2019’s GUST Studios developed Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout was a well-received entry in the Atelier series as it was a natural refinement with having more light shined upon it. Publisher KOEI TECMO did a fine job marketing the type of game it was and its changes. Taking the buzz that Ryza received, and what the Atelier series’ usual next move is, Ryza as a sub-series would be getting a sequel in late 2020 in Japan, and now late January 2021 for the west as Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends and the Secret Fairy. A sequel was not only expected knowing the series, but would be absolutely shocking if it wasn’t given Ryza’s popularity. The first game made specific gameplay changes and enough improvements to feel like an incremental evolution, but is Ryza 2 looking to improve it more or just refine more of what’s been set in place?
If you’re just looking for more adventure with Ryza then you’ll find what you want with Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy. There are new additions that make the sequel better in some aspects and up for debate in others. The game takes place three years after the end of Ryza and the crew’s epic journey. Leaving the farming village Rasenboden set on Kurken Island, Ryza heads to new territory; to the capital of Ashra-am Baird. Fellow friend and history buff Tao sent message of the possibility that new ruins have been discovered. And so, Ryza sets out to meet with Tao after 3 years to see what truth may come out of this and thus a new adventure is underway.
Ashra-am Baird serves as the new hub town where a lot of the side-action and stories take place. The large capital is home to merchants, farmers, and students as even a large academy is part of the city. The place feels busier and somewhat larger than Rasenboden for the most part, but the vibes are half & half. The jolliness of the residents and events that take place are plentiful and wholesome as usual, but the city doesn’t feel as warm and cozy as in the first game. Still, the art direction and realization of Ashra-am Baird feels like a new home once you’ve made the rounds in all the districts a few times. Of course, there’s no hideout here but there is a new Atelier for Ryza bestowed upon her as part of some deal.
From the get-go, Ryza 2 immediately includes features that were seen as updates in the first game. Photo Mode makes a return and allows players to animate and place characters, change filters and time of day. Next, your own personal Puni pet returns as well. Feed and send your Puni on adventures to level it up and earn rewards good for synthesizing. Speaking of time of day, as in the fist game, time changes hourly based on advancing to different location loading spaces and there is no pressure for quests.
The art style of Ryza 2 is an extension of what came before and is beautiful. The only one major downside is where there’s strong bloom effects, they’re really strong in Ryza 2. To the point where areas can be blinding white and taking away from the art direction. There will be some familiarity as grass areas and water will not look like new territory from the onset, but there’s enough differentiation. And what grassy plains area in a game won’t look like grassy plains in its sequel? Ryza 2 does a good job of feeling like a new adventure not only in the different locations in the area around Ashra-am Baird, but the thematically the dungeons can be seen as an improvement in terms of visual design. There’s some distinction of and places having that ‘sacred and forgotten’ magical feel to them. They stand out from being the “next area” and more secluded. You know when you’ve entered one and you can sense some creativity.
The mechanical side of dungeons is a little more involved and is the context to the lore behind the main story. How substantial and meaningful it is to the overall experience may be seen differently by some. Perhaps even intrusive. Personally, I enjoy the flavor text and attention to lore. Its implementation, however, isn’t complex as it probably wants you to think it is. Part of the reason Ryza set to visit Tao in the capital is she was given an incredibly rare stone and set with the task on finding if there is more to it. Turns out there’s a whole lot to it.
After specific events and having a trusty compass, it’s up to Ryza to solve mystery cases within each dungeon. The further you explore a dungeon the more it opens up its secrets. Throughout the dungeons are memories and remnants of the past. These sparkle on the map and in the dungeons as pickups. Some of them contain images relating to the dungeon. Some memories present a spiritual presence which can be talked to in order to play out a conversation between people during that ancient time. These provide context to the dungeon and the world at that time, but are automatically recorded in your compass for you to piece together the lore bits you’ve found and complete the case.
You may not have collected the correct memories up to a point and need to advance through the dungeon to obtain them. However, once they’ve been obtained one rapidly go through each memory and seeing which one works without repercussion of any sort. There’s no real challenge to putting the pieces together and can be seen as a menial task, though it does provide enough to get a sense of what went down in ancient times of the ruins you are exploring. For those who like a little extra other than random dungeon with no context, this can be seen as a nice addition. Still, you’ll be required to solve them. The rewards for solving the cases unlock a new ability or synthesis recipe. They also simply give you SP as a bonus. SP are skill points essentially used for spending in the newly featured Skill Tree.
Although at times Ryza will come up with a new recipe as part of certain events, the new Skill Tree allows points to be spent to unlock them immediately. As you unlock recipes and skills, new paths form to reveal even more. On one hand it streamlines getting to dive into alchemy faster and gives an opportunity to work towards something. On the other hand, welcome to the future? SP is earned frequently, whether from battle or even just synthesizing any item in general. It’s pretty easy to come by so it never truly feels like a grind. Which is good. The grind in alchemy should come from one’s personal dedication to becoming better and creating the best items they can through quality of materials and gathering, not from numbers and skill trees that desire SP as a currency to continue the journey. The Skill Tree here makes everything a little faster actually.
Synthesizing remains largely the same but it does come with a few extras. Gem Reductions and Item Duplication make their return as well. Players can now obtain Essence fallen from enemies, for example. They mostly take form in any of the major elements present in the game (Fire, Wind, Water, Lightning). These can be used to dramatically improve the quality of your items, but moreso change the actual element required needed for a material during the synthesis creation process, allowing the player to bypass what’s needed from them. Essence, however, is a rarer drop. But it’s frequent enough to make good use of it when you really do need it. There are a few other features late game that give great potential when used correctly, such as the Evolution Link, and it almost feels targeted more towards purists.
When you need materials fast and don’t feel like gathering, you can complete a certain number of tasks found on the bulletin board in the cafe near the academy. Completing enough of them earns you a new reward with each ranking you get for each faction of residents. Players can work towards earning reduced prices on items and even get harder quests. Many of them require slaying certain monsters or turning in specific materials. It’s an easy way to earn money and SP. These are rather simpler tasks that refresh often. Actual event quests and stories are the more fleshed out ones in Ashra-am Baird and pan out throughout the entire adventure with better rewards. Such rewards come in new styles and items for your Atelier.
Your one ceiling two story Atelier provides more customization this time around. Thematically changing the style of the walls, flooring, and rug. There are a number of styles of earn and many placeable objects to decorate your Atelier with. From different couches, beds, stands, dolls, food items, picture frames, lights, etc. And let’s not forget barrels. Only certain shelves can have similar items placed on them and there’s no real tile-based rearranging in detail. While there is your standard bed downstairs to sleep in, there can be a bed placed upstairs that you can use. Just decoration. No biggy. However, where items are placed can look very odd. And some items can’t be placed in certain areas making the area feel cramped because only one spot can have a piece of furniture and a similar case in another. They are still extra rewards (some can be found in shops for a price) that sometimes come from having to synthesize items of a certain quality which means you’ll need the best materials and lots of them. Also at your Atelier, players can change their outfits and players who have save data from the first game will be able to change into the outfits from that game if they wish. It’s nice to have the classics.
Ryza 2 provides more opportunities for gathering. It’s not only the land whose lumber we’ll strip of living trees and tiny bugs we’ll steal from their families. Fishing returns, but now we get to see what’s actually underneath the surface of that water. From reefs, shells, sand and marine life, many materials can be gathered from diving into the deep. In order to do so, Ryza must first invent an item that allows breathing underwater. Through what seems to be having a genius magical mind, she creates a candy-like item that is placed in the mouth and provides air when being licked. Who would’ve thought? I wouldn’t mind a real Air Drop.
Swimming controls are only a tad cumbersome, but it works. Although above water and underwater are loaded as the same zone, it’s not a seamless endeavor. Players must press Y to dive underwater to which the screen fades to white first. Players must also press Y to continue diving lower. Pressing B allows Ryza to swim up. Once doing swimming back to the top, players must press B again to get another fade to white before returning to the surface. There are materials you can only get underwater and it’s a nice way to make the world feel larger.
Navigation isn’t just limited to running around either. There’s a magical rope which can be used to traverse across gaps or get to higher/lower ground. There’s also a mount which can be called upon using a whistling device where certain gathering spots on the ground will shine and can be dug for money while riding it. Ryza also just seems to move a little faster by default. Animations overall are different, so her jogging animation is, too. I do kind of wish it wasn’t because I loved it.
Ryza’s jump also lands a lot faster now where previously it was floaty for about a 1 second. As a game that’s not about platforming this doesn’t change much to gameplay, but it does look more natural. There also seems to be less invisible walls this time around as I was able to jump over and on rocks and objects more proficiently. Another improvement is switching between the gathering tools. In the predecessor, players would use the right analog to switch between left & right what’s indicated. Now, players can hold L and then use the right analog in a wheel to choose. This makes selections more precise and to the point.
You’ll also be more-or-less be proficient in combat as well. The real-time turn-based hybrid returns, but has a few alterations to the formula. The Order Actions return as well as Core Drives and Chain Linking skills. The behavior is different, though. Previously, players would be able to see who takes their turn as their portrait goes down the timeline in a single file, be it party member or enemy. Now the timeline has both your party and the enemies coming from two sides, left & and right respectfully, towards the middle. While it should largely play similarly and only looks different, this means a number of actions can all take place at once. It’s faster and works well. I do like the pace of the action. However, the animation windows and timeline don’t necessarily function in the last game.
In the first game, as long as you had enough AP to spend, you could use another skill and chain attacks more fluidly. Even if in the middle of a snazzy skill an enemy died, you weren’t cut-off from continuing to attack and transferring the chain to a different target. In Ryza 2, you need to pay more attention to your character’s placement on the timeline rather than what animation is playing. Even if your character leaps ahead and performs a skill, it’s likely during that time the character portrait on the timeline went to the back of the line. This automatically means you must wait your turn again before chaining attacks & skills. While your character has leaped ahead and was done attacking, they still haven’t leaped back to their wait position yet and can be disorientating from what’s taking place on screen versus what’s shown on the timeline. Previously, you could kill an enemy on the last hit and then execute a skill towards a different enemy. In Ryza 2, even if you’re in the front and done attacking, there’s still a cutoff during the last portion of attack animations. This means while you were waiting for party members to attack to raise your AP during that time, it won’t matter if you had enough to spend it if you’re already placed in the back of the timeline.
This made things tricky for me for the first few hours before I could put it together as I was used to the first game and wondering why I couldn’t execute my attacks. This in turn makes battles, say, not as easy. But overall the game doesn’t push its difficulty curve until the later portion of the game. It just takes getting used to and the battles are still as fluid, switching between characters and using skills. What’s improved and found myself using more in this game is the CC items. Core Charges seem to increase faster and I’m just using items more now, whether it’s waiting for my turn or using Quick Item even when it’s not my turn. Multiple items (up to 4) can be used at once in the order they were selected so long as you have enough CC. This means you can get your early Dry Biscuit healing buffs on more frequently. The Tactics Levels also increases the more you use skills regardless of Order Actions. Tactics Levels increase faster as long as you’re using skills (which, why wouldn’t you be). And the characters play different enough that switching between them and playing them creates a nice variety when you are looking for it as they all have their own weight and flow.
The true heart of Atelier games is not only providing its own take on RPG mechanics, but also its characters. The wholesome company of everyone you meet grows on you throughout the entirety of the game. The main cast from the first game returns here, with two of them having a much less focus and not being playable, but it’s a comforting experience to see what the crew interact and grow as characters. New characters such as Patricia and Clifford are welcome additions. Patricia, grown of nobility (much like Klaudia but isn’t as travelled), is learning friendship and the ways of choice. Clifford, the whipperang slangin’ treasure hunter deeply romanticizes the whole concept of hunting for treasure and very likable. A new addition and core to the plot is a mysterious creature named Fi. Personally speaking here, Fi is very cute and very emotive. His ears and the way he flies around tells a lot about his current mood. While essential to the story and Fi paying off comes towards completion, Fi is also the most annoying character in the game. With only variations of “Fi” being said repeatedly in a squeamish, ear-damaging way, it became more aggravating than playful even though the scenes were either funny and/or endearing. A word of caution for earphone users, take care.
The game runs perfectly stable at 30 fps on Nintendo Switch docked and handheld. The striking art style and colors look great. No HD Rumble implementation, but I can’t say I even recognized standard rumble. Most importantly, the sound. The quality soundtrack one might expect is definitely here. There are various renditions of tracks from the first game, but Ryza 2’s new tracks are good as well. It’s a nice continuation of what came before in terms of style and tone. Definitely keep your headphone volume up here.
I can’t say for sure, but while the game has wholehearted moments and events, it feels like I blazed through it faster than the first game. Ryza 2 definitely feels faster paced, but not a shortened and lesser experience by any means of 50 hours which isn’t anything to scoff at.