Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key Second Opinion
After two months and about ninety hours sunk into Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key, I feel that it is my duty as a major Atelier fan to give opinions. Now, we already have a wonderful review from Sam Wachter, in which she declares this game to be Great. I would respectfully disagree. It is in fact Excellent. But that’s merely a score descriptor. The interesting bits lie in the details.
This game and its predecessor have the unique position in the overall Atelier series in that they are not meant to be played as a standalone titles. In particular, this game is a capstone. Other Atelier games, even those in discreet sequences or sub-series, still have the feel of something that could be played out of order, but the Ryza sub-series is a true trilogy with a singular heroine and a largely unified cast of repeating characters, all of whom have their own personal arcs and plot threads that run throughout the three games. There are important scenes in Ryza 3 that are long-awaited payoffs for things that were set in motion during the first game, and other scenes that justify or improve upon things that may have been seen as issues with the plot, previously. The eight returning party characters come with significant background already, while the three new characters have major parts to play as the narrative unfolds.
The story begins a year after the events of Atelier Ryza 2, in which Reisalin Stout and her friends spent a summer exploring ancient ruins and coming to grips with the repercussions of adulthood. Now it is summer again, and adventure arrives with a bang as a strange archipelago appears literally out of nowhere in the waters near Ryza’s home of Kurken Island. This is a problem for local and distant trade, so the island elder and various concerned citizens ask the resident alchemist to investigate. Ryza’s just happy for the excuse to do stuff with her friends Tao and Bos, currently on summer holiday from school in the royal capital. Soon after, a boat arrives with her absolute best friend in the whole world, Klaudia. And Rent’s there, too.
Simply arriving at and exploring the archipelago could have been a game in itself, as it is stuck in the far corner of Ryza 3‘s first main exploration map. Said map comprises the entirety of the original Atelier Ryza‘s setting, plus some extra bits at the edges, and it is not the only place the adventurers need to go. Their quest to unravel the riddles of the archipelago’s ruins and the mysterious call of the Code of the Universe leads them to two other lands across the sea, and then beyond the known world entirely, for a total of four major exploration maps replete with towns, forests, ruins, mines, mazes, and an endless supply of monsters. Traversing these maps provides a seamless experience as Ryza passes from area to area, without any load times outside of what’s necessary for the fast travel between landmarks. For extra adventure, a free DLC expansion released a month after the game includes the entire map of Atelier Ryza 2 as well.
In addition to landmarks, Ryza has several tools at her disposal to make exploration easier and more enjoyable. The Emerald Band and Summons Bell have returned, allowing her to swing over obstacles or ride large, fluffy animals that scare away monsters. The Air Drops give her the ability to dive in deep water, for even more avenues of exploration. The most entertaining are the Wind Shoes, which give her the ability to skate on a cushion of air for a short time after jumping and holding the button. These allow her to slalom down slopes at ever faster speeds, which isn’t necessarily the safest thing to do with monsters all around, but it is undeniably fun.
More so than any other game in the series, Ryza 3 is about enjoying the act of exploration. The game encourages the player to go off the beaten path, to ignore the main plot markers and explore ahead, so that getting lost in the world is simply another way to enjoy it. Hundreds of treasure chests are hidden throughout, with the numbers found and in total displayed on the map just below the landmark names, as if to taunt the player with the status of their completion. Random woodland or marine creatures will sparkle with faerie lights to guide the heroine to secrets, and green-marked random quests will spontaneously pop up wherever one goes. While these green quests lack much variety or any plot to them at all, they’re still an excuse to sally forth and do stuff. The gold-marked standard quests and blue-marked world quests come with more plot rationalization, while each of Ryza’s comrades has special scenes and personal goals to fulfill. There is even an immediate and useful reward for petting any and all dogs and cats in the various towns. In short, there’s a whole lot of game to find in this game.
Combat in the Ryza series has always been more active than most Atelier titles, with the lead character in a trio being under direct player control while their friends attack on their own initiative. If the player can meet certain, simple conditions during battle, it triggers assist attacks from the lead character’s comrades. Regular attacks build up a points gauge that can be tapped for stronger skills. Those in turn build up an individual’s Core Crystal charge (for item use) and the party’s Tactics Level, which increases the upper limit for the points gauge and allows for stronger finishing moves. It’s possible to switch between character leads at will, and there are two back-bench characters who may be swapped in as needed. The total roster of eleven party members cannot fit into one battle, but the player can choose who to put in from the main menu. It’s a frantic, energetic battle system, especially for the Atelier series, but it’s certainly adventurous.
It wouldn’t be an Atelier game without the alchemy, and Ryza 3 takes its variant of the old formula as far as it can go. Any given recipe has a few key items to place first, but then the rest of the ingredients tree is unlocked, with some nodes having specific requirements and others being more general. The number of items Ryza can put into a new item increases as she unlocks points on her personal skill tree, and she will eventually regain the ability to go back and edit things she has previously made, paying for it in gems gained from recycling excess materials.
Like many games in the series, Atelier Ryza 3 has a theme, and that theme is keys. Due to mystic forces whose unknown purpose provides the impetus for investigation, Ryza has gained the ability to will magic keys into existence, either from landmarks or from sufficiently battered enemies. While the basic keys are pretty weak, she learns how to forge her own, more powerful blanks with which to make far better ones later in the game. Depending on the quality and the source, keys may do things such as grant bonuses when used in combat, boost results when used during synthesis, improve the quality of items gathered in the field, summon rare monsters, or call up cute little forest critters for no particular reason. Several of the field abilities can be used to unlock barriers on the map or to open special geocaches for items and the occasional new alchemy recipe. Keys can even be equipped on party members for extra stats. It’s a versatile system, though it does take some time to learn all the ins and outs, and its thematic significance is heavy throughout the late game as Ryza unlocks some mysteries and then fights to keep others locked away forever.
This is without a doubt the best-looking game that Gust has ever created in terms of scenery and background details. The major areas are seamless within their boundaries, and if the player can find a good, high vantage point, then it’s possible to see details from an amazing distance. The character models are all detailed with a high range of physical expression that supplements the dialogue well. While I cannot speak for the localization, due to playing a Japanese copy, the principal voice acting fits in all major scenes as well as the minor asides that the party members make in regards to the environment, the most recent situation, newly acquired goals, and other things. The music is on point as always, and the entirety of the Atelier discography is available as free downloadable content.
Most importantly, Atelier Ryza 3 is a game that fulfills its purpose as the capstone to a trilogy. It does its best to provide closure to the series and its characters, and by the end sequence most of the cast has some sense of growth in themselves and their relationships. The only disappointment is that Ryza’s obvious romantic plot potential is squandered. This is nothing new; in fact, it was a major complaint about the second game in the trilogy as well. Altogether, this game shows a quantum shift in the way Gust manages its development, with a breadth to it that may or may not become the new normal going forward. Whatever else, it is definitely an Excellent game.
Beautiful and expansive world to explore
Provides extension and closure to previous games' plots
Pet the puppies and kitties!
Easy to be distracted from main plot
Still no romance for Ryza