[Review] Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key
Posted on April 3, 2023 by Dennis Gagliardotto(@LyonHart_) in Reviews, Switch
Release date: March 24, 2023
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
There’s no denying the staying power that the Atelier series has had since the 90s with its charismatic loveable characters and heartwarming stories and worlds. In 2019, however, the debut of Atelier Ryza brought a whole new wave of popularity and love for both the franchise and Ryza, and since then Koei Tecmo and Gust have capitalized on the success of the million seller with two new sequels that have seen just as much love and success. Now in 2023, Atelier Ryza becomes a trilogy with Alchemist of the End & The Secret Key with the biggest adventure yet, and it’s a grand spectacle that builds and refines on the formula once more for a seamless experience in feeling like an alchemist. Unfortunately, each time the game has been built on its successes and ambitions, it becomes a heavier load for the Switch to handle, and this time around the game is just too much of a technical powerhouse that Atelier – despite a perpetual bright future – seems like it may not be at home anymore on the hybrid system.
Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & The Secret Key sees Ryza and other characters once more having grown up through their experiences and bonds, and now as they live their lives with excellent proficiency in each of their careers and skillsets, things finally seem to settle… until they haven’t. One summer roughly a year after the events of the previous game, mysterious islands and landscapes begin to appear, prompting Ryza and the gang to go out and discover why these islands have shown up and where they come from. As always, it’s a magical journey filled with heart-to-heart comradery, and Atelier Ryza 3 excels in this tenfold in once again building upon the relationships of such a great cast of characters (including new ones) that fans have grown to love since Ryza’s debut. You can genuinely feel the personal growth from character to character, and it’s a genuine feeling of warmth through the dialogue exchanged in and out of cutscenes that feels very natural and friendly. The sense of adventure in Atelier Ryza 3 is also palpable from the moment the game begins, and with the largest selection of playable characters for the Ryza trilogy on top of the fact that the third entry is now almost entirely open world, everything about it feels grand and epic, making for a fitting conclusion to Ryza’s story but also an exciting preview of what’s to come for the future of Atelier.
Though Atelier Ryza 3 feels familiar to what Ryza has brought to the series so far, there are a few new mechanics, changes, and features that flesh out the experience. Synthesizing, for example, is the same in a lot of ways, but the presentation of its system – and user interface as a whole – is a far more intuitive and eye-catching process than the explosion of nodes we’ve seen before. Its biggest inclusion this time, however, are the keys that find themselves immensely important to the Atelier Ryza experience, as it’s not just a story hook but also a part of the game that players will have to familiarize themselves with in order to do things efficiently. These have a wide variety of uses, but for the aforementioned synthesis and crafting, these keys can, in a sense, “unlock” new recipe levels and traits that wouldn’t normally be present for certain items. This opens a whole new wave of strategy and possibilities to crafting and synthesizing that I found myself having quite a bit of fun in experimenting with all the new potential behind each locked door of materials. Though it may sound fairly familiar to other mechanics in prior Atelier titles, the keys lend themselves a large sense of flexibility that really opens up what’s possible for each respective recipe in and out of battle.
The emphasis on the open world nature of Atelier Ryza 3 is felt right away as players are dropped into a vast field with a large map that feels like it has no end in sight. While interior spaces like homes, taverns, and shops still feel somewhat segmented against the world, that sense of scale is undeniable as cities both new and old give off a deeper sense of exploration and tons of treasure to uncover. While there are tons of benefits to the Atelier formula and the Ryza line of games in particular, the third entry for the Switch feels like it’s a bit too much to handle with all of the enhancements that have been incorporated this time around. Atelier Ryza 3 undoubtedly feels like Gust wanted to make a JRPG that stands among the current titans of recent releases, and although the game technically does a great job at giving that grand sense of adventure, it’s the hardware itself that holds the game back.
On PC, the game runs, looks, and plays like an absolute charm and is without a doubt the most ambitious and best-looking Atelier game to date. Interestingly though, the third entry in the series feels like a step back on Switch compared to Ryza’s first two outings. Visually and technically the game feels like it’s lost all sorts of stability and optimization, but the team still felt it necessary to make sure the the title saw a release on the Switch solely for the fact that the first two made an appearance and this is considered Ryza’s conclusion. First impressions weren’t great either as the game had crashed on me about twenty minutes in, and then once more an hour after that. It would then go on to happen quite a few more times throughout my entire playthrough. As someone who has played the Atelier series for years, I’ve seen technical issues from entry to entry and platform to platform, but crashes have been next to non-existent for me, so this was a bit of a shock to see.
Though fans will undoubtedly have a fun time with Atelier Ryza 3, another downside is that Atelier continues to have mostly unhelpful tutorials that feel excessive and sometimes never-ending. The games have always had a bad habit of having pages among pages of tips to read when introducing a new mechanic or feature rather than simplifying it into a few sentences at most. In addition, throughout its 25-35+ hour adventure, arbitrary pop-ups and transitions happen that can make the experience feel jarred and disruptive. For new players, these tutorials are obviously a must as the crafting system – a core part of the Atelier experience – can still be deep despite the systems having been more streamlined from entry to entry, but it does reach a point where you simply want to play without the entire experience feeling like one big hand-holding adventure at a luxurious theme park that you can never truly feel free in because you have to check back in with a guardian every couple of minutes. Making it an open world ultimately means more tutorials as Atelier explores new territory, but truthfully even with the excessive nature of its tutorials, notifications, and pop-ups, the worlds are the most luscious they’ve been and an absolute joy to trek through.
Atelier as a whole, even with all its evolution and changes, has a core belief and value that keeps it standing out in an ever-growing wave of JRPGs year after year. It still remains a relaxed experience, and though more monsters, scenarios, and obstacles find themselves in the way this time around as the games naturally grow larger, it gives a sense of wonderment that is complemented by vibrant colors and design. Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & The Secret Key is a worthwhile and satisfying conclusion to Ryza’s story and it’ll be sure to please just about every fan new and old that experience the title whether they’ve been with since the beginning or picking this up as a one-off. Unfortunately, what’s not so worthwhile and satisfying is playing the game on Switch, so it’s a difficult recommendation (though worth playing through) on the system until a sale price matches the quality.
Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & The Secret Key is a great game in its own right but unfortunately does too much for the Switch to handle this time around. The willingness to change and evolve should be commended by Gust, but this is yet another title in 2023 that’s been hit by the console’s age and lack of optimization that causes it to be the last place for fans to play if they have options on other platforms. Ryza’s journey comes to a conclusion in a grand and epic scale, however, and it’s an exciting time to be an Atelier fan and get a fantastic preview of where the series could go moving forward. It’s still as wholesome and heartwarming as ever, and the cast of Ryza 3 does an exceptional job at feeling authentic and well-written. It’s just a shame that its ambition, sense of scale, and overall excitement is hindered by one of the platforms it’s on.
Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key copy provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.