Review in Progress: Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key
Wide, wide world of crafting
It’s time for my fourth annual review of one of Koei Tecmo’s Atelier games, and I’ve fallen a bit behind. I passed the 20-hour mark in Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key, which has proven insufficient for conjuring a final opinion.
Atelier Ryza 3 (I’m never going to remember the subtitle, so why pretend?) is a mix of old standards and new experiments. It is so strange. It wears an outfit comprised of various poorly fitting garments, and I am fighting with myself to discover whether I think that’s an overall good or bad thing.
The main change for Atelier Ryza 3 is that its world is magnitudes bigger than anything else in the series. In the beginning, you’re in the same area where Atelier Ryza takes place. Pretty much everything from the first game is represented – copied wholesale – with one major difference: there are no loading screens. The whole area is presented as one big continuous area. It’s still made up of nodes and pathways, but there’s no stoppage in between.
The story involves the sudden appearance of a group of islands that are quickly referred to as the “Kark Isles.” I’m guessing this name sounds sinister to the Japanese ear, but as an anglophone, it is more like the sound someone makes when a Junebug flies down their windpipe at high velocity. In the weirdly realistic twist for an Atelier plot, the sudden appearance of islands has had devastating consequences for the marine environment. Since Reiselin “Ryza” Stout is the only competent person on Kurken Island, she is asked to investigate.
But that’s only the beginning. Not long after you first start poking around the Kark Isles, Ryza and her squad get sidetracked by a plot that is only tangentially related to the main issue. So, they travel to a completely different part of the world, and rather than address the problem threatening their home, they get into a crafting competition.
And that’s not the last time they’ll switch landmass.
All the tools
The Cleria region is already a big chunk of land, and I had come to expect that this was just where Atelier Ryza 3 would tell its story, but then Ryza and Co return to Kurken, only to immediately set out again to a completely different region. It’s a big, big game, if the inclusion of the entire region from the first game didn’t tip you off. But it’s less that there’s more Atelier Ryza and more that the same amount of game has been spread across a much wider area.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m a fan of gigantic worlds, and the change in design has had several major impacts that I appreciate. The first is that the game doesn’t take all that long to let you off the leash. You essentially start with your atelier and can start crafting right away. Progression is immediate. If you are familiar with the previous games and have already built your skills in the game’s mechanics, you can start putting them to use very quickly and build up your party.
There are very few barriers to exploration, as well. While you can travel to the next region until you’ve progressed enough in the story, you’re not shackled to a lack of gear to make your way around. Things like the air drops that allow you to dive underwater can be crafted very early, opening up all the exploration abilities quickly. Likewise, recipes for gathering equipment, such as the axe and hammer, are available from the start, so you’re not limited in what you can collect.
Where this starts to detract from the game itself is in the fact that the wide world was obviously created in a (relatively) short time. There’s a lot less care in its design. At times, the conflicting elements in the environments and the overall feeling of it being thrown together make the areas feel downright ugly. They’re neither lifeless nor empty, but the sporadic enemy and resource placements in some areas can make them feel like they were created quickly and never polished nor revised.
The world design isn’t too much of a departure from previous games, either. There are some areas that are more open, but a lot of the time, it’s just a twisted spaghetti nest of corridors. That might be for the best, because not a lot of effort was made to make the traversal any more comfortable. There are mounts and zip lines, but Ryza is so rooted to the ground that a lot of the verticality is lost. There are also a lot of invisible walls and areas that it looks like you should be able to access, but can’t.
I’m maybe coming across too negatively on Atelier Ryza 3’s world design. To be clear, I think it’s a positive and beneficial step for the series; I just want to temper player expectations. This isn’t a completely reformulated take on the Atelier series. You could, perhaps, say it’s an open-world approach, but I feel that’s inaccurate. It’s more of a “big world” take on the series. It’s extraordinarily expansive, but the actual feel of its design is much the same.
The resulting shift, however, is enough to make Atelier Ryza 3 something of a mess. On the other hand, it’s a mess that I’m largely enjoying. It’s a mess with character. I’m still trying to figure out if I think the painful and abrupt expansion has left us with the best game in the series or just a disappointing experiment. It could really go either way. With that said, the changes made are at least worth seeing.
[This review in progress is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
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