There’s a certain something about a franchise that does one thing and does it well. Call of Duty has pretty great gunplay. It’s hard to argue with The Elder Scrolls’ exploration. If you want crafting, well, you want the Atelier games. They’ve got some of the best crafting you can find, after all, with plenty of depth and loads of things to throw together. The newest entry in the series, Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and the Secret Hideout, continues that tradition while offering a gentle introduction for newcomers.
Being a kid is tough! Ryza lives with her parents and, well, she pretty much hates it. There’s not a lot to do on her island home aside from hang out with her friends Lent and Tao, after all, and her folks just won’t leave her alone. When a pair of mysterious travelers named Empel and Lila show up to learn more about the island’s ruins, Ryza’s eager to learn about them and their mission…and that, in turn, leads her into the world of alchemy and the secrets of her homeland.
If you aren’t familiar with the Atelier games…that’s a little surprising, actually, since there’s a ton of them and they all tend to get localized. They tend to come in trilogies, with Ryza being the beginning of what’s likely to be a new set of games. We follow an alchemist heroine as she collects items, battles foes and crafts equipment to battle against whatever the evil of the week happens to be. The plot is fairly straightforward and things are pretty much wrapped up by the end of the game; you’ve also got a fair number of sidequests to get through at your leisure.
Ryza follows the same mold to a great degree. The largest changes to this formula are in the crafting system, which changes things up significantly and allows you a fair amount of freedom in customizing what you create. You follow what is essentially a recipe map, adding appropriate items as you go to build the fanciest goodies possible. It makes finding new items and recipes a blast.
When you aren’t crafting, you’re gathering items or fighting. Combat is a real-time system vaguely reminiscent of something like Grandia where you control one character out of three at a time. You’ve got a steadily-rising AP counter that can be spent on special attacks or increasing your AP limit for that battle. By carefully timing your special attacks, you can stop enemies’ special attacks and save yourself some grief. There’s nothing especially astounding about Ryza’s battle system, but it serves well enough for what it is.
Other new features include the ability to customize the titular Secret Hideout. That’s not really as impressive as it might sound – you’re mostly just picking stuff out of a menu and earning little passive bonuses based on your choices – but the option being there is nice. It’s also another reason to get back to the crafting system, since you’re going to need to build the items you’ll use to customize the hideout.
Ryza’s presentation is on par for the Atelier series. This title might be a little more colorful and bright than the Mysterious series of games, but Ryza still adheres to the heavy anime style Atelier fans have come to know and love. Character designs are as fancy and the game’s framerate and performance are generally fine, though as always you’ll have the best experience playing on PC.
Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and the Secret Hideout doesn’t do anything too out of the ordinary for the Atelier series…but there’s also nothing wrong with that. It’s still got some of the best crafting in video games, along with an experience essentially built around that crafting system to keep you gathering more materials and creating more items. There’s something about this gameplay loop that’s very addictive, and once it grabs you Ryza will keep you playing through its generous 40-hour runtime. Better craft a few bathroom breaks in there somewhere.