Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key Review
I’m Good at It, I’ve Mastered It…
Ending a trilogy on a high note is difficult, as there are often certain expectations by the player that must be met. The Atelier Ryza subseries has been a unique trilogy, with noticeable highs and lows in each game produced, but it has largely succeeded in revitalizing the fanbase. This made things critical for Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key to be a worthy swansong for the trilogy, and suffice it to say it achieves that goal.
The game takes place only a year after the events of the previous installment as Ryza and her friends embark on the summer adventure of a lifetime when they uncover the mysterious Kark Isles. These isles have appeared out of nowhere, threatening the stability of Ryza’s hometown on Kurken Island. As Ryza investigates the Kark Isles, she finds a ruin with a large gate. Upon approaching the gate, voices begin to echo in her mind, revealing that she must seek the Code of the Universe. Unsure of what this means, Ryza and her friends begin to unravel the mystery, and their journey takes them to places both new and old.
The Secret subseries is known for its strong storytelling, and this is consistent with Alchemist of the End. Ryza’s story takes a lot of fantastic and thrilling turns that keep the players guessing alongside the cast. For players who have been with the cast since the first game, every recurring character demonstrates a huge amount of growth. Ryza has become more confident and self-assured, Tao has transformed into a talented archeologist, and Lent no longer feels as though he has to be in his father’s shadow. Every character gets a strong amount of story both in the main journey and during character side quests, and Ryza 3 does an amazing job in its storytelling of making players feel like they are on a never-ending summer journey with a bunch of old friends.
One of the biggest complaints from Ryza 2 was the fact that many of the newer characters lacked depth and intrigue, and this is not the case in Ryza 3. All of the new characters that appear feel integral to the main story, and their personal journeys are just as rewarding as being with the original cast. Federica, Dian, and Kala, are funny, kind, and they fit right in, feeling as though they always should have been along for the journey despite this being the first game they all appear in. Given how muddled the pacing was in Atelier Ryza 2, it’s such a pleasant surprise to work through the game and have everything feel connected without any moments of narrative plodding. With an adorable cast of characters, a fascinating story of mysterious islands, and a “Code of the Universe,” there are tons of great narrative moments throughout Ryza 3.
Despite all the praise of the narrative, the one downside is that the localization is merely passable. Some of the sentences read a bit awkwardly, and while there is a new glossary in the game, some words are only half-highlighted, and it looks incredibly distracting when reading along with the text. The text at times is still missing humour and punch, which is a shame given how animated and energetic the Japanese voice acting comes across.
One of the biggest changes made for Atelier Ryza 3 comes in the form of seamless movement between areas. This has been such a fantastic change, as in previous games players would constantly have to exit in and out of areas or use fast travel to go between them. Having this ease of movement encourages more exploration on the player’s part, as encountering landmarks creates a new fast travel point. These changes help build on the recent Atelier games’ focus on exploration and finding crafting ingredients, players will happily wander far and wide to get the best items for synthesis. There is also more happening in the environments than in previous installments, with random quests that can be triggered during exploration. These quests range from collecting highlighted ingredients, battling specific foes, making deliveries, or synthesizing specific items for random travelers. Random quests offer rewards in the form of ingredients, money, or skill points. While more variety in the quests would have been welcome, this is a decent solution to one of Atelier Ryza 2’s biggest problems, which was acquiring enough skill points.
By way of the skill tree, Ryza can acquire new abilities and recipes to aid her journey. Skills range from upgrading Ryza’s ability to gather items, increasing the size of her basket, and even adding modifiers to a new element in the game: keys. One of Ryza’s new skills is the ability to generate keys, and this can be done during combat and at landmark sites. Keys used in synthesis can add different effects and traits to an item, while when used in combat offer unique effects that can easily change the tide of battle. Keys can be created during battle and modified, which adds short-term effects that offer big gains for player characters. Keys can also be equipped on characters for additional stat bonuses. Keys are an interesting addition through their use as metaphors in the story, but as a gameplay element, they take some getting used to. Once players are able to understand the effects of the keys, there is lots of room for experimentation.
Item synthesis continues to be an addictive element in the Atelier series, and Ryza 3 has a more refined system than its predecessor. Players select a recipe and synthesize items by adding ingredients to material loops. The core loops must be fulfilled before other loops can be filled in, increasing the item’s quality. To increase the quality or add different traits to an item, the corresponding element and quantity must be satisfied. Paying close attention to the material loop bands also helps the player understand how they are crafting the item, whether it’s building specific traits, changing the effect or quality of the item, or even transforming the recipe into a new one entirely.
New to Atelier Ryza 3 is the Link Morph, which allows Ryza to change the element in the core material loop. Link Morph is a great way to experiment with item synthesis as it can change the effects of the item and the final product. The addition of Link Morph and keys adds a new layer to synthesis and makes an already addictive process even more enticing, and by morphing recipes, it allows Ryza to craft bigger and better quality items. Players can also just auto-add items if they don’t want to do the process manually, which is great if you want mass quantities of a specific item but don’t necessarily care about the effects or traits.
Another addictive area is the game’s combat, which has also been refined from the previous games. Combat has three characters on screen, but only one is under direct control at any time, while the others attack on autopilot until the player switches to them. Two more characters are kept on the reserve roster, which can be tagged in mid-battle. As characters build up their Action Points, they can chain together skills until those points have been depleted. During the battle, AI-controlled characters will shout orders to the player to perform specific skills, which boosts the player’s combo and also helps increase the tactics level. Once the tactics level has hit its maximum, characters can unleash a Fatal Drive, an ultimate ability that hits for tons of damage. If a character is defeated or is not as useful in battle players can swap them out for someone in a reserve slot, and they perform a skill shift for some additional damage.
The new key-creation part of combat lets a character use either a hollow or pristine key to craft a key from an enemy. There is also the ability to modify a key during combat, which adds unique buffs for a limited time. These modifications range from allowing normal attacks to be chained into an unlimited number of combos, to preventing the stun gauge from depleting very quickly. As characters build up a combo, they can stun enemies into a broken state where they will not be able to unleash their more powerful abilities. Using keys is one great way to change the tide of battle if they are finding certain enemies too difficult.
Another important element in combat is use of Core Items and the related Core Charge (CC). As a character’s chain abilities, their CC goes up. Characters can hold up to four items in battle, and CC is consumed when an item is selected. Maintaining and using CC is a very important part of the ebb and flow of combat, as using items can be an important part of succeeding in battle. All of the combat elements in Atelier Ryza 3 make for a fast and frantic battle system, and while it’s hard to understand all the parts of it right off the bat, once players get into the rhythm, it’s a compelling part of the game.
Atelier Ryza 3 is a beautiful-looking game on Nintendo Switch, though unfortunately, some performance issues need addressing. With locations now being seamless to move through, there’s a noticeable slowdown when there are too many items or enemies loading into the area. There are even moments when character models will stall while playing, necessitating a second or wait two before actions process. These moments are rare but sadly worth noting. Otherwise, the game is gorgeous, with lots of detail in the environments, bursting with beautiful pastels that lull the player into each location.
The game’s soundtrack is stunning, as Kazuki Yanagawa crafts some wonderful pieces that do a great job of bringing Ryza’s adventure to life. There are many hummable earworms from the game’s incredible opening track to the battle theme which pumps the player up to fight. While Atelier Ryza 3 is not a challenging game, it will set players back at least forty hours if they are doing a solid mix of the main storyline and additional content. Combat can be adjusted on the fly, which allows players to enjoy the game at their preferred difficulty level.
I felt both so happy and sad when I finished Atelier Ryza 3. On the one hand, I was so happy that the story stuck the landing and Gust truly learned from the missteps in Atelier Ryza 2. On the other hand, I was so heartbroken that my time with these characters whom I have grown to love throughout three games was finally coming to an end. While there are a few hiccups, overall Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key is a brilliant send-off for Ryza, her friends, and fans of the series as a whole.
Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Amazing growth amongst the cast of characters
Alchemy and synthesis gameplay is addictive
The battle system is fast-paced and engaging
Graphical slowdown apparent when moving between areas