Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout is the newest game in the Atelier series and follows brand new characters along their journey of exploration. Like previous Atelier games, one of the main protagonists takes up Alchemy. The main focus of this title is to explore the world, learn and improve your alchemy skills and to grow your party together as friends. It’s a large world filled with a range of creatures to fight and materials to collect.
It was admittedly my first Atelier game, so I went in near completely blind to the series. In many ways, this fresh outlook allowed me to critique and appreciate the game from a different perspective. The story and gameplay were not completely new for me, as I’ve played many similar titles. However the approach certainly was refreshing. Regarding the story, there may be brief spoilers for the beginning of the game. If you do not wish to read them, then please take care when reading the below paragraphs.
Ryza is a girl who seeks adventure. This is made clear from the very first scene of the game. The story is very much so a focus on this need for adventure, with each area providing a new feeling of wonder. Ryza aims to explore outside of the main island she lives on. After taking a boat from a hidden port, she and her two friends Lent and Tao set out to explore the world. The first actual adventure comes along sooner than expected, as the group venture into a place called Pixie Forest. As the group venture further through the forest, they find a girl in need of saving. After a quick battle, the girl is saved.
The girl, who is carrying some sort of box, thanks the team for their help and is escorted out of the forest. The girl then reveals her name is in fact Klaudia Valentz. A fitting name for a character that seems sophisticated and almost princess like. Before being able to escape the forest, the team is ambushed by an unbeatable opponent and all fall in battle. Just as they’re about to be struck down for good, two mysterious characters appear and save them from their demise.
After the team are saved by what looks like an explosion, Ryza gains an obsession of what power the mysterious strangers used. These mysterious characters reveal to Ryza that the power was in fact alchemy. The group then move towards the shore to depart the island. Klaudia’s father, Lubart, is there to meet them. After his brief introduction, he introduces the mysterious characters. The male being called Empel, and the female being called Lila. All newly introduced characters agree to stay in the same village as Ryza, and so are all set for future interactions with each other.
The story follows a very expected path of Ryza learning alchemy. It’s a very calm and slow paced story that focuses on providing a fun and an easy to understand experience. The above introduction is just a brief summary of the very first part of the game. After the initial story developments, the story can be slow paced for long periods of time. This is not necessarily a negative thing, as it helps add focus on the gameplay aspects of Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout. This story is truly about the main characters finding out about themselves and adventuring into not only the outside world, but into life.
Exploring in Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout is one of the main selling points of the game. With such a range of environments, enemies, ingredients, items and more to find, there is near infinite potential in finding everything in the game. Navigating the world is fairly easy too, thanks to the mini map that is always on screen. Other points of interest appear on the map too, which can be additional help when navigating places like forests.
Many areas will feature resting areas that allow the team to restore HP. These resting areas take the shape of a large flower with a bright light. An important note to remember is that these resting areas can usually only be used once within a certain time frame. After resting at a flower, they will require some time to recover before they’ll become available again.
After various areas have been visited, it’s possible to visit them via guideposts. These noticeboard type structures allow the player to move around without having to walk absolutely everywhere. An incredibly useful tool to use when hunting for materials. Early on in the game, it is also possible to travel straight back to Ryza’s room using the – button on the Nintendo Switch Joycon. This proves useful for saving the game in a hurry, or for dropping off unneeded items.
As far as battling goes, it’s introduced out of the blue. In some ways the introduction to battles felt forced, but it does get the basics out of the way very early into the game. In terms of breaking down each area of the UI and each action, the tutorial does an excellent job. It is clear and easy to understand, pointing out each option on screen and giving a brief description of everything that is or can be used.
At the start of the game there are three main options during battle. Attacking, moving or using a skill. Using a standard attack will allow your chosen character to gain an AP point and do average damage to the opponent. Moving will allow your chosen character to reposition themselves for a better strategic advantage.
Skill uses one of the characters acquired skills, which range from a powerful attack to healing. As mentioned earlier, characters gain AP points for using a standard attack. These AP points are shared between all the characters in the current party. AP points can also be spent in battle too, so it’s important to balance spending them and saving them for various other uses.
One such use and another important growing level in battle is the Tactics Level. This Tactics Level raises by earning the max AP and then consuming it all at once. Raising this Tactics Level provides a range of benefits during the battle. An example of the advantages of raising the Tactics Level is, after levelling it up from 1 to 2, characters gain the ability to attack twice with normal attacks. This upgrades once again at level 3, allowing the player to strike the enemy 3 times in a row. Such a small upgrade might prove important when fighting multiple enemies or stronger foes, so the Tactics Level is a mechanic to keep an eye out for.
The balance between AP usage and Tactics Level are is extremely important to winning battles and requires at least some level of strategy and skill. The higher the Tactics Level, the higher the max AP, meaning the Tactics Level won’t always be raising every battle. Taking these two gameplay elements into account along with the other elements such as skills makes the battling feel like a somewhat separate game. That’s not an entirely negative thing, but it does take away from the calm and relaxing atmosphere all the other experiences provide.
The battling system does provide two different modes to somewhat lessen the amount of thought or concentration required. Aggressive Mode is a mode in which other party members consume AP to use their skills. This could be an advantage against weaker enemies when wanting to get the battle over as soon as possible. The other mode is called Passive mode, in which the party members will simply use normal attacks. This is great for reserving AP for various reasons, but may take a little longer to take down the enemy.
Alchemy has two major stages in this game. The first and most time consuming part is the gathering of the materials/ingredients. Whilst it can be fun to explore various areas to search for required materials, it’s also extremely tedious due to the lack of information given. One of the first goals is to create a bomb. In the guide, the bomb item is listed along with the materials needed to create the item. This is extremely helpful for knowing the materials needed, but not helpful for finding these materials. Crimson Ore, Gunpowder, Fuel and Supplement are the materials needed, but when searching for more information on where to find them, there is none.
This leads to a large problem later on in the game when trying to create or upgrade various items, as it leads to extremely repetitive gameplay that forces you to search and run around for long periods of time for little reason. The game aims to provide a calm and relaxing experience, so the large amount of running around can be either seen as encouraging this peaceful focus, or making the game in some ways more stressful than it needs to be.
The second stage of the Alchemy is mixing the ingredients together in a cauldron. This is how items are synthesised. The easiest way of approaching this extremely complicated task is by simply choosing an item you’d like to create and choosing the materials you’ve gathered. Various other elements can come in to play, such as skills, stat related materials and the four material types. However, the game doesn’t pace out explaining all of these and throws them all at once to the player.
I personally found the explanations to be far too drawn out and confusing, so much so that it put me off the Alchemy portion of the game completely. I simply pressed A to quickly create items for the most part, to save myself the trouble of having to calculate each individual step. I feel that if the game slowly introduced the alchemy portion of this game, it might have been more approachable and easy to understand. Unfortunately this was not the case and combined with the tedious gathering aspect completely takes away from the calm and relaxed gameplay atmosphere that is attempted with this game.
The Nintendo Switch is known for having the lowest graphical ability of the current generation consoles, but that didn’t stop Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout from looking incredible. Whilst some areas and textures in the environment looked poor, the majority of the surroundings fitted the aesthetic. The character models were all beautifully created with love and care and truly encapsulated each characters personality.
Two major problems I faced were during the cutscenes of the game. Whilst I personally have no problem with the letterbox effect in cutscenes, it did bring me out of the immersion at times when a cutscene was sudden. This was not a major problem however. During near every cutscene in the game, the mouth of the character speaking did not match the speed of which they spoke. I’d expect this if the game had multiple audio options for dialogue, but it did not.
This out of sync talking made it very hard to take the game seriously at times and made it difficult to enjoy the story. Another problem during cutscenes was the running animations. Ryza seemed to run too fast compared to the speed she actually moved along the scene, so she appeared to run on the spot many times throughout the game. This once again made the cutscenes a somewhat silly experience, which was a shame, as they had a lot to offer in terms of story and quality.
User Interface and Navigation
The user interface and menu navigation is one of the most important parts of any game, as it defines how easy the player will be able to find what they’re looking for and interact with the world. Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout is a game that does an excellent job at making a lot of information easy to navigate. With the wealth of information given in this game, each menu had to be unique and stand out. That’s exactly what players were given, which increased ease of gameplay dramatically.
The equipment screen for example showed stats, equipped items, roles, level and more. The amount of information on this one screen was utterly insane and yet it was all displayed in an easy to understand way. Not only that, but navigating into different displays was just as easy. It was possible to jump from one screen to another without having to go back every time. This saved so much time and really made me appreciate the simplicity of the overall menu user interface.
This ease of use continued into things like the monster information screens. Each monster has their very own screen that details their name, status, a picture, a description, element adaptions, drop items and habitat. All of these pieces of information are absolutely vital for a game about acquiring items and staying alive, so these kinds of screens are something that are much needed.
My main focuses are on the habitat and picture. Finding what you need in this game can at times be incredibly difficult, so these simple additions can make a huge difference to the enjoyment of the game. There is also an option to see related journal entries. This option to see related entries is not restricted to only monster pages. It is a useful tool throughout the entirety of the game and makes near everything easier to find and do. I adore the user interface and menu design of Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout. It was honestly one of the best I’ve ever seen in any game.
Music and Audio
Since the very beginning of the game, the fun and fitting pieces of music accompanied the tone perfectly. The use of upbeat music in the very comedic areas of dialogue between characters made the whole experience feel more refreshing and calm. The majority of areas in game also had their own piece of music, which helped with navigation. The use of music being helpful to the player as well as setting the mood is vital in a game about exploring.
Audio is fitting in most areas, adding to the feeling that the world is alive. Various ambient noises accompany the music in a blend that feels fitting. The dialogue carries on this feeling with extremely well done voice acting work. Emotions of the characters gets across the feelings of the characters, despite the game only featuring Japanese voice acting.
Whilst Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout may have some drawn out gameplay segments and can be tedious at times, the characters and music keep players involved. With such a large amount of space to explore, many things to create and many enemies to face, the game provides a large range of content whilst still being, for the most part, easy to understand. As my first Atelier game, it was difficult to get into the alchemy initially, but i’d fully recommend it to newcomers who are looking for a relaxing and enjoyable game. It’s certainly worth getting past the first hurdle. The game has an incredible amount of DLC planned in the future, from character costumes to new areas. For more information you can check out the Official Site.
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