Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy Review
…And Not What Loves You Back
by Sam Wachter and Michael Baker
Sam: Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and the Secret Hideout made for a great first step in the reinvention of the Atelier series. After the mediocrity that was the Mysterious subseries, Ryza had a lot to prove in its first installment. Reinventing a series can be a difficult task, one which the first installment did with great success. However, Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy is a great example of fixing something that was never broken to begin with, only to make it worse. That is not to say the game is terrible, but some of its choices left Michael and me with a questionable experience.
Michael: Not that we didn’t enjoy it, but I think Sam and I can agree on what parts need the most work. Whether we both feel as strongly about one aspect or another is a different thing, but that’s why we’re doing this one together. Onto the discussion!
STORY (OR, SAM CALLING CHARACTERS DUMB AS STUMPS)
Sam: As a direct sequel, the game shows the growth of the titular heroine, Ryza. Three years after the first game, Ryza has hit her limits with alchemy. She feels like she has learned all she can, and has reached the bottom. But when she is tasked with unraveling the mystery behind a dark egg, Ryza decides to take advantage of an open invitation to visit friends in the big city and leaves the island in search of adventure. Heading for the capital city of Ashra-am Baird, she meets friends, new and old, and learns that the area is surrounded by ruins and secrets. Given a place to perform alchemy, Ryza soon discovers that the stone she has been carrying is the egg of a small fairy named Fii, who may be connected to the ruins in the surrounding area. Ryza 2 as a direct sequel has a lot of great themes that build off the first, such as growing into adulthood, the value of friendships, and how we are all trying to find the best versions of ourselves. The storytelling strengths in Ryza 2 come from the fact that we have seen such a major transformation in the original cast, but their confidence in who they have become is also put into question.
But the strengths in the story are short-lived. A lot of the story beats in Ryza 2 are a frightful mess at times. Between the weird balancing of everyone needing Ryza’s help between dungeons four and five, to a lot of the character side stories not having huge impacts on the overall game, the core enjoyment comes from the main adventure, and that means having to tolerate Fii, the annoying fairy who is dumb as a stump and needs darkness to survive.
Michael: Aw, Fii was cute! In that particular Japanese mascot way. The main thing I liked about him wasn’t the sheer obviousness of his MacGuffin-esque nature, but that he filled in a different role in Ryza’s growth. If the first Atelier Ryza was all about growing out of childhood in various ways, I think Ryza 2 was all about adulting, and Fii was, if not the perfect choice, at least a semi-decent vehicle for Ryza’s maternal whatevers.
Sam: My dislike of Fii comes from a personal aversion to how Japan often creates mascot characters that are excessively cute but also feel very hollow. Fii felt hollow for me, but I can recognize the importance he plays in helping Ryza grow and be confident. Her love of Fii and wanting him to survive is so important, and I respect that element. I just found Fii’s side stories showed how stupid the character was. The gag of the cutesy Fii running into a wall or eating too much was overdone and I was over it quickly.
Michael: Adulting really does seem to be the theme of the hour. Whether it’s Ryza with her I’m-a-mommy issues, or Klaudia juggling work and play, or Bos overextending himself all over, it’s interesting to see how the original cast has progressed. Tao in particular is… well, there’s a reason why every other original cast member failed to recognize him at first.
Sam: I think Tao gets the best growth of the entire cast. There is something about how he not only physically grew, but also in that he is a lot more aware of the person he wants to become. I also loved the new character Patty and how she plays a large role in Tao’s growth, who starts out as a typical bookworm, with his nose in a book and his backpack ready for an adventure, all while remaining oblivious to her crush. Patty gets a lot of growth as well; it’s just a shame most of it is off-camera. The other two new playable characters, Serri and Clifford, both add zero substance. Not only do their storylines feel half-cooked, but most of the time there’s not a lot going on, and in a story about growth, neither of these newer characters truly change at any point. While they are both powerful allies in battle, their personalities don’t shine through in the same way as the original cast.
Michael: I do agree about Clifford (a.k.a. Boomerang Guy). He’s definitely the one that would least affect the plot by his absence. I feel like Gust could have pushed Serri’s feelings and motivations a lot harder than they did in that one blast of character scenes between the fourth and fifth ruins.
Sam: I wanted so much more for Serri. She’s the one whom I feel Gust dropped the ball on, as her motivations could have been so much stronger and could have added so much more to the overall story and world-building. Nothing was done with her that felt meaningful. As for Clifford, you could just remove him and no one would notice. He really adds nothing to this story, and even in combat he’s just subpar. At least Patty and Tao are cute.
Michael: At least the ending scenes lead the player to believe there is hope for the romance with that pairing, unlike the other pair… which should have been a much longer rant, only we had to edit for cussing.
Sam: Stop queer-baiting people, Japan! Ryza and Klaudia need their smoochies.
Michael: If you think we’re overreacting on this… no. One of the things this game does well with its visuals is the expressiveness of the characters’ body language, and Klaudia is very obviously reacting to Ryza in most scenes in ways that could only be interpreted as romantic. If you swapped one character’s gender in any of those, you’d assume they’d end up as a couple before closing credits, and if they were both guys and acting like that, you’d have to publish it as yaoi.
LOCALIZATION AND PACING (OR, WHY FLAVOUR TEXT MATTERS)
Michael: There is one part of the game that I cannot really comment on, and that’s the localization. I will be honest here: I’ve played so many games in Japanese by this point that I tend to localize in my head as I go, and it is not uncommon that what I’ve got imagined as a game’s voice and narrative style ends up being nothing like what the American release is. It does not help that English and Japanese have wildly different standards and conventions when it comes to creative writing and wordplay, and a strict translation may ruin a game by accident, because it comes off as too dry or spare for English readers. So, Sam, how does Ryza 2‘s localization fare?
Sam: Ryza 2’s localization is bad. The Atelier series is often known for having punch in the way its stories are presented but the localization of Ryza 2 reads like a straight translation, offering no flavour to make the text pop off the screen. Instead you get cringe moments of dialogue that don’t flow very well, or else come across so awkwardly that it’s easy to misinterpret what is being said. Even the tutorial texts often do a poor job of explaining expectations to the player, and again the lack of personality gives what should be a fun cast of characters a boring representation.
Michael: I was afraid of that. I shall go back to enjoying my head-canon of how things should be said, silly puns and all. Though that will only make me more annoyed that the scenario writers never follow through with the obvious romantic tension, but I think we’ve had enough about that?
Sam: It will just upset the both of us.
Michael: True enough.
Sam: So our overall consensus with the story is that it’s fine but lacking in areas. I still don’t feel that I enjoyed this story as much, or found it as fully convincing, as I did with the first Atelier Ryza. The themes of Ryza 2 are spot-on, but between the pacing and how parts of it are told, it felt like a mishmash. Ryza 1 could be incredibly slow at times, but everything felt so much more cohesive.
Michael: I liked the main cast and the major NPCs generally, but their scenes were in need of some work. The pacing of their events was awful as well, with long spates of nothing followed by massive bursts of everyone doing something at the same time. The section between the fourth and fifth dungeons again really stands out, because there must have been two dozen or more separate events sandwiched between them, and it was hard to tell which were actually necessary to advance the plot.
GAMEPLAY ELEMENTS (OR, WHY FIX WHAT AIN’T BROKEN)
Sam: Ryza 2 opts to use a skill tree in order for Ryza to gain new abilities, recipes, and skills. Players receive Skill Points through alchemy and doing various tasks. However, the skill tree is set up in a way where everything is linked, and while you can start wherever you like, the player only gains access to the items around where the skill selection starts.
Michael: It sort of makes sense to shake things up from the series’ norm, because this game is one of the rare instances where we have a recurring protagonist in a canon, main sequence game. Ryza already knows her stuff, so the game’s skill tree is supposed to represent her capacity to access all the skills and knowledge she already possesses in a way that flows with the story.
Sam: Honestly, the skill tree is a mess. While I agree on it being a representation of Ryza’s growth, how it determines what skills or recipes you unlock is a lot less free-form than you’d want. If you love to synthesize, then you have skill points coming out of the wazoo that you can’t do anything with. The English version is poor at detailing what half of the skills are and does a downright awful job of explaining how to get Core Drives to activate so when they happened it was dumb luck on my part.
Michael: Core Drives are the bomb, though. Once I figured out how to manage the CC economy to actually use them in battle, they were literally the bomb. Fire bomb, ice bomb, electric bomb — use them all at the same time and you get a feng shui explosion as a finisher. But I figured them out mostly because of the obvious side window when I used items in battle. The fact that the Core Charge system limits most Drives to just Ryza or Klaudia is a different issue.
Sam: I do think it is problematic that Ryza and Klaudia seem to get the bulk of the drives. It seems odd to not make it fair across the board for each character to provide the same output. Clearly this is Gust continuing to tease us on the Ryza and Klaudia non-romance that keeps getting waved in our faces.
(No, I’m not bitter. Not at all.)
Michael: It’s strange that every attack item needed to line up for a Drive uses at least two CC, so at least seven CCs are needed to get the most commonly accessible Core Drive going, while half the cast has a max CC of around five. This doesn’t even get into how Core Charges are built up by performing special skills in battle, which means that most monsters won’t even survive long enough for the Core Drives or Finishing Attacks to come into play until practically the final level.
Sam: The bigger issue for me is that the skill system unlocks don’t really flow with the narrative points that unlock them. It would have been better if there’d been a closer integration with the narrative and more sense put into how the skills were linked. The way that the points linked didn’t make a lot of sense, either. At times, it felt like the individual points on the skill tree had been decided by darts, with recipes, skills, and quality-boosting unlocks scattered randomly across the board. So often, even though the player can put points down, the connections don’t make much sense.
Michael: Gust would have been better off creating multiple skill trees: Recipes, Alchemy Skills, Gathering, etc.
Sam: That would have made a lot more sense than whatever mess we got. Having three trees would have made it easier to see the progression for sure, and honestly, I’d rather recipes not even be in the tree at all.
And this goes double for Ryza’s exploration gear, half of which seemed pointless. I never made the Wind Shoes because I never encountered a good reason to care. There wasn’t a good reason to make a new Mana Lamp or Whistle for the potential upgrades, either. The Emerald Band was the only one that you absolutely had to improve upon for that group of tools.
Michael: The toolset did seem a bit… tacked on? Lacking in soul, as it were? And the Emerald Band’s best upgrade was locked behind the Essence system, which I did have to google at one point because I’d written it off as pointless.
Sam: You shouldn’t have to google that. There were a lot of instances for the higher items where they were gated behind a system like Essence, which honestly the game doesn’t give the player a good reason to use. I think Ryza 2, much like Ryza 1, often has too many subsystems to keep track of and neither game is good at telling players that they should be using them. These systems are great for players who are min-maxers, but this series still has a bad habit of assuming that players will “need to know better” in order to make the most of it. If the systems are uninteresting and easy enough to ignore, then sell me on why I should want to use them. I am always of the mind that less is more, and I think Ryza 2 does too much without a good reason.
Michael: My preference is for good exploration fun, and that was something I thought the original Ryza could work on. The fast travel worked a little too well, and there were things like the back entrance to the castle through the forest that was completely superfluous by the time you got the tool to open the way. But for Ryza 2 I was really digging it, to be honest.
Sam: I thought exploration was one of the game’s highlights for sure. There is something very satisfying about going into a dungeon and receiving a magical compass that allows the player to learn the story of that ruin. I loved how, after finding a certain number of elements, these visages would appear, and Ryza would have to put together a small puzzle that would provide a bigger picture of the dungeon. Completing the visages often nets the player a new skill or recipe, something that pushes the main story along, and I found a lot of enjoyment from just wandering the dungeons, putting the puzzle pieces together, and getting an interesting tale.
The only issue I would say is that the balancing between dungeons isn’t the best after the game’s halfway point. Between dungeons four and five there are so many instances of Ryza having to go back to the hub city for what I will say are mostly bland character quests that just don’t add anything to the base story in a meaningful way. You also get bombarded by so many quests that it’s too overwhelming
Michael: One thing I thought was interesting was how wide Ryza 2’s maps could get, while at the same time showing so little detail on important particulars like elevation and obstacles. It made it more of an achievement to figure your way across the terrain the first few times, and to this day I am still not sure how to get one or two treasure chests. Fast travel still exists, but it’s not as specific as in the first Ryza game, taking the party to the front of an area but not letting you skip around so easily, since that area might encompass a lot of things.
And then there’s the Emerald Band, which lets Ryza do her best Indiana Jones / Spider-Man impression across large crevasses and other drops into oblivion.
Sam: I loved her Indy swing! I also loved the Beast Whistle! I thought it was so cool that Ryza had a pet who could help dig for ingredients and even gather some coins. I wish they’d done more with the mystic doggo. Maybe next game.
Michael: Another thing I was digging was the variety of the game’s dungeons. Each of these spots was so different in atmosphere and design, but still sort of in keeping with the Atelier aesthetic. The city under the lake was a clear favorite, especially for the introduction to underwater exploration, but they were all a blast to explore. Literally a blast for the Mana Forge.
Sam: The city under the lake was easily the best designed of all the dungeons in the game, period. I did think the Phantom Forest also had some neat elements such as the floating upside-down flowers. Gust did a great job on the dungeon aesthetics and while not all of the dungeons were a slam dunk to explore, I appreciated that each of them offered its own unique personality to the player. I think the dungeons were a good length overall, and I never felt like they outstayed their welcome.
Michael: The dungeons were the highlight of the game, as they should be. This branch of the Atelier franchise is predicated upon the adventure and exploration in its gameplay, and the dungeons provided that in spades.
Sam: I can definitely agree with that, especially given Ryza 2 has a lot of missteps in terms of gameplay and story, but the adventure was solid. The combat is an interesting case in this game as well as it builds on a lot of elements from Ryza 1, though I don’t know if I loved it as much as the first game. I really did hate the camera angles in battle though.
Michael: I guess Gust wasn’t really thinking about how its push for the third-person over-the-shoulder view for the current character would jive with an active-time battle system that had monsters running around. It felt like it was trying to make the whole thing seem more action-y.
Sam: That was a bad change. The combat system really showed it couldn’t handle the over-the-shoulder aesthetic it was going for, because you couldn’t even see what your other characters were doing half the time. I think if it stayed as a standard turn-based system with all of its moving parts, it would have looked and played smoother. The way Ryza and friends build up Action Points and CC as they attack or defend from the enemy and use those points to unleash four different skills is great. Meanwhile, Atelier Ryza’s orders system returns in full force, with companions calling out a specific skill they want the player character to use, and if it is done correctly, the character who called out the request will perform a follow-up action. As orders are completed, the Tactics gauge goes up, maxing out at level five, which lets characters perform a Fatal Drive, a big honking power move that generally wipes the floor clean.
Michael: The only issue I have with that part of the combat system, and it’s an issue I had with Ryza as well, is that the enemy mobs tend to die well before I can get to the really cool stuff. Otherwise, it is hilariously easy to spam special attacks with certain characters. I think I got Klaudia to perform twelve or thirteen specials in a row at one point, because between the damage she dealt, the hits her allies were getting in, and the generally low cost of her specials (with discounts for successive uses), the party’s AP gauge was gaining faster than she could spend.
Sam: That’s the other side of it: Ryza 2 is simply too easy. The combat is much easier than the previous game, and I am sad that Ryza 2 lacks some of the cooler boss battles (like the Elemental Spirits). In fact, a lot of the special battles are not memorable in the slightest. Even the final boss for me just lacks presence, so while I like the combat as a whole, the individual encounters are forgettable.
Michael: I recall the Dragon Valley boss as my favorite combat memory, from the satisfaction of going back after an initial loss to combo his stony butt into five-digit super combo damage with Core attacks and finishing moves. Still, I’d been hoping for more from the final boss. The final dungeon was obvious from the start, but it would’ve been awesomer with an extension.
Sam: I can definitely agree with that. I do wish the game had been better in how it unraveled elements of its story because it was too on-the-nose at times. I never felt surprised or excited by what was truly unraveling. There were genuine moments of happiness and surprise for me in the first Atelier Ryza, and I think going forward Gust will need to find a happy medium in order to balance the pacing of story and combat. While exploration is much more satisfying, the other main parts just don’t feel as though they connect as strongly.
SOME GOOD THINGS
Sam: On a positive note, the game’s music is fantastic, and even better than its predecessor’s. The combat music has players geared for battle, there’s the right amount of poppiness to it that just slaps. There are so many moments in this game where the music pairs well with the scene unfolding during it; even if the story beat isn’t interesting, the music is engaging in those instances.
Michael: It’s definitely a solid soundtrack. It’s not as eclectic or experimental as the Dusk trilogy’s, but it’s slightly better than the Mysterious games. The graphical improvements are also something worthy of note, camera angles notwithstanding. In particular, I appreciated that the notable in-town NPCs were visually distinct and full of personality (because many of the in-town NPCs are very much not so). In Ryza 1, I literally did not realize that certain NPCs were recurring quest-givers with actual arcs for half the game, because there was little to distinguish them from any random NPC-on-the-street. This is not a problem in Ryza 2, and beyond that, the character models overall have fluid movements and body language that communicate quite a bit even from the background of conversations. There is a whole lot to Patty’s character that is never mentioned early on, but just the way she reacts to both Ryza and Tao in conversations tells the player exactly what’s up in her head. Likewise, Klaudia’s continued crush on Ryza never needs to be spelled out, because it’s painted across her face in broad strokes in every special scene the two have together towards the end of the game.
Beyond all that, the scenery is just lovely, colorful, and fully in keeping with the magical almost-European atmosphere the series prefers. There’s a plethora of little details and side bits to help sell the scene, as well as a few things that I’m still puzzled over (likely easter eggs). Big honkin’ posters showing “Public Enemy Puni” apparently warn of monster attacks, shop signs and other decorations festoon the town’s main plaza, and half the random girls in town prove that Ryza’s choice of clothing style is not as idiosyncratic as one might think.
Michael: My personal conclusion is that Atelier Ryza 2, while not a bad game by any means, did not live up to what it could have been. There are several things that sat wrong, many of them due to fixing things that were not broken to begin with or adding in too many extra features without giving much reason to mess with them. Balance of both gameplay and plot suffered some for this, and it’s sad that this game had enough bleeps on my Disappoint-O-Meter that I can’t say it ends up as much more than an average title review-wise. I really want to call it good, but…
Sam: I share the thought Ryza 2 is not a bad game, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first. I think the elements it chose to fix were the wrong ones, and I think the things it did right were almost accidental in nature. While adventuring and exploration are much smoother experiences in Ryza 2, the story is predictable, dull, and suffers from a localization that is too literal, removing any sense of fun that could be derived from the story. I think the game has too much going on at times, and that it would have benefitted from some hard edits. If this game had been a much more balanced experience, it could have easily surpassed the first game, but it just makes some weird decisions that I felt were so unnecessary and which distracted from my enjoyment. It’s solidly average, but I do have some concerns for which direction Ryza 3 will go from there.
Michael: Let us hope that Gust continues to learn from its mistakes, as it has in the past, and that Ryza 3 will have the great exploration, fun and flashy battles, and well-knit character narratives that we would like out of this series. And Ryza/Klaudia cuddles. That alone would make the third game a winner.
Disclosure: Sam’s portion of the review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher. Michael’s copy of the game wasn’t in English. Your mileage may vary.
Great growth for the original cast of characters
Interesting approaches to exploration and combat
Skill tree isn't well balanced or intuitive to the player
Story pacing leaves a lot to be desired
Sets up Klaudia and Ryza to be a couple and then pulls the rug out from under the player