Developer: Koei Tecmo
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Platform: PS4, PS5, PC(Steam), Nintendo Switch
Price: $59,99 USD
Release Date: January 25th, 2021
After a very successful first game, Atelier Ryza 2 launched with several improvements over the first game and cross-gen features. As usual, let’s start this review with the #1 question when it comes to sequels: Can I play this game if I have not played the prequel?
The answer is Yes. Ryza 2 will re-introduce all of its returning mechanics and the core gameplay will not suffer from lack of prior knowledge. You will be spoiled to the details and conclusion of the first game, but it’s hardly something to be concerned about.
Before we move on to the review proper I’d like to take a moment to point out how successful the first Atelier Ryza was. You see, Gust games are not huge sellers. According to Barrel Wisdom, their games usually sell between 100k to 200k units in Japan, often times quite a bit less. Blue Reflection is getting a second game, a phone game AND an anime, and it sold about 80 thousand copies in Japan only.
It was a huge surprise to everyone when Koei Tecmo announced that the Atelier Ryza 1 had sold a cumulative 500.000 units worldwide. By comparison, the previous best-selling Atelier game was Sophie, sitting at 370.000 units sold.
This gap becomes even more noticeable once you look at the output of fanart. Any booru you may search, the number of images tagged as Ryza fanart exceed other Atelier game’s. On Danbooru, for instance, a total of 4.7k images are tagged as belonging to the Atelier series, 1.8k alone belonging to Ryza’s game and the second next entry sitting at less than 500.
After the events at the end of Ryza 1, the eponymous heroine stays back on Kurken Island while all other party members leave to follow their paths in life. During this period, Ryza hones her skills and continues to provide for the citizens of her village. The game begins with Ryza receiving an invitation to join some of her old friends in the Capital. Apparently, some ruins nearby may be related to Alchemy.
Over the course of the game, with the exception of Empel and Lila, all previous party members return. Those two are present and key to the story but are not playable. We have the introduction of three new playables: Clifford, Patricia, and Serri. Several of the supporting cast from Ryza 1 also make a return, most notably Bos and Romy.
The most important plot element for the entire game is the introduction and development of a creature called Fii. This creature is the Secret Fairy from the title, although I can’t recall now any instance in which it was explicity referred as such. Fii hatches from a mysterious gem which was given to Ryza by Bos’s father, with the intention of finding out what exactly it was.
Most of the game is spent exploring ruins and uncovering little bits of information, which directly relates to Fii.
The core of every Atelier game is the crafting system so let’s go over that first. The basic system remain the same as the first game’s, with elemental links unlocking as you pour materials into the cauldron. I wrote quite a bit about it on my Review of Atelier Ryza 1 so I’ll skip over that and go straight to what’s new on Ryza 2.
First of all we have the Skill Tree system. You earn points as you craft items and complete the story-line, which are then spent to unlock new recipes and abilities. Key recipes such as gathering tools, advanced systems, improving the quality and quantity of gathered items and even how many materials you can add to a single recipe are all tied to this Skill Tree. From an in-game perspective, this feature is analogous to Ryza remembering old recipes, as well as unlocking new powers that come with her relationship with Fii.
The biggest addition to the Alchemy system is the ability to insert essences into recipe loops. Those can do one of two things: change the element of a recipe, or unlock a higher tier of bonuses that did not previously exist in that recipe. For instance, if a certain material loop has a bonus that gives Damage XL, you can add an additional level to it, unlocking Damage XXL.
More advanced essences also allow to improve overall quality, add more meterials to a recipe, or multiply elemental value scores.
The largest improvements from the first Atelier Ryza are in regards to exploration. The maps are larger and detailed like in the first, but movement and collision is much improved. All new abilities such as swimming, diving, climbing and swinging add much needed freshness to the exploration game loop.
In order to advance the plot, you’ll have to uncover information by investigating clues and piece them together. The last new piece of gameplay I’ll cover are the Memories.
One of the powers Fii grants Ryza is the ability to see into the past for clues. Those take the form of little broken sentences that need to be pieced together to form a story. You get those memories from shiny collection points, or from defeating certain miniboss enemies inside dungeons. After collecting enough memories you need to paste the clues on a little notebook. Matching keywords, the deepest parts of the lore are unlocked in a natural manner.
You are not even required to finish revealing those stories in order to move on to the new dungeon, but they do give valuable insight on the unspoken parts of the plot.
Ryza’s first game was far ahead its predecessors in terms of 3D graphics. This sequel maintains about the same level of quality and using the same engine. The animations are rather poor, specially in a world where more companies adopt the use of mocap technology for human interactions. I guess in some ways you really cannot escape the fact those are low budget niche titles.
As usual, these captures are directly from a PS4 Slim using the default capture feature.
Adjectives for the music in Atelier games that come to mind: appropriate, relaxing, mystic. But also: average, safe, and generic. If I were to listen to a playlist of Atelier soundtracks, I wouldn’t be able to point out which one belongs to which game. Ryza 2 is more of the same.
Now, perhaps it’s a bit unfair to evaluate this series in such a manner. Atelier games aren’t known for being full of action and emotional scenes. Yet, I feel like they can do much better if they tried. Gust made Ar Tonelico, a series that’s all about kick ass music so at the very least they have the history to do better.
The corner I least enjoy writing about, where I discuss how game publishers rob us of our right to play games as originally intended. Ryza 2’s base game isn’t censored in any way but the Sophie costume DLC has a dark shadow in place of Sophie’s panties, which were totally visible on her original game. Apparently this is present on all platforms.
Some features are almost useless. There was almost no need for me to Fish, better alternatives existed for basically every recipe that needed fish/seafood. Investing on shops was also completely useless because gathering items yourself was still always better. Raising the townspeople opinion of Ryza was also largely useless. And then there’s the money, which was 100% useless as a consequence.
The bottle worlds from Ryza 1 are also completely absent. They did feel strangely disconnected from the rest of the game but I was hoping it wouldn’t get dropped altogether.
Finally, the enemy opponents continue to be boring. The combat was alright but enemies couldn’t look more generic. The Philuscha have some identity on their design but anything else is terribly generic.
Mostly improvements over the first game, some degree of character progression and more of the same gameplay. Spent hours staring at the cauldron and figuring out ways to make recipes work, which in the end is all that matters in an Atelier game.
I like the direction Ryza’s series is going and I’ll definitely be playing the 3rd game when that comes out. Music and enemy design need to catch up but otherwise it was an excellent game.