tier orders with complex requirements. Additionally, while the enemy types are quite varied in the world, fighting more than one species of enemy in battle is exceedingly rare. While this may be a limitation of the tech, I would’ve loved to face off against puni, hedgehogs, and fairies in the same battle.
Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key is a fantastic game that finally manages to show off the development team’s capabilities when they’re given extra time, a bigger budget, and a little bit of breathing room. Every aspect of the project benefits from polish, and as the final game in the Secret series, Atelier Ryza 3 is the perfect send-off. The callbacks and relationships from the previous games grow and evolve, and it’s exciting to see these beloved characters find their place in the ever-expanding world. While I often say the latest Atelier game is the best Atelier game, it’s always true. This time, Gust have outdone themselves, and I simply cannot wait to see how they top this highly polished gem of a game.