ATELIER RYZA: LOST LEGENDS & THE SECRET FAIRY
By Mark "Demius" Bronneberg on February 3, 2021
In this review, I am going to be bold and skip the introductions of the Atelier-franchise. My review for the first Atelier Ryza game is available here if you want to learn more about it. Atelier Ryza 2 is the direct sequel to this game. I played the first Ryza game on the Nintendo Switch and this one has been reviewed on the PS5. I concluded my aforementioned review with: "After playing Atelier Ryza, I am really looking forward to seeing how Ryza, Lent, Tao and Klaudia grow up ..". And boy, did they grow up. I can't wait to share everything this game has to offer!
The story of Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & The Secret Fairy involves the same cast that was present in the first game in the series, but with a 3 year time skip from the end of the first part. Even though Ryza starts off at the familiar Kurken Island, she directly travels across the ocean towards the Royal Capital 'Ashra-am Baird'. In this huge city she meets up with all her old friends and also meets some new additions to our cast. This game doesn't take the traditional approach to sequels, it takes the much better approach in my opinion. It creates an entirely new story with brand new areas to explore and things to do. The only returning parts of the mix are the amazing characters. And boy did they take "character growth" literally.
Be warned, there are minor spoilers ahead in this paragraph, so skip to the next if you don't want to read them. You have been warned. Let us begin with Tao, that scaredy boy that tried to wield a hammer and failed miserably at it, who got replaced by Claudia in my party as soon as I had the opportunity. Well, Ryza hardly recognizes him when she meets him in the capital. He is now best friends with "Bully" Bos Brunnen who, by the way, has grown up to be a remarkable polite and helpful man. this tiny Tao grew tall like a house. Apart from the physical transformation he somehow managed to find the 'triforce of courage' and made a full on Indiana Jones transformation. He now hungers for exploring ancient ruins. Lucky for him, the royal capital is surrounded by such ruins. Next to that he learned a double blade combat style in battle and has become a real bad-ass. After Ryza meets up with Tao he convinces her to go on another adventure with him and his protégé Patricia. Before Ryza left Kurken Island, Moritz Brunnen handed her a weird egg. This egg hatches into the creature Fi eventually. Fi becomes the 'navi' for Ryza (luckily Fi never says 'hey listen', so she never becomes that annoying). I'll stop with the minor spoilers now and leave the rest for you to discover for yourself.
I would like to start off my gameplay part of this review by recapping the few complaints I had about part one of the series and tell you how part two manages to fix, expand and get rid of each and every one of them. I kid you not; this game manages to improve on every aspect of its predecessor. Even stuff I only found mildly annoying has been improved to almost magical levels. The developers at Gust and KOEI can only be called miracle workers, seeing as how they managed to pull this off within a short two year window. Let's begin with the insanely slow start the first Ryza game had; I unlocked fast travel after 15 hours playtime so I had to run around a lot at the start of that game (don't worry, running around with Ryza is still a blessing in disguise, thank you physics and fan service). In this sequel, however, you'll unlock fast travel within the first hour of the story. I was confronted with how amazing the pacing of this game is, compared to the first one, when a minor hick-up occurred during my week with this game.
You see, after I received my review code, the PS5 version was not available yet, so I had to start with the PS4 version. Once the PS5 version became available I quickly switched between versions, deleting the PS4-version. What I didn't know was that I also deleted my save file in the process (Sorry to Dumeegamer for my panicky text messages). The next day, I restarted my game on the PS5 version and I managed to get the same spot where I left off within 4 hours (having played 15+ hours before). This proves my point that the pacing is amazing, you can take your time and take it slow, or you can advance story parts more quickly, entirely to your liking. Because you unlock your own atelier and fast travel quickly, this is a big help.
Once you start battling monsters you'll see that the developers have changed the battle system as well. I see this as an improvement. Where I struggled with mastering the battle system in the first game, I did not need much time to get acquainted with it in this sequel. The biggest changes are how you select skills (by holding L1 and pressing one of 4 buttons like X and O for each skill). This gives the game a little more action oriented combat, in stead of having to select skills from a menu. They also added a 'block' button. With the right timing this blocks a lot of incoming damage and increases AP. You don't have to increase your tactics level by using AP anymore. Instead, you spend AP on skills. Once you activated enough spells/skills, spend a certain amount of AP, which then automatically improve tactics levels. Items still use cc, which is now replenished, also by using spells and skills (no more 'spending' items to replenish this and having to return to base once you run out of usable items).
Your team members still give orders, which you can activate for a special attack ('use an item', 'use magic'). All in all, this really focuses more on an action oriented turn-based RPG battle system, in stead of trying to combine various systems and getting confusing in the process. There are still boss battles and 'special enemies' for you to find. Loot is still key. What is good to know is that you have even more customization options this time around. Besides leveling up, you can also upgrade your core crystal (cc) for use of items. This enables your items to grow in power. This also adds a strategic level and planning aspect, because if you use only fire items on a character and improve his fire ability trough the roof, these healing and attack items can give you quite the power boost. They dropped the additional 'roles' that the equipped items provide, which is not something I missed, if I'm being honest.
While exploring the world you can control Ryza and this is where one of the biggest improvements is made. The new areas are huge, they make the areas in the first game look rather mediocre. But besides that, they added a new level of depth to exploration. You can climb certain areas, go underneath small areas or across tiny ledges, swim and even dive to the depths. Of course, the best addition is the going underneath small areas, since Ryza starts crawling to do so and this enables the 'third person' camera-view which, in turn, focuses on her strong. eeehm. assets. Damnit I slipped up again, didn't I? I am sorry, I will get right back to my review now. Harvesting points are plenty and the new elevations in exploring are a welcome addition. At first when I heard you could swim and dive I thought this was just a 'gimmick'. But having experienced the gameplay for myself, I can vouch for the validity of this new game mechanic and tell you that it's definitely not just a gimmick at all. You'll come across a huge lake area with underwater ruins and a tiny cavern which brings you to an Atlantis kind of area. Yes, they really went all out with magical environments and the need to explore them. These environments are one of the strongest assets of this game. Let's just say that I have spent a lot of time in picture mode capturing the amazing scenery.
Harvesting items, upgrading tools and creating new recipes still works the same way as it did in the previous Atelier Ryza game. But still the developers made some adjustments to the way unlocking new alchemy tools and skills in this game works. They had to find a way to 'reset everything Ryza knows'. At the end of the first game, Ryza could practically craft a Rolls Royce with only a twig and a rotten apple. If you are the goddess of creation with magical abilities like Gandalf and Dumbledore combined, there aren't many challenges left for you to face. So they start this game by mentioning that Ryza has become "lazy" and hit an "alchemy block" in the past few years, which actually stopped her progression as an alchemist and, even worse, made her interest and memory of alchemy go into decline. By exploration and crafting items you gain SP, which you can spend in a skill tree to regain (or remember, if you will) all your powers of alchemy. Story wise it's always difficult to "reset" returning characters, especially if they were the powerhouses in their previous games. And while I personally think they didn't do quite a perfect job at that, for me the reasons given are acceptable enough. Plus, I love the extra strategy and planning the skill tree provides. Besides that, if I spend a little time crafting stuff, I could always get all the SP I needed to progress to the point I wanted to go.
The graphics, and more specifically the art style, in the first game were what amazed me the most. Especially on seeing as how it was on the Nintendo Switch. Having played the sequel on PS4 and PS5, must admit that I was a little disappointed with the graphics at first, since it didn't seem like that much of an upgrade (maybe this says more about how good of a port the first game was on Nintendo Switch). But having hit the 40 hour+ mark on my playthrough (no, I have not completed it yet), I have to say that a lot of areas look really, really beautiful. The main cast is drawn amazingly and the cell shaded look is something special. There are also a lot of detail and visuals in menus and special cutscenes which could have come straight out of a Stuido Gibli movie. The character models are even better and more detailed than they were in the first game.
This also brings me to another minor issue I had with the first Atelier Ryza, which now seems to be fixed in part two; the NPCs and secondary cast. I wanted to skip all side quests in part one. In part two, I'm literally trying to complete everything. Almost all the new NPCs have their own style and story/ background. And you also have factions, like children, citizen or artisans, for whom you do side-quests, which improve your relationship with them and reducing prices at certain shops or unlocking better and more rewarding sidequests. This is yet another huge improvement over the first game. The next improvement shouldn't come as a surprise, maybe this is also because I played this on PS5, but the music and sound effects are much better. All areas have their own tunes and there is a lot more diversity and quality in music. The Japanese voice actors do a great job, and I believe the entire cast returned for the sequel. I also welcomed more subtitles during skits, so you know what everyone is saying. Shouts during battles still seem random because there are no subtitles, but hey, in battle you just gotta scream sometimes, right?
The biggest addition and improvement in this sequel has still gone unmentioned in this review. Yes, yes, I know I don't work for Koei Tecmo (yet that is! After this review, they are bound to offer me a job in marketing.), but this sequel really improves a lot on an already fun game. There are genuine dungeons, dungeon exploring and puzzling in this game! Once you reach a new set of ruins, like the aforementioned city of Atlantis, you'll first need to do a few tiny quests (kill X, find treasure chest Y) to unlock/activate your special compass. This opens up a doorway to 'memories of bygone spirits'. These memories must all be found in the ruin-areas to get 'pieces of the puzzle'. Once you found them all you need to input these short story bits into templates which combine to reveal the bigger picture and history of the ruin. This enables you to gain huge lumps of SP or gives you new recipes you need to progress the story (like making a special item to breathe under water). These dungeons were a blast to explore and reading all the history and exploring the lore was really fun. In this lore you sometimes find stuff that is related to the first game, which is a nice addition for fans of the Atelier Ryza series.
Somehow, Atelier Ryza 2 manages to improve upon nearly every aspect of an already fun game. The story, characters and areas are breathtaking. There is more depth in character growth, better interactions with the NPCs and world around Ryza. The game offers more purpose and has excellent pacing. I expected an amusing sequel. What I did not expect was one of the best JRPGS I ever played, which sets a new bar for every sequel that aspires to be better than the original game. If you like adventure games and don't mind some heavy customization options, this is the JRPG for you. Every RPG fan owes it to themselves to play Atelier Ryza 2.