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Review: Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy


Review: Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy
9.5/10

Summary

While the characters and story may not have the most depth, the time and attention given to making the most important aspects of the game click are worth their weight in gold.

Fool’s Gold or 24 Karat?

As a longtime proponent of the JRPG genre, the Atelier series had always been one that I had kept my eye on, but never quite taken the plunge with in the past. I honestly never knew much about them, apart from having seemingly long and complicated names and being somewhat involved with alchemy. I nearly pulled the trigger on the first Atelier Ryza game (Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout), but my burgeoning backlog always won me over. Thankfully, I had the opportunity to review Atelier Ryza 2, which I am pleased to report was well worth the wait.

I should point out that there’s no specific barrier to entry if you missed out on the first installment of this series, but a number of characters you come across and plot points introduced reference it enough that I feel like it would greatly assist in the context department. That being said, by the end of the game I felt as if I had played the entirety of Ryza 1 simply because there was so much discussion about past events.

Story

Atelier Ryza 2 picks up three years after the events of the first installment and quickly introduces you to the story’s main protagonist, Reisalin “Ryza” Stout. Ryza is a spunky alchemist who has started teaching on Kurken Island when she is asked by her friend, Tao, to come to the capital city of Ashra-am am Baird to help with his research of some nearby ruins. As she’s preparing to leave, one of Kurken Island’s more influential aristocrats tasks you with figuring out more about a family heirloom – a multicolored stone.

Once Ryza arrives at the capital, she procures an empty room in town to set up shop, or in this case, her atelier. This spot becomes your home base and serves as the most frequented location in the game. It is here that you will store items, train, sleep, decorate and alchemize to your heart’s content.

Not long after visiting the ruins that Tao asked you to help investigate, the multicolored stone that you brought with you hatches. Yep – it was an egg, which despite its shape, came as a shock to everyone but me. What hatches was what I can only describe as a cross between Navi and Paimon (Ocarina of Time and Genshin Impact, respectively, for those keeping track)  in the shape of a flying bunny. This creature’s name is Fi, based on the fact that word makes up the sidekick’s entire vocabulary. This event launches you on a quest to search out various ruins scattered around the capital.

Throughout your journey you will team up with numerous cohorts, both old and new, each of which has their own side story that Ryza can experience as the game progresses. Unfortunately, none of these really rose above minor interest for me.

The main story may have been the weakest part of the game for me, which for a 50-hour experience is a bit unfortunate. While it was refreshing to avoid the trap of starting off small and ending by slaying a godlike villain, after 20 hours or so I was mostly going through the motions as a means to discover new items and recipes to quench my alchemical thirst.

Visual Design

The visuals in this game reminded me more than once of the Tales series. Environments pop with color, from the lush vegetation of lakeside fauna to the shadowy depths of abandoned mines. Rarely did I notice any washed out or muddy surroundings.

The enemy design was a fun mix of sheep and slimes to vicious hellhounds and building-sized golems. Most of the time, however, you would enter a new area and run up against a reskinned version of an enemy you had fought previously. Given that I have played my fair share of 50+ hour games, this didn’t bother me too much.

Your party’s character models are what you might expect from most JRPGs – everyone is attractive in their own way and seems determined to impress the cast of The Fifth Element with their wardrobe selections. While adventuring through caves and mountains, apparently functional clothing is not a requirement.

The game’s dialogue is entirely Japanese, so if you have a hard time with subtitles then it may be a tough road to travel. And even though animations were only needed for one language, the voices and mouths of the characters don’t usually sync up too well. This seemed jarring to me in 2021, but didn’t usually take me out of the scene too often.

Systems

It would be hard for me to talk about this game without diving into the vast number of systems at play. Atelier Ryza 2 loves to introduce you to new things. So much so that halfway through the game you still won’t know about everything there is to do. A large majority of these systems are dumped on you within the first couple hours of the game, which can make this egg a bit hard to crack. Fortunately, there is a comprehensive guide tucked away in your menu to serve as a decent reference.

Combat is no different in this regard. Fights blend active-time combat with a fair amount of menuing. Aside from paying attention to the action bar to keep track of when you can attack, there are also counters and progression bars for special attacks, item usage and character swapping. It was overwhelming to me at first, and if you are prone to button-mashing then it may be downright unwieldy for you. Once I hit my stride though it felt more nuanced than I was first led to believe. Trying to time my powerful special abilities to break enemy guards just before they unleash a massive attack felt like a reward for intelligent play as opposed to a dice roll.

Another piece of the puzzle is a job board that serves as your side quest hub. Now that you’re a temporary resident of Ashra-am am Baird, you’re tasked with helping its citizens in numerous ways. Most of these amount to the standard fetch quests or enemy hunts you’re likely used to at this point. As you complete each task you’re rewarded with various currencies you can use to buy supplies, as well as reputation with different factions throughout the capital. Increasing your reputation nets you discounted store prices and more difficult quests, leading to greater rewards. It’s a system that works well enough, especially if, like me, you collected everything you could find. Oftentimes I was able to accept and complete a handful of quests at at time.

Traversal

In a game this big, how you get around is nearly as important as where you are going in the first place. Fortunately, Atelier Ryza 2 may have one of the better fast travel systems I’ve experienced. During just about any point in your adventure you can teleport back to the many checkpoints scattered around the world map. At no point was I frustrated by the frequent backtracking needed due a not-so-generous inventory size, thanks to snappy load times and clearly indicated objective markers.

When not fast traveling, you are running, jumping, climbing and swimming around at a pleasantly fast pace. Deeper into the game you gain new traversal abilities including grapples and mounts, which help you to reach new heights and discover hidden valuables.

Alchemy

More so than anything else, this game is about alchemy. There may be a story about exploring ancient ruins, but the main attraction here is toiling away over your cauldron. Admittedly that doesn’t sound like the most exciting thing, but the way the game builds itself around this core element really helps to keep things fresh.

As you travel throughout the world or defeat enemies you will gather hundreds of items, all of which are useful in preparing you to face the challenges ahead. These items are used to synthesize dozens upon dozens of products: weapons, accessories, potions, more advanced crafting materials. Working in tandem with your crafting recipes is a skill tree which unlocks a variety of things including battle skills, upgrades for collecting supplies and even more recipes to synthesize. 

One of the reasons why the alchemy system is such a key part of the game is you will eventually, as I did, reach severe difficulty spikes that all but require you to synthesize superior equipment. Any weapons or armor that you can buy serve mostly as base materials to then craft into more powerful gear.

Aside from what’s been stated, there are probably five or six additional pieces to the alchemy puzzle, which I’ll leave for you to discover.

Conclusion

It’s not often that I come across a JRPG whose satisfying story elements and inclusion of complex systems can be so good. The visually appealing world of Atelier Ryza 2 serves mostly as a platform to farm items for the purpose of diving head-first into the pool of alchemy. While the characters themselves may not have the most depth, the time and attention given to making the most important aspects of the game click are worth their weight in gold.

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