A beautiful swansong for Ryza’s last dance
- Developer: GUST
- Publisher: Koei Tecmo
- Release date: 24th March 2023
- Genre: 3rd Person Adventure, JRPG
- Platforms: PlayStation 4/5, Nintendo Switch, PC
- Reviewed on: PlayStation 5
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key Review
The pleasure from the Atelier games is derived from how chilled each experience feels, certainly when compared to other games in the JRPG genre. Each Atelier game, and each story in the franchise’s long history, is a wholesome experience where I was able to witness the growth of an individual to overcome what appeared to be insurmountable odds, and I found it very easy to root for the heroine each time. Nothing epitomises this feeling more than when playing as the current poster child of GUST’s superb trilogy, Reiselin Stout (aka Ryza), in her last featured game of the trilogy; Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key.
If you have played the previous two exciting adventures, you will have witnessed the transformation of a young and insecure, wanna-be Alchemist trying to find her way. In this latest instalment, Ryza is the Alchemist her local town leans on significantly for her services.
However, another mystery raises its head for investigation for Ryza and her supporting cast of friends to delve into one more time. Although Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key can be played without prior knowledge of the previous games, much of the story here is focused on reminiscing with her friends about their adventures in the past. The weight of these scenes would be lost on those who are unaware of their significance, but can still be enjoyed by new players, albeit without the same gravitas. This virtual lap of honour for Ryza takes her far and wide, but importantly, covers ground I was familiar with – Krugen Island still looks just as I remembered it!
This new adventure is mechanically broken up into four large areas, which can be explored in any order you choose. What was even more delightful was that of all the games I’ve played, exploring this one was the most rewarding. New ways to traverse, like riding on dolphins, only served to heighten the enjoyment. There is always something just in the distance that catches your eye to pull you away from your main or even secondary tasks.
Fundamentally the game has the same solid gameplay loop as each Atelier game of the past: Find materials to craft items to be able to explore further, fight monsters, reach a checkpoint, a bit more exploring, boss fight, then back to the Atelier to shake down what just happened, followed by a lot of enjoyable story exposition.
Crafting can be a micromanager’s dream; Unlocking or finding a recipe will allow Ryza to see what ingredients she needs to collect to meet the recipe’s requirements. As each material has a quality value, the better the strength of the materials used in a recipe, the stronger the items will be. The beauty here is that the easy-to-navigate recipe also has complexity, as branching out in many different ways can get very different results. You can choose, if you so wish, to fill the recipe up with an auto-fill feature that can be set in different ways, for example using the lowest grade items first to save time.
Other than this, the only new crafting feature is that Ryza can now craft keys, which when assigned can give her and her team significant stat or attribute boosts. Aside from this, the rest is the same as before, which is a little frustrating – Ryza is having to learn some of the same recipes she’d already learnt twice from the previous games!
The combat is still the mixed bag that it has been in the previous two games. It’s a real-time, turn-based affair, and I could never truly say I enjoyed the mechanics, as neither the real-time aspect nor turn-based systems felt on point. The way it works is, the team on the field (and you can control any of the team) has a melee weapon for basic attacks, and landing basic attacks builds an AP gauge so you can launch skill attacks. As the game progresses, more elaborate and costly skills and power moves arrive, but for most of the game, it’s just a combination of melee and skills. Waiting your turn whilst watching a gauge fill for your turn to act, whilst ignoring the exciting visuals of what’s actually going on, felt counterintuitive. Equally, when you do get to act, there feels like a minimal amount of time to actually press the buttons to perform actions before it moves on to the next person’s turn. Many times, when the AP metre had filled to the brim with significant points, I should have been able to launch 2 skills at once, but I found I only had time to activate the button prompt for one of them – I don’t recall having this issue in the previous two games.
The biggest disappointment of the game though is the current state of the visuals. Atelier Ryza 3 still prominently features GUST’s wonderful, hand-drawn art style, which is always a visual treat for the eyes. What isn’t, though, is that the game has some extremely distracting base settings that currently can’t be changed. Depth-of-field effects are over-used, to the point that items and rocks just a mere few metres away from Ryza are slightly blurred, which gives the whole game an unintentionally watery look. Additionally, the bloom on white or bright objects is far too intrusive, which means the game can look odd. Having a powerful PS5 with no performance mode or ability to change any of these settings was frustrating. Thankfully, GUST has officially acknowledged the game’s visual shortcomings and will be addressing them forthwith. Here is a link to their official statement.
Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key | UPDATE (koeitecmoamerica.com)
Another key reason the visuals are disappointing is in the rendering of the text and UI. As the game only has Japanese audio, Atelier Ryza 3 relies on subtitles for those who can’t speak Japanese. Exasperatingly, the text shown has no background to distinguish it from the main view; The text is in white, so when there are bright blocks of colour on screen (together with the aforementioned excessive bloom) you can’t see the white text on light backgrounds. Even worse is the fact that in the field dialogue is smaller than the normal text. I have a 40-inch TV, yet the field dialogue font size is just 5 mm in height with 1 mm distance between characters. I struggled to view what was being written and others have raised the same issue with GUST.
Despite all this, the game is still utterly beautiful and visually exciting, especially in combat. The animations are crisp, smooth, and full of energy. This is especially true of the skills launched in combat and the wonderful hand-drawn art style featured in the many delightful cutscenes. The character models are also excellent- Each character has their own unique style, but moreover interest as well. Changing characters, especially during battle, was fun because it was exciting to see what their spell-launch animations looked like.
Atelier Ryza 3 also launched with a photo mode, which increased my playtime significantly as I fiddled and played with the mode to find that perfect shot, only to find what I think will be a better one moments later!
Finally, Atelier Ryza 3 excels in the audio department, With familiar piano-based rhythms that continued in my head long after I’d played the game – I even hum the same tunes around the house! During collecting, synthesising and combat, the effects again are superb. Exploding sparkling sounds at the completion of creating an item, or the efforts and noises from the team in exertion during combat, truly bring the game to life.
When Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key hits the right notes at the same time, it is a stunning game to experience. The story is wonderfully heartfelt and wholesome, and the world is bursting with interest to explore. With a tricky combat system that really shines during boss fights and an audio track that is catchy as hell, it’s just a shame that self-inflicted design choices, such as draw distance, bloom, and white-on-white (and also tiny) text feature so prominently that they detract from the experience. Thankfully, GUST is aware of these issues, so they will be addressed, but it might be a case of waiting if you want to get the best experience this game can offer.
As it stands, Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key is still an excellent game and a fitting end to the most commercially successful character the franchise has had in the series’ long history. I, for one, will miss the oh-so-endearing Ryza and hope to see her pop up in future Atelier games.