Since its initial announcement back in May of this year, Atelier Ryza has rapidly found herself receiving a LOT of attention. Despite the fact that she is the newest in a long line of alchemists to bear the Atelier mantle, Ryza’s thighs in particular have helped endear her to a whole new audience of gamers and artists alike – reader beware if looking up the fan art! While some long-time fans have dismissed the game as a more sexualised attempt by developer GUST to increase sales, others (myself included) have waited with baited breath for any drop of information about the game to help keep us nourished yet ravenous for the impending release. With the Japanese release of Atelier Ryza having already drawn the biggest audience to date, with a very impressive 150,000 units sold in the first week alone, it’s obvious that the change in direction taken with the Atelier series in Atelier Ryza has made a massive impact, and I for one welcome this – the series is beloved by many, and these sales figures should help secure the Atelier series’ future in gaming. But, the question truly remains: do fans and newcomers alike in the West have something to look forward to with Atelier Ryza, and how does the game hold up?
Well, dear reader, this week on our trip down the Otaku Rabbit Hole, do we have a treat for you! Koei Tecmo have been kind enough to provide me with a review copy of Atelier Ryza for the Nintendo Switch, and today, I’ll be giving my first impressions of the game and its opening chapters, as well as a bit more information on a few features that have changed in Atelier Ryza compared to its predecessors. I will be keeping this first impressions as spoiler-free as possible, and if you’re interested in knowing my thoughts on the full game in depth, I will be diving deeper into the finer details when I release my full review in a few weeks’ time. BUT, please be warned – if you want to go into the game blind, then please click away now as there will be a light dusting of interesting titbits scattered throughout. Now then, without further ado, let’s jump right into it.
A Quick Breakdown of Atelier Ryza
Ok, so in the most basic of terms, Atelier Ryza is a gorgeous single player JRPG experience revolving around the addictive Atelier gameplay loop where the emotionally charged story acts as a perfectly idyllic setting for the fantastic gameplay systems in which synthesis, exploration and battle take centre stage. As a member of the Atelier series, Atelier Ryza breaks new ground by totally overhauling what players have come to expect from the series, but it still provides a fantastic player experience. Personally, as someone who’s a long-time fan of the series, the changes in Atelier Ryza didn’t immediately gel with me due to a few clunky mechanics, like the early fast-travel system, in addition to the altered game mechanics that messed with my preconceptions. However if, like I did when I first started the game, you find yourself sitting on the fence with Atelier Ryza and its new mechanics, I implore you to PLEASE stick with it. Instead of berating the game for what it is not, accept the it for being a fantastic stride into a bold new direction – sit back and enjoy the ride because so far, in spite of its flaws, Atelier Ryza has offered something truly special that has tugged at my heartstrings with its somewhat bittersweet story and its solid gameplay. With all of that said, I think it’s only fair that we discuss some of the more impactful changes implemented in Atelier Ryza, so that you guys are prepped and ready for when the game finally drops on November 1st!
An Overhauled Battle System
The battle system has received a total overhaul in Atelier Ryza. The turn-based battle system of old has been replaced by an action time battle system where every second counts, and strategy plays a bigger role than ever! If you’re new to the series, this jump from true turn-based to a more active system won’t make a huge difference to you, but for long-time fans, there will definitely be an adjustment period. No longer can you take time and ponder your actions, instead you need to make split-second choices that can make or break your chances of success. This increased speed to the battle system is a breath of fresh air, however, blowing away the stagnant air of tradition in place of a system that sucks you in.
A notable loss here is the JRPG staple, the MP bar, which has instead been replaced by a shared action point (AP) gauge. This increases by one for each attack your party lands and allows players to execute special moves by depleting this total.
However, there’s a unique benefit in building the gauge to full. By expending a full gauge, you can increase your team’s Tactics level. This increases the max AP available, as well as increasing special attack damage and the number of basic attacks that can be used in a turn by one. The game’s battle system is far more in depth and complex than this, but it reveals its intricacies slowly and unravels its secrets over time, meaning you’re unlikely to feel overwhelmed by the onslaught of new tricks, and instead will welcome this new system with open arms as a phenomenal improvement on what came before!
Breathing New Life into the Synthesis System
Atelier‘s signature alchemy system has had a considerable facelift in Atelier Ryza, and if you’re someone who only dives into the synthesis system when absolutely necessary, then I have some bad news for you. While you still learn new recipes and synthesise items from the materials gathered on your journeys, the system now allows players to create their OWN new recipes as they synthesise. The system feels like a natural evolution from the ideas explored during the Mysterious trilogy, where, by performing certain tasks, you would gain access to new ideas and recipes that would allow players to synthesise new items. In Atelier Ryza, this system feels less of a cumbersome addition, instead integrating itself in a far more organic way within the confines of the game and its story.
By adding specific items during synthesis, it’s possible to evolve the item you’re synthesising and create a brand new recipe, piggybacking off of an already known recipe. This encourages players to synthesise often and become far more thorough in their exploration, as by adding these specific items, players can gain access to some pretty powerful items that will aid in both combat and exploration. It also provides a considerable incentive for players to get more familiar with the alchemy system and synthesise a lot, as by doing so, players are rewarded by unlocking recipe after recipe in a way that feels natural and fun, and it is the closest the Atelier series has ever come to invoking a feeling of creativity and excitement within the alchemy system, as players can truly feel as though the access they have to recipes and items is in their hands, only limited by the individual’s willingness to explore the world and grapple with the alchemy system head on.
Additionally, Atelier Ryza introduces a brand new caveat to the alchemy system, where players can strengthen their synthesised items by adding new ingredients post-synthesis. While you’re unable to unlock new recipes this way, you can instead boost an item far beyond its normal limits, with the only downside being that to wield these items in battle, the player’s alchemy level must remain equal to or higher than the level of the item, as its level will increase with each new material added using this system. There’s even more to enjoy with regard to the alchemy system in Atelier Ryza, but I’ll hold off on revealing them all so that you guys can discover a few bits for yourself when the time comes. I must add, however, that the alchemy system and the genius new direction taken with it stand as a truly shining example of what can happen when developers invest a little creativity and a lot of love into their game – it’s absolutely phenomenal!
The Graphical Makeover and Atelier Ryza’s Stunning Visuals
If you’ve been keeping up with Atelier Ryza and it’s trailers, it would be hard for you not to have noticed how absolutely stunning the game is. The choice by developer GUST to overhaul the graphical and lighting engines for the series does not go unnoticed. Having played through a majority of the more recent titles prior to getting my hands on Atelier Ryza, I honestly did not expect the visuals in the game to have improved all that much between Atelier Lulua, a gorgeous game in its own right, and now.
I was wrong.
Atelier Ryza‘s visuals are nothing short of breathtaking, with an undeniable fairy-tale, fantasy-like aesthetic present in every landscape and scene. Everything in this game feels alive and vibrant, and this is only complemented further by the lighting effects that help breathe life into every fibre of the overall experience. Admittedly, there are a lot of bloom effects with the lighting that might draw the ire of some, but honestly, the lighting effects work remarkably well to help realise the creative vision present throughout Atelier Ryza, and I for one have found myself wowed by the game so often, in fact, that I would argue that it might even be one of the most beautiful games I’ve played on the Nintendo Switch to date!
Having already sunk almost 20 hours into the game and not even breaking the back of the story yet, it must be said that this game is an impressive and lengthy experience. While I’m well aware that this First Impressions has been resoundingly positive, I must also stress that the game may hit a few bum notes with people, particularly for fans readjusting to the changes. So far, however, Atelier Ryza is offering a solid JRPG experience, and despite its few shortcomings, I’m optimistic for what’s to come. Hopefully, when I review the game in depth in a few weeks, my opinion of the game will remain as high as it currently does, but we will have to wait and see!
With that being said, thanks again for joining me on this week’s trip down the Otaku Rabbit Hole, and I hope you’ve enjoyed your time here. If you did, that’s amazing, and please consider sharing. If you didn’t, then please get in touch and let me know why. I would love to hear your opinion too! Thank you all once again and, until next time, keep it weeby everyone!
DISCLAIMER: I DO NOT OWN ANY OF THE IMAGES USED IN THIS REVIEW. ALL CREDIT FOR THE IMAGES GIVEN TO THEIR RESPECTIVE OWNERS. REVIEW CODE FOR THIS GAME PROVIDED BY KOEI TECMO GAMES CO., LTD.