[Review] Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy
Posted on January 26, 2021 by Dennis(@LyonHart_) in Reviews, Switch
Release date: January 26, 2021
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Our beautiful and charming resident concocter of potions and alchemy returns in a follow up to the most successful entry in Koei Tecmo’s long-running Atelier franchise, which sees alchemists go on fantastical adventures of self-discovery and wonder as they achieve their goals in heartwarming tales. Nearly 25 years later, the series is bigger than ever and one of its most popular protagonists, Ryza, returns with her own sequel. Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy builds upon the foundation of what made the original such a hit with both old and new fans alike, and while it still doesn’t necessarily do anything to reinvent the wheel or push the genre or technical limits of hardware, the game continues to do what the franchise does best: provide us with wholesome adventures in a relaxing JRPG setting with a cast you can’t help but love and grow with.
Atelier Ryza introduced a lot of new mechanics and firsts to the series that kept things immensely fresh while continuing on with that “new yet familiar” feel. In my review for the first game back in 2019, I praised everything that was introduced and changed. I was only really just a little upset with the alterations of the battle system to a more Action Time Battle-based format that skewed away from the traditionally turn-based nature the series was known for. It’s a system that’s still in place here, but much more refined with less of the stress involved, though admittedly the placement of the camera can still be slightly problematic when focusing on one enemy while multiple are out on the field. Other than that, huge quality-of-life improvements were made and any drawbacks that the series had before felt taken care of once Ryza made her debut. Everything that did change for the better happened in Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout, and with so many massive changes to the mechanics and system of the series, Atelier Ryza 2 maintains that comfy feeling as it’s largely the same in terms of gameplay.
Sequels are no stranger to the Atelier franchise, but any follow-ups were typically based around the theme or location an alchemist was from. The likes of the ‘Arland’ and ‘Dusk’ trilogies, despite having sequels, all contained separate protagonists, with any prior alchemists returning in a supporting role to somewhat mentor the new alchemist in training (with obvious fanfare). This adds a new first that Atelier Ryza 2 and Atelier Ryza before it had done on top of its many changes to the overall structure of the series that continued to bring with it a more refined experience that was more concerned about polish and quality of life improvements to make the best possible game. It showed in Atelier Ryza while further being built upon in Atelier Ryza 2, even if it is more of the same – which is certainly not a bad thing in this case. The philosophy of “don’t fix what’s not broken” is hugely applied here, and with how successful and accommodating Ryza’s debut title was, it’s not entirely surprising that Gust likely didn’t want to veer away too much, focusing on a more robust story and world this time around instead, with a few extra features to boot.
Taking place three years after the events of the last game, Ryza will once again venture out, but to a new place called Ashra-am Baird – this time journeying alone – leaving her hometown of Kurken Island, and bringing a purpose and goal as she receives a mysterious egg to investigate. However, it’s not long before she reunites with Tao from the first game as he happens to be studying in the grand city you’ll be introduced to in Atelier Ryza 2. The slice of life storytelling is still present here, and has a big emphasis on the saying “funny how life works that way” as you meet friends both old and new that come together once again after going separate ways so many years prior. There’s a shared bond that’s palpable, and as is with most Atelier titles, everyone you meet serves a purpose to the story, exuding a certain charm from each and everyone of them, keeping an ever-growing posse of alchemists, warriors, adventurers and the like consistently fun to be around and explore with.
One of my favorite parts of the Atelier series has always been just how beautiful and vibrant the environments are, and this game shows off an even more stunning world with monsters cute, terrifying, and everything in-between that complement each and every environment and scenario you find yourself in as you go through a slew of ancient ruins, vivid forests, magical lands, and dark eerie dungeons. Here is Ryza for the first time leaving a place she was so comfortable with to see a whole new world, and Gust made it count with far larger locations that leave less borders from area to area. While not exactly open-world, the hubs and locations are substantially bigger in size with a plethora to gather and uncover for your alchemy and quests, making each new vista much more elaborate and purposeful than before. Everything is so new for both Ryza and the player, and it keeps that sense of wonderment and excitement lingering inexorably throughout your playthrough. Areas aren’t as segmented, and getting by certain obstacles is made easier as now you’re able to jump over certain fences and heightened objects that seem like they should be able to be vaulted over, yet invisible walls caused a lot of inconveniences before, always having to take the long way around.
It’s hard to talk about Atelier Ryza 2 without sounding like an identical deconstruction and analysis of its predecessor, but added features are ultimately what make this feel more refined than the previous game, and in a way I like it because – looking at it from a more philosophical point-of-view – with Ryza (or any Atelier protagonist in general), you grow with them as they find themselves and their place in the world. Since Ryza has become mostly comfortable with who she is as she continues to learn through her passion for alchemy – eventually becoming a teacher once all was said and done on Kurken Island – all Atelier Ryza 2 needs to do is really show you new things that make you and Ryza go “whoa” and build the affinity for exploration further as you’re seeing completely new lands for the first time. In an odd way it feels like an expansion, but one that’s big enough that it feels like it could be standalone due to its length (which should run you almost twice as long as the previous installment). Combat, synthesis, ways to gather, skill sets, and mechanics are practically identical, but it’s the small tweaks within these that greatly polish Atelier Ryza 2’s experience.
As stated earlier and made apparent in my review for Atelier Ryza’s first outing, the combat was arguably my least favorite change made, even if it was overall a better, more accessible system. Things this time around are a little more seamless thanks to skill-chaining and more flexible AP usage, as well as the inclusion of Core Drives (special moves that can only be used once per battle after a criteria has been met) and a balance to how items are used and expended. Physical attacks build up AP much like before, but now you have the ability to add skills mid-attack if you’d prefer with a multitude of characters so long as you have the necessary AP to spend for the selected skill, and the longer the chain goes, the more damage gets unleashed through multipliers and tactical level advantages that naturally increases through those actions. Previously, tactical level boosts were done manually and had to be done strategically. There was just way too much going on for something that was more real-time, when it would have been a lot more fitting for something turn-based.
Through your quests, battles, and alchemy, you’ll acquire some sort of experience in just about everything you do, and one of the most helpful changes is that recipes are now unlocked through a skill tree rather than experimenting with various concoctions until you just so happen to get one either by chance when synthesizing, out on the field, or repeated crafting of an item. This makes Ryza’s skills a lot more tailored to the player as you can choose which direction you’d like to go, learning what you feel is necessary for your journey, though eventually you will have to unlock particular traits and recipes just so you can complete requests from other people throughout your travels. Even with this change, however, it’s worth noting that some of the more advanced recipes and items can only be made through in-depth alchemy, so it’s still useful to experiment a bit while synthesizing to unlock other nodes and better the quality to the point where you could even create something entirely new. The SP needed to grow and learn more never really became a problem for me, and even when I felt like I was running dangerously low, simply playing the game and crafting more will get you to where you want to be in no time. Speaking of where you want to be, another new feature is that you can have a mount to help get through the bigger lands a little faster, and also help with gathering. It essentially functions as a glorified tool and not much else, but even so being able to ride and dig with your trusty mount is immensely helpful and gives further sense of growth and “new beginnings” for Ryza as her arsenal of skills, comradery, and relationships grow evermore in a symbiotic way.
While Atelier Ryza 2 is more of the same, the Atelier franchise I will forever hold close to me is always about the journey and not the destination. Despite very little differences, a great game gets a continuation with a worthy successor of the same name, further polishing up its foundations of what made it so spectacular in its first part to keep its own identity without making it feel like a brand new Atelier entirely that could have been put with any new protagonist. This is very much Ryza’s story going through something that – while we could all share similarities to through the slice-of-life elements – only she could really explore and experience herself, allowing us to join her as she meets another great new cast of characters on a grand-scale adventure that will remain memorable within the Atelier universe.
Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy doesn’t stray far from its predecessor, and truthfully, it doesn’t need to as the success and popularity of both the previous title and Ryza as a character brought together all kinds of fans to experience a new direction for the franchise. This new game feels like more of the same, with a big emphasis on polish and tweaks, to make the new adventure feel grand. It also puts a greater focus on story for doing so. An already great game in its own right, Atelier Ryza 2 is even better thanks to the subtle changes that make for an improved greater whole, and while the engine still isn’t as fleshed out as I’d like it to be on Switch, Atelier’s history on handhelds lends itself perfectly once again to the philosophy of playing at home and on-the-go. Atelier Ryza 2 very much feels like a “don’t fix what’s not broken” scenario, and it excels in delivering another wholesome adventure that’s as heartwarming as it is a joy to play, continuing Gust’s legacy of an ever-growing and expansive franchise featuring adventures, characters, and emotions that set the series apart from the rest of its contemporaries within the genre.
Review copy provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.