Atelier games are weird for me, because I keep coming back to them despite never “getting” them. I like the wispy art, the silly characters and the mundane storytelling. But all that crafting stuff, and even worse time limits, kicks me off the train every time. At least, until Atelier Ryza. Like many others I’ve spoken to, Ryza is the one that clicked. It’s no wonder it’s so hard to get at retail now, and it’s not a surprise to see it get a direct sequel. Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends and the Secret Fairy is a sequel in a scientific sort of way, but that’s fine with me.

This series has been around forever, and has always been about item crafting. The crux, like it or not, is gathering ingredients and turning them into items. You do this to make equipment, consumables and stuff that doesn’t do anything for you but solve quests. It seems like Gust has long been on the path to making Atelier more friendly to people like me, who are more interested in the art and writing than the minutiae of alchemy. What makes Ryza feel “right” so to speak, is optional hand-holding with a little more action.

Atelier Ryza 2 Review

That isn’t to say Ryza (or the sequel) is suddenly full of greater JRPG tropes about beating bad guys and saving entire planets. You’re still out there in the forest bonking weasels with a stick for some fur, which you need to make a bomb or something. You’re still running tedious errands for money and clout, and maybe things get a little more high stakes at the end. But by that time you’re ready for a little more.

Ryza’s combat system is fascinating. And Gust didn’t nail it the first time. It’s a real time system with one character under the player’s control at any given time. Like many other JRPGs you can issue commands, but can also just swap who you’re in charge of. There’s a slight, active element to it, letting you get more than one hit in. The biggest wrench in the gear was a good idea that didn’t land all the way. Characters could ask for specific moves, such as fire damage or item use. If you did it fast enough, that character would unleash a big ol’ nasty bonk to the weasel menace.

The first game’s problem was synergy. It was hard to build a party with the characters you liked, and still have good routes to those bonus attacks. Each character had their own callout tastes, and if your other characters you wanted don’t match, then tough luck. In Ryza 2, the callouts have been reined in a bit, usually just asking for physical or magical damage. That lets you play around with your squad more, which in my mind is an important freedom.

Another fear or source of anxiety I and others had was, “well if you have to craft everything, surely that means healing items are a pain in the ass to get.” Whether or not that’s true, it was clearly a concern to enough potential players. So in Ryza, each character has special slots you can drop items into, making those items reusable. You basically had item MP, and if one item was running low you could block another’s use to get some back. Somewhat convoluted, but nice to have.

Ryza 2 makes a big effort to streamline that as well. Called CC points, the item MP simply builds up during battle based on some combination of time and actions. Each item costs a certain number of CC, and as long as you build that up, it doesn’t matter how many times you use that bomb.. And if you have CC left over after a fight, you actually get to keep a certain amount of the spillover, giving you item uses outside of battle.

The combat itself is also just more fun and exciting. The camera’s a bit more closed-in and angular, making the weasel murder seem more dangerous. There’s a bigger element of combos, so the UI puts all your available moves in a little menu, which lets you add skills/spells onto normal attack strings. If you build up enough AP, you can even interrupt the battle to use an item in a crisis. Combat also has a different flow, feeling a bit faster and heavy-hitting. Ryza 1 was slower, more traditionally zoomed-out and offered slightly fewer options. So it’s a straight-up upgrade here.

I usually don’t do so much comparing and contrasting with sequels. Depending on the game I can either assume familiarity, or tackle the individual game on its own merits. But the throughline between these two games becomes stronger when you set them next to each other in your mind. You can really feel all the little tweaks and additions meant to make for a more exciting and smooth play experience. And the chance you, reader, has played any Atelier much less Ryza specifically is not as easy to predict.  What is predictable, however, is all the alchemy you’ll have to get used to doing.

I don’t envy the folks at Gust here, but considering the passion project vibe Atelier games have, some of this burden is surely self-inflicted. Alchemy is a tough sell in video games outside of the players who are already in. It’s hard to make “stirring items around in a big pot” something that can sustain dozens of hours of JRPG. But there’s always some little tweak or adjustment here or there to wring as much quality of life out as is feasible.

Ryza 2 gets as close to nailing it as I can imagine as a player. The always-busy UI is a little easier to read here, with text appearing where you’d naturally expect, as well as much easier access to information. In the last game I had a hard time keeping track of what special traits you could slap on items were, but here I just had to press a button. You also have more of a skill tree than what some previous games do, which is force you to make everything and unlock recipes via tenacity. You gain SP for doing stuff in the game, then you dump SP into the skill tree to fill it out and gain new recipes, equipment and abilities.

And if this is all still too much for you, both Ryza games will do it for you, skipping all the alchemy digging entirely. And hey, sometimes you’re just feeling lazy when banging out your fifteenth ingot.

Atelier Ryza 2’s loop is to go out, bonk weasels and bushes for items, then run back to home base to make stuff. You’re either making stuff you need yourself, or fulfilling requests. Your reward for engaging in this loop is a myriad of little event scenes you can unlock throughout the game’s hub city, giving you wholesome character bits as a treat. There’s also an overall plot about exploring mysterious ruins and hatching a mascot creature out of an egg, but these games are famously slow-paced. Like deliberately so. 

Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends and the Secret Fairy is an excellent sequel to an already great game, and the two together really feel like a flashpoint for the series. These games have always been curious to outsiders, but hard to get into, even if you love JRPGs. But what we have here is the result of decades of iteration, and a breakthrough that gives Ryza 2 healthy audience-expanding potential. If you’re looking for something like a Stardew Valley or Story of Seasons, you won’t find that here. It’s more like a farmer's market Final Fantasy. I'm here for it.


 

Pros:

  • Noticeable improvements/welcome tweaks that make for a more fluid play experience
  • Visuals are bright and colorful as ever, especially with PS5 version's resolution bump

Cons:

  • No "performance" option on PS5; frame rate feels consistently above 30, but noticeably jumps around. Not a big con but the choice would've been nice to have
  • Opening hours are super slow-paced; YMMV

Score: 9

A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review