Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout wasn’t just a great stepping stone for players new to the Atelier franchise, but it was a solid RPG all around, with overhauls to the series’ titular crafting and combat systems. With over 500,000 copies sold, one wouldn’t think that the game needed any sort of further enhancement with a sequel, but Gust set out to do exactly that. Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy is almost a completely different game from the first in many aspects, and while that’s not a bad thing whatsoever, it also makes me wish that more attention was paid to the systems that needed the most attention as opposed to those that were mostly fine to begin with. While this results in the second half of the game feeling rocky, I still think that Atelier Ryza 2 is one of the best JRPGs released so far this year.
Atelier Ryza 2 takes place three years after the ending of the first game; as Ryza continues to practice alchemy and teach on Kurken Island, she receives a letter from Tao informing her of new ruins around the mainland capital city of Ahra-am Baird. As she prepares to visit, she receives a mysterious egg from water tycoon Moritz Brunnen (you really need to play the first game to understand this), which eventually hatches to reveal a small fairy named Fi. Following this, the main story divulges into discovering how Fi and the ruins are connected to the broader world, with a series of sub-quests involving more lighthearted activities such as helping a farmer grow her crops.
The first game’s story was mostly alright, being lighthearted and fun despite feeling shallow at times, but unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Atelier Ryza 2. The first half of the game is interesting as you go about discovering the surrounding areas of Ahra-am Baird and meeting party members Patricia, Clifford, Klaudia, Serri, and eventually Lent, yet it hits a brick wall about midway through the main story as it begins to get deeper. At this point, so many sub-quests that mostly detract from the main plot are thrown in your face, putting you in the position of being unable to continue unless you complete them. While these are mostly done by chasing down certain characters and talking to them or crafting a certain recipe, there are so many that you have to navigate to that it quickly becomes exhausting.
The plot never really picks up from this, and while The Main Point is thrown in your face rather late towards the ending, getting over to that got tedious. On top of this, I felt like Atelier Ryza 2’s localization was a bit worse than the first game as well, with some lines suffering from typos or a lack of clarity. While there’s more story to sift through in the sequel as opposed to the original game, at least the latter built up that tension as opposed to barely being able to cross the finish line. This pacing issue isn’t helped by the fact that major progression points are now locked behind a skill tree, which is its own barrel of monkeys.
In the first game, new alchemy recipes are unlocked through leveling, but Atelier Ryza 2 introduces a new SP system and a skill tree. SP is gained by filling out your Exploration Diary (more on that in a sec) or crafting items, and it can be used to unlock particular nodes on the skill tree for things like new recipes, new abilities, stat and item upgrades. While this sounds cool in theory, as it’s possible to get very powerful items early on if you play your cards right, to say that it requires you to put in the work is an understatement. For the most part, I was able to get SP through normal crafting and story progression, but I found myself usually spending the SP I accrued all at once because I’d hit a wall within the game that required me to get more powerful or a walled-off item. This stop-and-go method of progression didn’t work for me, and I don’t think it was a “me” issue because I later discovered that I was pretty over-leveled, but be prepared to grind regardless if you want particular upgrades.
However, that shouldn’t be much of an issue considering the new features added to the classic alchemy system. If you’re unfamiliar with how alchemy in the Atelier series works, it consists of harvesting materials in the game world such as beehives, water, and wood to create new items like consumables, weapons, and armor. It pays off more to create your own equipment as opposed to buying it, and you’ll often be going out to get materials because a lot of the story progression requires some sort of synthesis, but to a lesser extent than the first game.
Atelier Ryza’s alchemy system was already great as it was, as it helped attract new players while retaining veterans by presenting an easy to learn but hard to master structure emphasizing material quantity over quality, but Atelier Ryza 2 adds onto this even more. One such feature includes essences, which supercharge a specific node on the synthesis tree. These new additions help make an intricate process even more rewarding, but despite this, my main gripe regarding synthesis from the last game still hasn’t been resolved: that you can’t sort the list of things to make in any order whatsoever. Maybe this is just a menu I’ve missed even though I’ve poured over all of the buttons possible, but it’s almost mind-blowing how little quirks like this get completely glossed over.
The environments, however, prove to me that this game is a true sequel. Areas are almost twice to three times as big as they were in the previous game, bustling with enemies to fight and materials to collect. I got endlessly lost in bright forests and cavernous mountains, and even though the lighting effects can become a bit much at times (especially the bloom), Atelier Ryza 2 is a game that both looks great and feels great to play. The capital city of Ahra-am Baird is fleshed out to the max with new shops and things to do, such as the quest board to earn coins along with a plethora of new side-quests, with this hub feeling way more alive than Kurken Island in the first game. You’ll spend a lot of time just admiring the atmosphere of the Roteswasser Kingdom, and I think diving in head-first to all of the systems this game has to offer is one of the best ways to experience it.
One such system that I mentioned earlier is the Exploration Diary. As you explore particular ruins, you’ll eventually activate the Compass of Recollection, something you obtain early on in the game and which points to different Memory Vestiges, Ruin Fragments, and Crystals present on a floor. These could be an artifact, a spirit, or even a special shop that sells items you wouldn’t be able to get elsewhere; by collecting Ruin Fragments and Crystals you unlock fill-in-the-blank mysteries you can solve with Memory Vestiges, rewarding you with SP. This is one of the best ways to get SP in the game and it’s also necessary for further expanding the skill tree, so while it gets repetitive at times fully completing the Exploration Diary and covering every corner of each ruin is well worth it. This also adds a nice dimension to the main story that provides necessary subtext, but given how most of the Memory Vestiges read the same the process could’ve been more engaging.
Combat also benefits from a pretty sizable overhaul in Atelier Ryza 2 and brings my dream of a fully action-based Atelier title a little bit closer to reality. Combat in the first game is very reminiscent of Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars in which actions are set along a timeline that can be manipulated in real-time depending on the moves you make, but Atelier Ryza 2 focuses more on chaining attacks together to unleash abilities. There’s more flexibility and encouragement here to adapt your party to manipulate elemental weaknesses and bounce off of each other’s Attack Orders, with these combos contributing to most of the damage you’ll cause to an enemy. The party count has also increased to four, as one acts as a backup that can be switched in at any time, in addition to many new abilities to be activated under certain conditions. It’s a surprisingly welcome addition to the Ryza formula, and it only makes me wonder what’s next for the series.
This is why I feel so conflicted about Atelier Ryza 2. Sure, the gameplay, environments, and music are all way better than the first game when they didn’t need to be, but the massive pacing issues cause a ripple effect resulting in the game crumbling upon itself. While the game eventually gets back onto its feet towards the last few hours of the game, it felt more like a limp to the end rather than a more grandiose send-off. This left Atelier Ryza 2 on a bit of a sour note for me, and it can be hard to remember the great parts that exist, but that’s what usually causes me to jump out of my funk. I hope I explained this well, because even though my feelings towards the game were a bit melancholic at the end, it’s absolutely worth it for the combat and synthesis systems alone.
Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy is like eating a veggie chip: while you love the concept of vegetables in chip form as a picky eater, as you proceed to enjoy it you begin to remember that the chips still contain them, and as a result you’re left with a weird aftertaste. By all means, Atelier Ryza 2 is superior to the first game in almost every sense of the term except story (and that’s being a bit generous), but I never got used to continuously feeling like I’m drifting off-course despite progressing. Regardless, Atelier Ryza 2 is an example of a sequel done right, and I’m looking forward to seeing where Gust goes with the series in the future.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Koei Tecmo