The Gang’s Back for Atelier Ryza 3

Atelier Ryza 3: The Alchemist of the End & The Secret Key Preview

Despite there being dozens of main games in the franchise, Gust’s Atelier series remains a little less mainstream than many JRPGs. The first title appeared way back in the gaming dark ages of the late 1990s. More recent games have been localized for Western audiences, and a few have even been voiced in English. The popularity of the games outside Japan continues to grow, however. There’s lots of anticipation for Atelier Ryza 3: The Alchemist of the End & The Secret Key.

Stick to the Plan

For anyone unaware, “Atelier” essentially means school. In the West, it usually refers to a collective of artists or craftspeople working in a specific tradition. In the case of the Atelier games, the craft is alchemy, turning everyday materials into powerful spells. Since the first game in 1997, the games have, more or less, followed the same loop of explore, gather, craft, and fight in turn-based combat. Recent entries have used a hybrid combat system that uses real-time action with party members fighting in sequence.

Another very strong and consistent component of the Atelier games is their focus on characters and a generally light-hearted approach to story. Sure, there’s some drama, but the games are not afraid to tell a joke or be a little silly. There’s rarely a truly evil big bad to fight, rather a situation that needs resolution.

The School of Ryza

The Atelier Ryza series has focused on a young woman named Reisalin “Ryza” Stout, an alchemist and magic teacher on Kurken Island. In addition to being a master alchemist, Ryza also supplies the locals with magical potions and helps cure their ailments. She’s also a strong character unafraid of tweaking her nose at authority.

In Ryza 3, the cast of characters mostly carries over from the first two games, including Tao Mongarten, Bos Brunnen, Klaudia Valentz, and Lent Marslink. Although in my preview time, I didn’t meet all the characters, Ryza’s party expands to a new, largest-ever group of 11. It’s a bit disappointing that there’s no English voice acting. The written dialogue is entertaining enough, but it’s so much more immersive to hear it spoken.

Players who missed the first two Ryza games will probably miss some — or a lot — of the relationship-building that has already taken place. These characters have a pretty rich history, after all. Still, it’s not too hard to figure out who’s who. I appreciated that Atelier Ryza 3 jumped into the action almost immediately, before the usual extended exposition. The opening battle gives newcomers a taste of the combat mechanics to come.

Keys to Success

Ryza 3, like the entire franchise, is rich with systems. Exploration and collecting natural resources are at the heart of the gameplay, because Ryza needs them to craft alchemical formulas and spells. Each game of course introduces a few new variations on the mechanics. For Ryza 3, the game introduces “Keys,” which are collectibles that have standalone powers in combat, exploration, and puzzle solving, and that can also synergize with weapons and other spells.

While not a truly open world, Atelier Ryza’s “fields” are more interconnected and there are far fewer loading screens to interrupt the flow. They’re not entirely absent, however, and the game pauses plenty of times for transitions and cutscenes. Evolving too is the franchise’s art and graphics. The style is still classic, brightly colored anime, but world textures and environments are a bit more detailed. Still, there’s just a bit of probably intentional soft focus to the backgrounds that no graphics settings can overcome. The game’s music is pleasant and perky, but not incredibly memorable. My biggest gripe is that sometimes, exploration and movement are hindered by a pretty opaque map and somewhat basic animations.

Not Just for the Fans

Anyone who missed Atelier Ryza or its sequel can jump in and enjoy The Alchemist of the End & The Secret Key without being too concerned with backstory. The writing does a good job of catching players up, and the game explains its combat mechanics patiently. The characters are fun and well-written, and the pace is a little less cutscene heavy than other JRPGs. The action is fast-paced and fun. I look forward to finishing Ryza’s adventure when the game releases on March 23.

Thank you for keeping it locked on COGconnected.

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