This review is 100% spoiler free. Story-based and laterly introduced gameplay elements will not be discussed in detail. Playing through RPGs as blind as possible is always the best way to experience them. Here is a spoiler of the review though; I absolutely love this game.
Nintendo purists may be unfamiliar with the “Atelier” series, which made its debut in Japan as a PlayStation-only franchise back in 1997. Various spin-offs were released for a few of Nintendo’s dedicated-handhelds such as the Game Boy Color and DS, but the mainline games didn’t lose PlayStation console exclusivity until two decades later with the launch of the Switch in 2017. Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & The Secret Fairy is the sequel to a sub-series. The main protagonist Reisalin Stout (most commonly known as Ryza) has only previously appeared once, in its predecessor, Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout. So, even though the entire franchise shares an interconnected universe, you don’t need to worry about doing any research before jumping right into the latest entry in this alchemy-themed JRPG series. Although it’s recommended that you first play the predecessor to maximize your enjoyment and familiarity with the characters, the sequel stands well enough on its own to be an excellent entry point for newcomers.
As someone who loves, respects, and appreciates the JRPG genre, it also, admittedly, is not my expertise. Oftentimes with this style of game, I'll find myself confused and overwhelmed by the abundance of mechanics, and struggling to understand the overly-complicated and disorganized user interfaces. In the words of fellow YouTube content creator ‘Scott The Woz’, I’m simply put, just “not an RPG guy.” With that being said however, I absolutely adored playing through Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & The Secret Fairy. It was an extremely refreshing surprise, and quite possibly even my favorite game of the current decade (so far). This isn’t because it’s any less elaborate and intricate than your typical JRPG, but because it lovingly holds your hand and guides you until you’re ready to let go and explore on your own (but not in a way that feels insulting to the player). No matter how many new gameplay mechanics are thrown at you, the instructions are clear, precise, and easy to understand. Despite having what would be generally considered an overwhelming amount of different simultaneous tasks-at-hand, it never really feels overwhelming.
Taking place 3 years after the events of the first Atelier Ryza game, the story follows Reisalin Stout on a mission to become a better alchemist. Invited by her friend Tao to indefinitely move from her home on Kurken Island, the two of them, alongside their friends old and new, go on an epic adventure to discover the secrets and treasures of the lost and forgotten ruins in the monster infested outskirts of the royal capital of Ashra-am Baird. Something important to note is that the game does not include English voice acting, and must be played through its entirety with subtitles. As an avid “subbed not dubbed” anime aficionado, this wasn’t a problem. The localization team did an incredible job at making the dialogue engaging to read, with high quality and passionate Japanese vocal work to accompany it. The main story itself is consistently entertaining and charming, oftentimes being comedic or edge-of-your-seat attention-grabbing. Each of the characters are glowing with unique personality and appealing character design. There is admittedly a fair share of fanservice, including emphasized cleavage and jiggle physics, and exposed, pronounced thighs, but nothing ever feels too overly-sexualized. Ryza may be cute and ditzy at times, but she’s also incredibly smart and a badass adventurer. Female protagonists aren’t extraordinarily common in JRPGs, so it’s certainly a nice change of pace.
In addition to the main story, there are also plenty of side-quests to participate in. These quests are implemented in such a way that doesn’t feel forced or tedious. In order to earn your keep at your beautiful new atelier, you must take advantage of your alchemy skills to help those in need of assistance. Citizens, merchants, children, and even bandits will offer rewards in exchange for your services. With enough exploration, material gathering, and alchemist crafting, you’ll oftentimes not even need to go out of your way to complete these tasks. Many of them can be accepted and completed at the bulletin board located inside the local café, and doing so will raise your reputation, providing for more difficult requests and better rewards. Some quests however, are activated by talking to people directly throughout the city. These usually provide additional dialog and character interaction outside of the ongoing main story. It rarely feels like filler content, and adds a decent chunk of extra total gameplay hours to your adventure.
Atelier Ryza 2 doesn’t have a fully open world, but what it does have, is vast and immersive. Traveling to different locations around the city and outskirts of Ashra-am Baird requires a brief loading transition, but luckily, the wait times on the Switch version aren’t too painful. Everything is interconnected, but you can speed up the travel process by selecting previously visited areas on the world map. In addition to the world map, you always have access to a mini map of your current area, plotting destination points, events, quests, shops, and more. Discovering and exploring the ruins specifically truly makes you feel like an adventurer. Progressing through the story, searching for clues and memories, and piecing them together in your Exploration Diary is a really unique and interesting mechanic. While not necessarily difficult, it’s an extra piece of gameplay that adds to the overall experience; another engaging thing to do apart from gathering, crafting, and battling.
Gathering items that are spread across the world is crucial to crafting new items such as; weapons, tools, armor, food, and medicine. It can actually be quite peaceful to go out exploring just to find and collect as many materials as possible. Crafting new gathering tools allow you to discover items that were previously unobtainable. Just make sure to equip ‘em in your menu after you create them. Your inventory space is limited, but you can always bring everything you collect back to your atelier for easy storage and safekeeping. The atelier is the location you’ll most often visit, as it’s where you’ll complete all alchemy-related tasks, save your game (although there is an auto-save feature), advance the story, and heal party members.
Synthesizing items is the most important gameplay mechanic to learn and understand. I’ve mentioned the word “alchemy” multiple times in this review, but there is a strong possibility you don’t even know what it means. Defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or combination,” Ryza does exactly this; turning gathered materials into something entirely new. Recipes can be learned by progressing through the story or by growing your skill tree. In order to unlock the ones available from the tree, you must spend “SP” which is collected by synthesizing items and exploring through ruins. Synthesizing isn’t nearly as simple as something like a Minecraft crafting table, and is actually extraordinarily complicated in comparison. Items you gather have specific traits and effects, a level of quality, and are associated with an element pertaining to ice, fire, lightning, and/or wind. All of this must be accounted for to determine the exact results of the item you’re creating. In most cases, if you have all the necessary materials for a recipe, it’s much easier to use the “Auto-Add” feature, which allows for you to skip straight to the synthesis process by simply selecting if you want the result to be “High Quality” or “Low Quality.” However, you must be a little more interactive and experimental if you want to use the “Recipe Morph” feature. Some recipes can be turned into an entirely different one with this process by meeting certain conditions and carefully choosing items with the necessary traits. Once first synthesized, the recipe is easily craftable exactly like the others. Equipping any of the items you synthesize as a “Core Item” for your party members on their “Core Crystal” allows you to use it an infinite number of times during battle, with each use being exchanged for CC (Crystal Charge) points. These points are earned by using skills in battle (more on that soon).
Differentiating itself from the majority of modern JRPGs, Atelier Ryza 2 uses a “real-time tactics'' battle system instead of the often implemented turn-based one. Exactly when you (as well as your opponent) are able to attack is based on a “wait time,” located on a constantly moving timeline gauge. The gameplay is polished and elaborate enough for hardcore JRPG players, while also being straight-forward enough to use for a more casual audience (with a bit of patience and willingness). Your choice of difficulty mode upon starting a new save file will determine exactly how well you’ll need to understand the logistics of the mechanics. Plenty of new system elements are introduced during your playthrough, and the complexity of the battle system is both impressive and insane, so let's just go over the basics.
HP is your self-explanatory health bar. The goal of battles is to deplete the monster’s HP down to 0, while keeping at least one of your party members alive. Winning against these encounters will award you with EXP, leveling up the participating characters and increasing each of their stats (defense, attack, HP, speed, etc). There are no random encounters, so apart from mandatory bosses, most battles are completely optional. You’ll likely want to farm for as much EXP as possible if you want to consistently level up, but it never really feels like a monotonous grind. During battles, AP is earned by use of normal attacks, which then allow for the use of special attack skills, providing for a much greater deal of damage. Enough AP can allow these skills to be chained together for a combo. “Support Mode” and “Aggressive Mode” can be swapped by the push of a button, letting you decide if you want your party members to automatically be able to use up the collectively earned AP for their own skills. You can also swap the party member you’re directly controlling, so there is a lot to consider when engaging in some of the tougher battles. Attack skills can be either “Magical” or “Physical.” When certain battle conditions are met, your party members may call out for an “Action Order,” and by using the specified skill type, it will allow them to use their powerful “Order Skill.” Some skills also have elements (ice, fire, lightning, wind), which are, of course, more critical to the proper enemy type.
Graphically, Atelier Ryza 2 runs surprisingly well on the Nintendo Switch. Although capped at 30fps, the framerate is smooth and consistent, and the gameplay is never fast enough paced for it to be totally noticeable. Both docked and handheld mode offer a beautiful visual experience, enhanced by a vibrant, colorful, eye-candy art style. The loading time of every initial bootup can be annoyingly slow, but once you get past it and start playing the actual game, you never feel hindered on a technical level. In terms of audio design, the sound effects are fun and immersive, while the music is incredibly catchy, and very fitting to whatever your particular environment or situation is. Different versions of the tracks are played depending on the in-game time of day, and it really adds that extra level of polish.
Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & The Secret Fairy is nothing short of a masterpiece. An engaging story, exciting and complex battle system, unique alchemy crafting, and a world filled with fabulously designed environments and characters makes the game a must have on Switch for Atelier fans, JRPG fans, and those looking to dive into the franchise or genre. There is so much to learn, discover, and master that this review barely scratches the surface. The biggest disappointment I received while playing was that I missed my chance to purchase the game’s limited edition collector’s bundle. With a newly added photo mode and paid DLC content on the way, now is the perfect time to start your exciting adventure as an alchemist explorer. Here’s hoping the loveable Ryza returns for a third Atelier game, or perhaps makes an unexpected guest appearance as a newcomer in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate… just let me dream, okay?