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Game Info:

Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout
Developed By: Gust/Koei Tecmo Games
Published By: Koei Tecmo Games
Release Date: October 28, 2019
Available On: Windows, PS4, Switch
Genre: Role Playing Game
Number of Players: 1
ESRB Rating: Teen for Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes
MSRP: $59.99
(Humble Store Link)

Thank you Koei Tecmo for sending us this game to review!

The Atelier series of role-playing games (RPGs) has been going on for over twenty years now, and have typically been released in trilogies of sorts - you have the 'Arland', 'Dusk', and 'Mysterious' trilogies, for example (Arland did eventually get a fourth entry eight years later). Atelier Ryza is the 21st entry, and begins a new subseries, 'Secret'. While we don't know what all of them will be about, we do know that Ryza is the star of the show this time around, and that in each new trilogy, they always try to do something new. Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout is the first game in this new (probably) trilogy, and is an excellent place to start if you’d like to check out the long-running Atelier franchise.

Reisalin Stout (who goes by Ryza) is your typical rambunctious teenage girl, who lives on the remote Kurken Island with her mom and dad, and is constantly with her childhood friends, Lent and Tao. They each find themselves without much to do; Ryza avoids the many chores her parents rope her into on their family farm as much as possible. Tao is an avid reader, and is curious about the many books his grandfather left behind, which were written in a strange language. Lent is a good-hearted young man whose father was a former adventurer, but is mostly known as the town drunk these days. Together they make up a really close group of friends.

A pair of adventurers, Empel and Lila, also meet our would-be heroes and inspire them to do something greater. Empel is a historian and alchemist, who begins teaching Ryza about alchemy, and he also teaches Tao how to read the ancient language that's on nearby ruins - and in a very old set of books Tao's grandfather left him. Lent also asks Lila for warrior training. In addition, Klaudia arrives on the island, who is the daughter of a traveling merchant. Ryza and Klaudia quickly become fast friends. Together this group of friends (eventually assisted by their teachers, too) explore the ruins to figure out what to do about these powerful monsters that threaten the peace of their remote island.

Rather than be just a standard fare RPG where your plucky group of heroes goes to save the world, Atelier games tend to have a slightly different focus. The first is scope - your impact is usually local. The other is that your main protagonist is most often a teenage girl, and her growth into becoming an alchemist is a major driving force of the story. And while that is certainly true here - Ryza is a budding alchemist, and she uses it to save the day - it is much less about pure mastery for the sake of it than using her gifts to help those in town, and eventually, protecting the people from the monster threat. The other major difference to other, more typical RPGs, is its focus on crafting, known as alchemy.

As an alchemist, Ryza combines various materials together in a recipe that creates different synthesized items. This process is called synthesis. Each Atelier game takes a different approach to crafting, but this one is perhaps one of the simplest - once you figure out how it works. While there is a basic tutorial, some of the finer details of the system might require trial and error. Each recipe has a starting ingredient; after that, you choose what position in the material loop you want to add more items to, which gives the final created item some form of improvement. Each loop then unlocks others, if conditions are met, which can lead to some very useful items. This is also a method Ryza uses to discover new recipes, outside of any books she may find. For example, if you loop the standard bomb with some rare ingredients, you can unlock the much more powerful Rose Bomb which does a ton more damage. The same process is used for all kinds of materials, weapons, armor, and more.

Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout
Highlights:

Strong Points: Fantastic music; main character designs are well done (with one exception); enjoyable and interesting story; less grindy than other Atelier games, and overall fast paced; new active-time battle system keeps things moving quickly; new crafting system is interesting and easy to use once you figure it out; easily one of the best Atelier games overall
Weak Points: A bit shorter than some previous entries; some may prefer turn-based combat; crafting system could use better explanation in places; lots of expensive DLC
Moral Warnings: Minor curse words, like '*ss', 'b*st*rd', 'd*mn', 'p*ss', and 'h*ll'; fantasy violence; magic is used, and crafting new things using a process called alchemy in a cauldron with components is a massive part of this game; dark past of technological advancements at the expense of another, as well as ruins from an ancient civilization (this seems to be a common theme in this series); some female outfits are incredibly impractical with a massive amount of cleavage, and exposed skin from all over (but no nudity); minor sexual humor (things like don't peek if we find a hot spring); one character has a drunk for a father, and another has an authoritarian mother

 

As you craft things, your alchemy level increases. This is important because you can only use items that have an item level less than or equal to your own. One of the unique additions made to this game is the ability to rebuild items, which costs gems, and raises an item's level. Gems are a rather clever new thing also; basically what they are is a means of putting to use all of those older, low-level items (not to mention a necessary part of end-game crafting). You can convert any unwanted materials that you may have gathered directly into gems, which are then used in all sorts of stuff - rebuilding, reforging, duplicating (some of these are late game) and are immensely useful. While most Atelier games have some means to do some of these things, this approach is perhaps one of the best, since even generating a whole bunch of needed gems is never so tedious that you get upset or bored because of its necessity.

Perhaps one of the biggest changes to Atelier Ryza compared to previous entries is their new implementation of active-time combat. Fighting foes still takes place on a dedicated combat screen, and at first glance, it might not seem any different than a turn-based RPG. But all actions are a button press or two away; for example, you press 'B' on your Xbox Controller to attack (keyboard and mouse play is possible, but having a controller is highly recommended), 'Y' to use a skill, 'X' to use an item, and 'A' to move. You switch characters with a press of the 'L' or 'R' buttons. There are icons of all characters on the screen, friend and foe, that constantly move towards the bottom to where they no longer have to wait before they take their action. Whoever you are not directly controlling, the AI does instead. The action icons continue to move even while you input commands, which means your enemies attack you if you take too long deciding on an action. It all happens quite quickly, and there is definitely an adjustment period - but once you get used to it, it's quite fun. The game is well balanced for expected power and difficulty most of the time; if I was ever starting to lag behind, I knew I was just a visit away from the Atelier before Ryza can make new weapons to solve any damage output issues. Or, she can just make a really sweet bomb (or a combination of both).

The kinds of things you can make are quite wide in variety; you can certainly make many varieties of battle items, like the aforementioned bombs. You also make equipment, including weapons, armor, and accessories to give you a nice boost. Healing items also play an important part, of course. Most of the rest of what you can craft are what you might call alchemical necessities; these include things like supplements, poisons, and other ingredients usually used to make other items. There are also decorative and plot or quest related items. While I'm sure someone could come up with a minimum required set of items to craft to get through the game, you can also unlock the many dozens of items to tinker with, attack with, or use as ingredients on other recipes. The system is deep and works really really well; you can tell they've been making these crafting games as long as they have.

Ryza overall is probably one of the 'slickest' entries yet, with everything being fast-paced, engaging, and rarely boring. While I have enjoyed most of the Atelier games I have played, some felt tedious or frustrating at times; this is probably the most beginner-friendly game overall, even with the change in the combat system. And as crazy as this sounds, the music is so incredible that I just couldn't help but love the game. And as an audiophile, the production quality is also excellent. They recorded most if not all of the music with live musicians, and it absolutely shows. This game's music is nothing short of fantastic, especially if you love classical/instrumental music. I mean sure, all Atelier game soundtracks are amazing, but there were several tracks where I just had to crank it up. I am so impressed with this music!

I was also pleased to see that the graphics look genuinely good - it's in an anime art style, and while not the most detailed, everything looks really nice and colorful, and with sharp edges while playing at 4K. I do wish there was an option for antialiasing, and you can see the level of detail 'line' while you walk around, but overall, I was very pleased with the way this game looks and performs on higher end PC hardware; the game looks great and runs at well over sixty frames per second even on my laptop's RTX 2070 Super at 4K resolution. I was also pleased to see that it supports higher refresh rates as well. I do not believe it supports any resolutions outside of those using a 16:9 aspect ratio, though.

Despite looking as good as it does, I found that the PC system requirements are reasonable. Though the CPU does want a quad core, I found that as long as your expectations are in check, and you adjust settings appropriately, it can work well on quite a few systems. The lowest end system I tested it on that runs it reasonably well is my GPD Win Max, which is a 10th gen Ice Lake based i5; I can run the game at 720p at quite playable frame rates (>30fps). Lowering the resolution below 720p can only be done via config files, and is not recommended; if you do so, you're likely to find much of the game's text unreadable. Running the game on something less powerful, like my GPD Win 2 (Intel m3-7Y30), is an extremely borderline experience; happily, battle works okay, though during exploration the frame rates dip quite a bit. If you don't have a system that meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements on the Steam store page, consider checking this game out on a console.

Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 94%
Gameplay - 18/20
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 10/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 75%
Violence - 7/10
Language - 7/10
Sexual Content - 6.5/10
Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 9/10

When it comes to appropriateness issues, I have to say that this game is relatively consistent with the genre, and I noticed a few less issues than some of the other games in the Atelier series that I've reviewed. For example, several of the other entries I've played hinted at romances between girls of the same sex. This game has none of that; the most I noticed was a warning to the boys to not peek if they find a hot spring, which I didn't find in my playthrough. With that said, you can buy swimsuit DLCs, and while Ryza wears short shorts (and a blouse that shows she has curves - and a belly button), it's nothing too far out of the ordinary. What is rather extreme is what Lila wears. This woman has massive curves of every kind, and a ridiculous outfit that leaves very little to the imagination. Whatever you call that which covers her has lots of translucent sections, including the cleavage, which shows, well, all of it. Much of her thigh and pelvic area leaves little to the imagination. Thankfully, outside of that character, pretty much everyone else dresses modestly, as you would expect from a remote island village.

In other areas of concern, you have standard fantasy violence, where you hit enemies (mostly monsters, including some of undead or magical/fantastical origin) with various weapons, until they die, and drop materials which you can then use for synthesis. Many of the synthesized items and opponents can have magical effects, like fire, lightning, wind, or ice attacks. Some of the impact of using alchemy inappropriately is also discussed at some length. Some characters have skills that also have magical effects.

There is some minor foul language, with words like '*ss', 'b*st*rd', 'd*mn', 'p*ss', and 'h*ll'. One of the character's dad is the town drunk, and there are a few small allusions to alcohol, including one person who was passed out from 'eating too much'. Ryza has a hard time dealing with her mom, who seems protective and demanding of her (she often runs away to avoid working on the farm); on the flip side, her dad is very kind and supportive.

Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout really surprised me. Given how many Atelier games I've played, I didn't expect that! You can tell that Gust/Koei Tecmo really wanted to not only take this series in a new direction with Ryza, but also massively improve it from a technical/graphical perspective. This is by far the most polished entry yet - and I'm impatiently looking forward to its sequel, set to be released fairly soon. If you've always looked at the Atelier series but never decided to jump in, and the appropriateness issues don't put you off, this is one of the best places to do so. While it's not quite as long as some of the other games, it's shorter because it cuts the fat and leaves the good stuff. If you enjoy anime-style RPGs, definitely give this game a closer look.

About the Author

Jason Gress

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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