Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy Review (Switch)
Release Date: January 26, 2021
File Size: 6.1GB
Publisher: Koei Tecmo America
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The Atelier franchise has never been without a cult following, but I don’t think even the most diehard fans expected 2019’s Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout to take the world by storm like it did. The doubling down on streamlined systems (introduced in Lulua), on top of a major combat overhaul, would prove to be a wise decision for Gust Co. and Koei Tecmo, as Ryza 1 would go on to be the most successful Atelier title to date.
Fast forward to 2021, and we now have the long-awaited followup to the 2019 hit – that being Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy. As a more recent inductee into the Atelier fanclub – the Arland subseries was my first taste back in 2018 – I never once doubted that this new game would be a disappointment. I’ve found that the Atelier franchise is notorious for two things: consistent quality, and refinements between both major and minor releases, the latter of which interested me the most from the outset of this newest entry.
Ryza 2, naturally, is a continuation of the first game from both a narrative and gameplay perspective, including the newly-adopted action combat system. It isn’t without a hefty amount of changes, though – some which hit their mark, while others do not. It is undoubtedly “as good” as the first title overall, but several mishaps keep it from attaining total stardom.
Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy takes place three years after the events of the first game. The youths that once banded together to solve the mysterious problem plaguing their home region of Kurken have all gone their separate ways, with Ryza staying behind in Rasenboden to teach alchemy to a new generation. The time would come, however, when Ryza would feel that she had reached her “alchemical peak,” longing for something to increase her knowledge.
Fortunately, her lifelong friend Tao would soon reach out and invite her to the capital city of Ashra-am Baird, where a local ruin investigation has led the young scholar to believe it may be linked to alchemy. Around the same time, the Brunnen family of Rasenboden would entrust Ryza with analyzing a peculiar family heirloom – a jewel-like item thats origins and purpose are unknown. With the Brunnen heirloom in tow, Ryza travels to the capital in hopes of helping Tao, and learning more about the heirloom and alchemy in the process.
In Ashra-am Baird, Ryza collaborates with both old and new faces in a region-wide investigation of ruins. The Brunnen family artifact would prove to play an integral role in the company’s ruin-diving escapades, too, though nobody would expect just how large of a role it would actually play.
Characters and relationships from the past are re-ignited in this new adventure, all while the player is introduced to a slew of new characters along the way. Returning characters, including Ryza, may feel a bit hollow to those jumping in without playing the first entry beforehand. While references to the previous entry are peppered throughout, there likely isn’t enough to make fresh players genuinely care about the returning cast. Ryza returning as the primary character (rather than playing a supporting role or a simple cameo) is pretty big in itself, seeing as these games tend to cycle through the main protagonist with each release.
Whereas the first game centered around coming-of-age youths ultimately trying to find their purposes in life – and, of course, saving their slice of the world – Ryza and company are almost completely focused on ruins exploration here. Upon discovering the link between the Brunnen artifact and the ruins, which seems to pre-date the already ancient Klint civilization referenced in the first game, the party slowly pieces together clues to historical events that were left behind, uncovering long-lost treasures and useful information as a result.
While it is certainly slow-going in the opening hour or two, the narrative (and narrative-driven gameplay systems) then opens up to something I think most people will enjoy – again, IF you have already played the first game. Regardless, Ryza 2 struggles a bit to sell the new supporting characters as really interesting…though this something I’ve noticed with many followup entries in other Atelier subseries. Whether this can be chalked up to strong returning characters stealing the show, or newer ones simply lacking meaningful design, I cannot say, though I imagine it has a little to do with both.
The story overall is a bit underwhelming, and one that is definitely catered more towards the journey itself (seeing the characters develop) rather than the end destination (the conclusion). While I’m unsure as to whether there are multiple endings or not – I would assume not since Ryza 1 controversially did not – this journey took me almost 50 hours to complete. Issues aside, the narrative and cast are definitely entertaining enough to keep things going smoothly.
Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy, in true Atelier fashion, is a crafting-driven action RPG thats primary objective is to investigate the various ruins scattered about the Ashra-am Baird region. It follows the more recent Atelier trend of having zero time limits, which will be a good or bad thing depending on your preference. While I’ve grown to prefer the newer “limitless” experience overall, there’s an undeniable sense of accomplishment upon meeting the deadlines that were once a focal point of Atelier design.
Regardless, Ryza 2 feels much larger in scope in comparison to Kurken Island, with the capital city alone feeling massive compared to Rasenboden. There are a lot of sights to see in Ashra-am Baird…though much of the “wow” factor wears off once you realize it is deceptively shallow. By that, I mean it could have been significantly smaller and still felt more “alive.” Though impressive in size, Ashra-am Baird doesn’t let you go into hardly any of its buildings, and the frequent recycling of NPC models further adds fuel to that fire. Ashra-am Baird IS pretty, however, so that counts for something.
In town, Ryza will have access to a multitude of shops, a request hub at the cafe, and most importantly, an atelier. This “Atelier Ryza” is where the player will spend most of their time with the incredibly deep crafting (or synthesis) system. Synthesis is the inevitable foundation of everything you do in the game, and simply cannot be ignored under any circumstances. Both narrative and character progression are tied to it, which is a good thing considering how engaging it is!
As an alchemist, Ryza takes various materials and turns them into something completely new. This iteration of the crafting system is quite similar to the one found in the previous game, though the new skill tree (and a couple other subsystems) freshens things up a bit. While most Atelier entries have you discovering new recipes by purchasing recipe books and/or through experimentation with existing formulas, the skill tree in Ryza 2 gives the player a bit more control over various forms of progression, including recipe acquisition.
Ryza can earn SP by synthesizing items and exploring ruins, which can then be used to unlock various perks and recipes via the skill tree. Although this isn’t really that exciting since you’ll be unlocking everything eventually and will still receive some recipes via story progression and experimentation, it certainly beats just “buying a book” and allows some base level direction for what you want to focus in on first.
Synthesis, while a core, unavoidable component, can ultimately be as complex ( or simple) as you want it. Ryza 2 is a min-maxers dream come true if you really want to dive deep – it only gets deeper with story progression – but you can certainly just “get by” with doing the bare minimum, as well. An adjustable difficulty and an auto-craft option may improve the experience if you find things tedious, though the latter should be used with caution as it can easily (and unexpectedly) wipe out your stock of rare components. Ryza 2 starts with three difficulty levels, with more unlocking after you beat the base game.
Gathering and Exploration
In order to even begin to appreciate the extensive crafting system, one must first gather materials! Exploration, gathering, and to a lesser extent, combat, play a very important role in Ryza 2, as one cannot hope to synthesize without first acquiring the proper ingredients. While some raw goods can be purchased from shops, or even made, Ryza will have to equip herself with an array of tools and gadgets in order to make the most of her adventures. Gathering nodes of all sorts await Ryza’s every turn, which can generally be harvested by way of a variety of equipment.
These points respawn any time you re-enter an area, making targeting more sought-after components a cinch. Outside of a couple new features – more on that later – gathering is very much the same as it has always been. With how important gathering is to the Atelier franchise, I would like to see it become more engaging and interactive, such as making fishing a whole mini-game in itself. Alas, no such stride in innovation has been made here.
Ryza has a ton of tools at her disposal that will not only help the gathering process, but also with exploration. Before long, Ryza will be swinging from beams in ruins with a magic lasso, diving to the depths of the sea for treasure, and even riding a mythical beast! Yes, Ryza is able to swim, dive, and ride a mount here! Interestingly, the mount opens up another avenue for gathering (digging) besides speeding up the traveling process greatly. On that note, traditional fast travel does become available in the opening hours, making the process of gathering a boatload of materials and storing them in your atelier for later use a breeze.
The exploration of ruins in Ryza 2 are not only important to the narrative itself, but also serve as a brand-new gameplay component – the “gameplay” part might prove to be controversial, though. As the team explores, Ryza will keep an exploration diary that turns into ruins-specific, fractured storyboards that must be solved in order to progress. Individual clues and memories acquired can be placed into the storyboard and will be completed upon pasting the right entries into the correct section. Completing these storyboards, again, is integral to story progression, but will also reward the player with new skill tree branches and SP.
While the clues/storyboard system fits the ruins exploration theme like a glove, it isn’t the most enjoyable experience. For starters, Ryza generally has to completely explore the area in question before she can start picking up clues/memories, which – you guessed it – means completely exploring the same map once again. Visiting areas multiple times over isn’t a new concept in Atelier games, but you will run into scenarios where you’ve gathered all the materials you want and still have to go back through everything to keep the ball rolling.
Although the storyboard, again, is thematically appropriate, there are a ton of fragments to sift through and place properly, which may be frustrating for those that simply want to experience the story in a more traditional way. The hints provided on memories and storyboards make it pretty easy to match them up properly, but it can be a bit overwhelming when you first start piecing the puzzles together and have so many to choose from. All that said, I still wouldn’t call the storyboard system a failure – it has some upsides – but it certainly isn’t a knockout success.
The first Ryza game controversially abandoned the series staple turn-based combat system in favor of an action-oriented one, and Ryza 2 has further refined that vision. Combat flows in real time, only pausing when the items menu is pulled up. Your tactics level, AP, and core charges once again control the pace of combat. The party will begin most fights at a low tactics level, and little to no AP and core charges. When the player-controlled character’s turn comes around, a basic combo attack can accrue AP, which can then be used on skills. Skills can be weaved into the basic combo attack, and will grant core charges (for item usage) as well as slowly increasing the team’s tactics level. The higher the tactics level, the more combo attacks (both basic and skill-based) become available, while also potentially unlocking traits and passives that require specific tactics levels to activate.
In true Atelier fashion, alchemical items used in combat can be complete game changers. While items can be used without penalty if it is the character’s turn and they have the required amount of core charges, they can also be used immediately at the cost of 10 AP. Though not as robust as the “quick action” command from the first game, this opens up opportunities for the player to quickly dispatch a dangerous foe, or provide healing in a pinch. Like in Ryza 1, items are not finite and can be used multiple times as long as you have the required core charges. An advanced item-based limit break of sorts, called Core Drives, can be used once per battle and quite handy at dealing with powerful foes quickly. This is on top of the already brutal Fatal Drive system returning from the first game – a more traditional “limit break” that can dish out some insane damage at the expense of your tactics meter (which can then be leveled up once more).
The player also has access to a guard command in Ryza 2 – something that I’m almost certain wasn’t a thing in the first game. Pressing and holding this button right before the enemy attacks will result in a perfect guard, vastly reducing the damage taken and granting you a few AP to boot! Guarding does have its limitations, however, as it is not immediately available to use after a player’s attack, or after swapping to another character in combat. The timing can be difficult with multiple enemies and since they can change their target on a dime. It also doesn’t work against special attacks dished out by more powerful enemies. Regardless, active guarding gives you a little something to do during moments of downtime in combat.
Concerned about mitigating the damage of the enemy’s aforementioned special attacks? That’s where stuns come in! Dealing damage to an enemy will slowly build up a stun gauge which, when full, will cancel any queued attack and leave them open to increased damage. The player’s party is also susceptible to stuns, so be careful. The stun system, while useful against powerful foes, is a bit unreliable since the two AI-controlled party members can potentially put you over the stun threshold at an inopportune moment.
Party member AI has two modes: passive and aggressive, with the former limiting them to basic combo attacks while the latter allows the use of skills. AI-driven party members will also occasionally call for Action Orders in the midst of combat, which serve as follow-up attacks to the player-controlled character when certain conditions are met. These requests may be to deal damage in a specific school, use a physical attack, or something else entirely. Action orders are always worth the effort, though, as they lead to bonus damage, useful buffs, and – when timed properly – can completely negate an incoming attack.
You can only have three characters on the battlefield at any given time, with a fourth member providing limited assistance via the “Shift Action” command. This feature allows you to swap between the reserve member at regular intervals, increasing combo potential and granting some additional tactics level resources. While a bit unnecessary in the realm of a base level playthrough, I can see how it could be very beneficial on harder difficulties.
All things considered, combat in Ryza 2 feels like a natural evolution of the first game, with some tweaks and adjustments made to better refine the action-oriented approach. Although I still think that improvements can be made, it has nonetheless solidified the move from turn-based to action as a good one.
Character, Relationship, and City Development
Atelier games aren’t necessarily known for mind-blowing narratives, but tend to make up ground through diverse, compelling characters. Part of this process is conveyed through the multitude of optional character events that become available over time. Ryza 2 has its fair share of these as well – many aren’t required, but are essential to experiencing the game (and its cast) to the fullest. These side events are especially crucial to those jumping in without having played the first game – again, a bad idea in my opinion – as they can help bridge the gap of information with returning characters, as well as fleshing both them and the new characters out immensely.
Subevents aren’t only important from a narrative perspective, but also from a gameplay one. Several components are introduced this way, including but not limited to shop development, the farm, and the request board. Requests are essentially a notice board of needs for the capital that, upon completion, will reward Ryza with money, items, SP, and reputation with certain factions. Achieving high ranks with these factions will unlock more difficult and more rewarding tasks, new story-driven side quests, and can eventually provide passive bonuses like reduced shop costs.
Additionally, Ryza can invest in the betterment of the capital by donating raw materials en masse that then increase both the breadth and quality of items sold at shops. Even though these requests at their core are little more than glorified fetch quests, they always reward you adequately and eventually open up additional gameplay components, introduce new characters, and give you access to special cutscenes and events you wouldn’t see otherwise. The farm functions basically the same as it did in the first game. Ryza can synthesize seeds that can then be used to grow various items after a certain amount of time has passed. Honestly, there is a lot of nuance and depth to both the farm and many of the other systems I’ve mentioned here that are simply beyond the scope of this review. In short, Ryza 2 has a ton of meaningful depth to it – something which the casual passerby may not expect based on the visuals alone.
Wrapping It Up
As a whole, the gameplay in Ryza 2 feels like a solid refinement of the first game. In general, the changes and additions are a success…though some may not find them all that appealing (ie. the storyboard-solving stuff). The good certainly outweighs the bad, though the aforementioned issues and occasional pacing concerns – massive, overwhelming spurts of character events and one potential moment of confusion in Dragonbone Valley – hold it back from being exceptional.
Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout was hands-down one of the best looking Switch titles of 2019, and Ryza 2 has made a strong case for a repeat in 2021. The cel-shaded anime visuals have never looked better, with more animation (and moments of fan service) than you can shake a stick at! Again, the lack of variety when it comes to random NPCs is a bit disappointing, but the main and supporting characters look fantastic in general. The natural progression of the returning characters coming back more mature is both nostalgic and heartwarming, though many facets of their personalities are the same you perhaps came to know and love from the first game. Some of the fan service here can be a bit groan-worthy, but hey, if that is your thing, then more power to you.
The visuals in Ryza 2 are top notch, with only the occasional muddy texture and drop in frames marring the experience as a whole. The game doesn’t use ruins exploration as an excuse to make everything look old and grey either – in fact, it does quite the opposite. Ryza and company will visit the traditional run-down ruins in overgrown jungles, but will also adventure into kingdoms under the sea, palaces within the heated depths of the earth, and even explore tranquil, crystal-encrusted forests.
On a more subtle note, Ryza 2 includes some weather effects – notably rain – that can dynamically change characters involved in events. If it is raining prior to starting combat or another event, it will continue raining until that sequence is over. Showers – rain or via swimming – will also make characters (and even the ground) appear wet for a time, adding a bit more realism to the world. Presentation-wise, there is very little to complain about here. One thing that could be improved upon, however, are the amount of unique enemy designs available. Although it is comforting to see so many iconic creatures (like punis and knights) make their return, there are only so many different color variations you can fight before you’re left wanting something more. Oh, and they still haven’t fixed that visual axe bug from the first game. Shame!
The soundtrack of Ryza 2 doesn’t disappoint in the slightest – in fact, it may be my overall favorite to date. Each region is accompanied by a thematically appropriate track, with the various ruins all having unique, grandiose tunes, to lush forests exuding serenity both visually and tonally. While I prefer the lighthearted Rasenboden tune from the first game over the comparable Ashra-am Baird track you’ll be hearing a lot here, everything else feels as if it is on another level. I never once doubted that the presentation would disappoint in Ryza 2, and it turns out that my faith was sound.
If you are a fan of the more streamlined, action-oriented Atelier approach presented in 2019’s Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout, then there’s a lot to enjoy in Ryza 2. It most certainly has all the tools necessary to stand toe-to-toe with the first entry, though the reinforcement of this newer approach may not be everyone’s cup of tea, especially when it comes to veterans. Likewise, the new storyboard puzzle system, while contextually appropriate, isn’t likely to be considered a standout feature for anyone, and may even prove detrimental by the time you have rolled the credits. That said, Ryza 2 is still a very fun and enjoyable Atelier entry and I cannot wait to see where they go from here.