Gosh Ryza’s gorgeous. Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key, the game, I mean. Not the character (but yeah, also her). The third and final chapter of Ryza’s story is almost upon us, and I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with the opening chapter or so of it. I was always going to love it, of course, but I also continue to be impressed with how Gust builds on its work, from one title to the next.
Most Atelier titles feature a coming-of-age story, as a new protagonist learns her place in the world while mastering alchemy and helping out the people in her society around her. This foundation doesn’t apply to Ryza in Ryza 3 though, of course. After all, three chapters in, at this stage in her life, Ryza is already an experienced adventurer and prominent member of society. This freed the developers up to write a much more traditional adventure JRPG, and Ryza is off to a great start in this regard.
It’s summertime, which, to the Japanese, is a fondly remembered time of friendship and adventure. Like most places in the world, summer is the time of school break, and a Japanese summer is not something you quickly forget, thanks to the stiflingly hot air, extreme humidity, and soundscape filled with the sounds of cicadas (seriously). Most Japanese people end up with a sense of nostalgia for summer and their youth, and Ryza 3’s opening moments do seem to try to tap into that. Two of Ryza’s dear friends, whom she hasn’t seen in quite some time, have returned to town on their holidays to get back to their roots and catch up.
Unfortunately, Ryza’s busy. Very, very busy. She’s now taken on all kinds of responsibilities across town, has the ear of the elders, and is relied on by the people for any number of tasks. It’s looking like there will be no opportunity for friends to reunite…
Except suddenly there’s some kind of earthquake and mysterious islands have appeared all around. Monsters have come with them too, and Ryza starts having snippets of visions. One of which causes her to alchemise up a key to a doorway that she has no idea about. It’s all very portentous and so Ryza, being the wise girl she now is, taps her friends to go on one last, epic, adventure again.
It’s pretty clear that this is going to be a game for people that enjoyed the first two. Technically the story is self-contained, but it’s also very clearly building on what you should already know about Ryza and her friends. Luckily, for those people that are existing fans of Ryza and her crew, the team at Gust haven’t done much to change things. This is much the same game you already know and love from before, just now with a new narrative and places to explore (thanks to them popping up out of the ocean).
One thing that did immediately spring out to me is the combat system. The Ryza titles have always been Gust’s attempt to find a balance between the traditional turn-based action of other Atelier games (including the immediately previous release, Atelier Sophie 2), and an action combat system. Not much has changed there, but what I did like about this combat system was the visual dynamics of it. The way enemies and characters alike move around the battle space has an organic, very modern look, and really helps to sell the idea that Ryza is pushing beyond the “B-tier” JRPG that the Atelier series had previously occupied.
In some other areas, I am seeing mild indications that this didn’t have the budget of a Final Fantasy or Tales game. Pop-in does occurs in the larger environments, and you can see with some cut scenes that the team has taken shortcuts to avoid particularly complex animation routines. With that being said, the world of Ryza really is gorgeous and massive in scope. Just wandering around the place is a feast for the eyes, and Gust really has developed a versatile and flexible engine that drips with vibrancy, detail, colour and wholesome cuteness.
So far it’s a little hard to get a sense of the characters, their relationships, and the plot in Ryza 3. I’ve only been able to experience the very front end of it for this preview. However, Gust knows that they’ve been on to a good thing with Ryza. The team very rarely revisits a character for a third adventure, and they were never going to mess with this one and risk messing it up. Whatever you thought about the first two (and most people that like JRPGs loved them), you can expect an iterative improvement for this one… and that’s all it needed. It’s going to be a warm, comfy, memorable journey, and a highlight of the wonderful and special series.