Jamie Knight
Mon, 12/02/2019 - 11:14

I've been meaning to try out the Atelier games for years, ever since developing a bit of a soft-spot for gathering and crafting mechanics in other games.

But from an outsiders perspective, the franchise always looked almost impenetrable, and with developers Gust releasing sequels on an annual basis it felt akin to trying to jump onto a moving train.

Thankfully Ryza appears to have been developed with a new audience in mind, and features an entirely new cast of characters, a new visual style, and fully retooled combat and crafting systems, making it an ideal entry point for newcomers.

Visuals

The first thing that stands out is how this doesn't look like your typical Atelier game.

Gone are the pastel colour scheme of previous titles, replaced with a world that is bolder and brighter, with lush blue skies that wouldn't appear out of place in a 90s SEGA arcade title.

But even more surprising is the change away from the iconic doll-like characters, to a new cast of characters that look like they've walked straight out of a 2019 anime series. Let's be blunt, they've changed it to try and appeal more to male gamers, and Judging from the internet's response and fan art, this has been an overwhelming success.

Texture and geometry work is decent, but it's clear that the latter has been targetted more towards the Switch's weaker hardware specs. It's still a great looking PS4 title, but I do feel like some of the PS4's power has gone to waste here with it still only running at 1080p 30fps even on the Pro.

On the flip side, for a Switch title, this looks fantastic. it loses some ground clutter and draw-distance but manages to retain pretty much everything else from the PS4 visuals. So a pretty major improvement from the previous Atelier titles on the Switch.

Story

For a JRPG, the story is surprisingly low-key. You are neither the chosen one, nor is the world facing impending doom, there is no mythical sword entrusted to you or even a family member that needs avenging.

This lack of urgency also means that unlike previous titles, Atelier Ryza does not impose any sort of time limits on you, but more on that later.

You play as Ryza, a bored teenager who yearns for excitement but is stuck on a small island town. She spends most of her day dodging her farming chores to go and hang out with her two friends.

Fairly early on Ryza and her aforementioned friends get in some trouble, and are saved by an Alchemist who has travelled to the island to investigate its suspiciously undocumented history.

This leads to Ryza wanting to learn Alchemy, but her friends also have their own motivations which keep them together for the adventure. The stakes do get raised towards the end, but the majority of the game it'll be the interactions between the characters, rather than the main storyline, that keeps you interested.

Gameplay

As you've probably gathered from the sunny visuals and humble slice-of-life story. Atelier Ryza is pure gaming chill, and Its free-form nature encourages you to just do whatever the hell you feel like doing, free of the previous titles time constraints.

Some play sessions I'll spend hours just exploring, using my tools to gather resources for my near-infinite storage locker, or hunting down hidden treasure chests.

Other times, I'll just be content grinding enemies via the turn-based-combat system, levelling my team up and completing character combat quests (akin to achievements).

But there have been some whole play sessions where I've not even left the Atelier you start off in, where I can spend hours just looking over my recipes and items, and figuring out how to craft my perfect set of equipment.

Crafting

The crafting system is devilishly brilliant, it's simple to learn and you'll be churning out new equipment, weapons and other ingredients in no time. But be prepared to lose hours of time once you really get into the nuances of it, as creating the perfect version of a weapon for your playstyle requires a lot of time and commitment.

So for folks who've never touched an Atelier game, allow me to try to (albeit badly) explain how the crafting system actually works.

So to make an item, first, you need a recipe for it. You cannot just guess and create something by luck. Most of the basic recipes you get via the main storyline.

An item recipe is made up of various interconnected slots. Each slot accepts either a specific ingredient or any ingredient of a specific type (e.g. 'fire type'). Each slot once filled, will imbue the item you are creating with certain stats, passive abilities or even new skills you can activate.

As these slots are interconnected, you can't just fill the ones you want right off the bat. You always start with just the one central slot, then branch out from there towards the ones you want to reach.

The tricky part is, based on your alchemy level, you're only allowed to put a limited number of ingredients into each recipe. So you'll spend quite a bit of time just trying to solve the puzzle of how to reach the slots you want, at your current alchemy level, with just the ingredients you have collected so far.

Item recipes often have special slot, which if you reach them, will evolve that item into its next form, once you've crafted that evolved form once the hard way, you unlock it's recipe so you can make it directly in the future.

But wait! there is one more level of depth to all this - and this one is the kicker.

It's not just the resources you gather that go into recipes, it's often other craftable materials. So towards the end of the game when you want to make some of the higher-end weapons, you'll need to farm about 20 different ingredients, then craft those into 5 different items, which can then be used to finally craft the weapon you wanted. Phew.

But often you'll find that despite it being an end-game weapon, it may not have a slot in its recipe to unlock your favorite skill or buff. you can, however, create one of its ingredients with that buff, then when you use that ingredient to make the weapon, you can choose to pass that along to the final item. So once you really dig deep into wanting to min/max your items, you realize you can create an almost infinite number of permutations of any weapon by considering not just how you craft the weapon, but how you craft its ingredients.

Thankfully you can complete the game without having to take things to this degree of complexity, but personally, I find it really rewarding having a long-term plan for a specific weapon/skill combination I want and spending a few play sessions making it into a reality.

Combat

The game's combat thankfully isn't as complex as it's crafting, but it's just as enjoyable.

When running around the game world you'll see a wide variety of wildlife, which will generally try to chase you down if you get to close. If they touch you, or if you hit them with one of your gathering tools, you'll be transitioned to a classic turn-based combat system similar to the ATB system implemented all the way back in Final Fantasy 7.

You can have up to three characters on your team and can switch between which character you are manually controlling on the fly, with the CPU picking up the other two for you.

When the time comes for the character you are controlling to make their next action, the game does not pause. So you'll want to spend those valuable seconds between actions planning exactly which character you want to switch to manual control, and what you're going to get them to do. The AI-controlled characters will perform actions immediately when their turn comes around, so it's often quite frantic switching between your team members at the right time if you want to manually control all of them.

During combat, you build up action points (AP) which can either be spent to perform a special skill or saved to level up your Tactics level. This is a fun little trade-off system that adds a level of strategy into all encounters.

Increasing your tactics level will allow you to perform more hits each time you attack, so for long battles increasing the tactics level early on is the most effective way of doing the most long-term damage, but to level it up, you'll have to avoid using your special skills, so you may not be able to heal or stun enemies early on, so you have a greater risk of getting wiped out.

Conclusion

Atelier Ryza is a fantastic entry point into this well-established series, and it's wholesome slice-of-life story, addictive crafting system, and fun combat, is a perfect way to spend these long winter days.

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