When the original Atelier Ryza launched in the west a little over a year ago, it brought a few changes to the well-established series beloved by fans. With a more action-focused battle system, simplified alchemy systems, a stronger focus on plot, and a touch more fanservice than usual, Ryza went on to be one of the best-selling titles in the series in recent memory.
While the changes did alienate some long-standing fans of the Atelier series, Ryza seems to have brought in many more new fans than it lost. I count myself as one of them; Atelier Ryza is the only entry in the series I’ve tried that I actually found myself enjoying.
Of course, Gust and Koei Tecmo noticed just how well the original game did. Presumably, this is why the studios took a step rare in the Atelier series: a direct sequel.
Developed by Gust and published by Koei Tecmo, Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy was released on January 26th, 2021, for PS4, PS5, Switch, and PC via Steam. The PC release was played for this review.
A Ruinous Adventure
Atelier Ryza 2 takes place three years after the original game. Whilst her friends have left their home of Kurken Island, Ryza decided to stay behind. This changes when she receives a letter from her friend, Tao, about the discovery of new ruins on the mainland that may be related to the practice of alchemy.
As a budding alchemist, of course, Ryza takes off to the capital city of Ashra-am Baird, to meet with her friends and explore these ruins and the secrets they may hold. Before she leaves, though, she is given a mysterious jewel-like item, and asked to figure out what this supposedly ancient artifact may be…
Much like the game before it, Atelier Ryza 2 is much more plot-heavy than many entries in the franchise. However, it feels a bit less focused than the original. This game is much more about exploration – discovering ruins around the region and searching them for the secrets they hold. Each ruin has its own mini-story discovered during Ryza’s exploration, weaving in themes to the main overall plot.
The story of each ruin has to be pieced together by finding various “memories” scattered throughout. Each memory contains bits and pieces of information about key players, which are then put together in various mini flowcharts in order to reveal the overall picture. While finding these memories gets dull fast (often requiring backtracking and scouring every corner of each ruin), the payoff almost makes it worth it, as some of these stories are truly intriguing.
As far as the core plot involving Ryza and crew, Gust isn’t kidding when they say this is a direct follow-up to the original Atelier Ryza. This game assumes the player has played the original, and doesn’t hold hands when introducing (or, in most cases, re-introducing) characters and concepts. Hell, if you only played a bit of the original, you’re likely to be confused when Ryza 2 reintroduces the character Bos as friendly to the crew, rather than the borderline antagonist he started as in the original.
As someone who did play through the original, I can say that I quite enjoyed getting to spend time with these characters again. Many have grown and changed over the three-year time-skip between games, and seeing the ways in which they have done so was interesting.
Refining the Recipe
Being a direct sequel, Atelier Ryza 2 carries over many of the systems from the original release, both in battle and in alchemy. If you’ve played the original, you’re likely to be very familiar with what’s on offer here. In fact, I may recommend a quick glance at our review of the original game to get a basic idea of the systems in play, as we’ll be focusing more on changes here.
The battle system remains action-based, with the player only taking control of one character whilst the rest of the party acts on their own. However, a few minor changes have been made to help streamline the system here. Battles still revolve around managing “AP” points, Tactics Level, and Core Charges, but balancing these now in the sequel is much less…well, confusing.
The key system of building up AP by attacking and spending it on special attacks is still here. However, these points are now dedicated to special attacks – you no longer have to worry about banking and spending them to increase your Tactics Level for more attacks, which now increases by apparently simply doing damage. Core Charges to use items are no longer limited; they are earned during battle by performing special attacks, and unused Charges are banked between battle in order to use items in the field.
In effect, these changes create a much more straight-forward loop in battle. Use basic attacks and perfect blocks to build Tactics Level and AP, spend the AP on special attacks to build Core Charges, allowing access to items. There’s still enough tactics in play though to keep things interesting. Should you blow through all your AP at once to perform a bunch of special attacks, or save some in case you need to use an item before your next turn? Do you spend a few more turns building Core Charges for more powerful items, at the risk of your party members’ HP hitting zero?
While I did quite enjoy the original game’s battle system, the streamlining here made battles feel faster, with less juggling numbers in the heat of the moment. Fans of the turn-based Atelier titles still won’t find much here, though. If anything, Ryza 2 moves slightly more in the action direction.
And, of course, you can’t have an Atelier game without an alchemy system. Not much has changed when it comes to synthesizing items in Ryza 2. You’re still presented with a node chart, which has to be filled out various items of certain elements you’ve collected in order to create items. Activating certain nodes can change an item into a completely different one. Planning ideal paths through each item’s chart is still a fun exercise, especially when doing so allows you to create items that absolutely tear apart monsters in the ruins you’re currently exploring.
Most alchemic recipes are earned through a new “Skill Chart,” where you can spend SP earned through exploration and alchemy to unlock new items to create. Said SP is fairly abundant, so luckily it’s quite hard to accidentally lock yourself out of an item that you may desperately need or something. I did find myself banking a couple hundred SP “just in case” quite often, though.
There’s a couple minor new functions, such as items that can adjust the qualities of a node, but the alchemy system here didn’t get as much refining work as the battle system. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though; this is much more a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
A Rainbow of Punis
With Ryza 2 launching a little over a year after the original, it’s no surprise that there’s isn’t much change in the graphical department. We still have some great character design, lighting effects, and camera angles. Character animations can be somewhat stiff, though, especially during cutscenes. Many of the characters move just slightly faster than their walk cycles seem to infer they should – a minor nitpick, but it’s noticeable.
Also, for those who care, you now get to see Ryza in wet clothes if it rains or she walks through water. So there’s that.
Enemy models retain the same issue of receiving pallet swaps surprisingly early. Even just a few hours in we see three different colors of Puni enemies and just as many variations on “golems.”
As a PC-specific complaint, graphical options are not easy to find in the game. There’s no options to adjust video settings pre-boot, nor in the game’s main menu or party screens. These options are hidden in a separate menu that must be accessed by pressing the “Esc” key on a keyboard, but only when in control of Ryza. This meant that I was unable to set the game to full-screen until after I completed the game’s intro cutscenes. Also, as far as I could tell, these settings are inaccessible when using just a gamepad.
If there’s one thing I can always count on from Gust, it’s an amazing soundtrack. Even in the games I can’t say I enjoyed from them, the music has always been standout, and the same remains true for Ryza 2. The battle music in particular is still stuck in my head, a jammy upbeat guitar tune with some pulsing keys and synths to drive the tune forward.
Sanding Down the Edges
The original Ryza proved itself the best in the Atelier series sales-wise, and it’s pretty obvious Gust and Koei Tecmo didn’t want to mess with the formula too much for its sequel. Aside from the more exploration-based storyline, everything here will be incredibly familiar to players of the first game.
Much like the original, I found myself having a great time with Ryza 2. As I mentioned back then, if this is the direction the Atelier series is moving in, you can count me in as a fan from this point.
While the question remains if Gust will stick with this formula when they eventually move away from titles staring Ryza, I personally hope they continue to revise and refine this model. If Ryza 1 caught my interest, then Ryza 2 definitely has my attention.
Review copy provided by Koei Tecmo for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.