Atelier Ryza Preview: A Bright, Bold Breath of Fresh Air
There is no doubt, in this writer’s mind at least, that Western games have dropped the ball this generation, with some big AAA disappointments being one of the many reasons why. With controversies surrounding games like Fallout 76, No Man’s Sky, Anthem, and Star Wars Battlefront 2, many Western developers and publishers have left a sour taste for gamers, within both the single-player and multiplayer side of the industry.
But on the other side of the world, Japanese developers seemed to have really their stride. Sure, there was the Hideo Kojima/Konami controversy, which saw one of gaming’s most accomplished developers forced out of his own studio due to creative differences during the development of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Despite the tension at Konami, though, Japanese developers have hit some absolute homers out of the park. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Monster Hunter: World, Resident Evil 2 (2019)… the list goes on and on. Yet, despite Japan’s success, one studio has been flying under the radar for quite a while, and it really is a shame.
Gust Co. Ltd., or GUST Studios, a division of Koei Tecmo, is mainly known for its turn-based RPG series, Atelier and Ar Tonelico. However, as part of a new series this generation, the studio also put out Nights of Azure and Nights of Azure 2: Bride of the New Moon, a pair of underrated action-RPGs featuring Dynasty Warriors-inspired combat. Both games tell the story of a yuri (lesbian) romance, and sport both stellar music and an impressive European Gothic art style.
GUST appears to be taking what it did with the Nights of Azure series and applying that to the Atelier franchise, in the form of Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout, which releases October 29. As someone who has played both games in the Nights of Azure series, but is a total noob to the Atelier series, I decided to do a hands-off preview of Atelier Ryza and share some thoughts.
The Style of Atelier Ryza
In this entry in the series, thick thighs will be saving lives in an epic journey… Alright, joking aside, the main heroine, Ryza, did have specific attention paid to her overall character design compared to previous titles — including her thighs. In a Twinfinite article from September, game producer Junzo Hosoi mentioned that Ryza’s thighs were getting specific attention in Japan, and that it had become a meme online on forums and in YouTube comment sections.
Based on the general buzz surrounding the game, this Atelier release is being seen as a new direction for the series. The official Ryza website had the following to say in its promotional materials for the game:
Even though everyone has them, the memories we create with our friends are special to each and every one of us. The story of “Atelier Ryza” is about a girl and her friends on the verge of adulthood, discovering what is important to them.
The character design and art style of Ryza is similar to that of the Nights of Azure games. That said, Ryza looks to be a lot brighter in terms of color palette than Nights of Azure, as those games, uniquely, took place entirely at night.
Though the world of Ryza has a bright, colorful, warm feel to it, there is also a sense of mystery and danger, too. Compare this to the many dark and gritty games of the current and previous generations — which I can only describe as having the color palette, art style, and world design of a bleak, colorless hospital room — and Ryza feels like a noticeable breath of fresh air. The art style undoubtedly won’t be for everyone (I imagine plenty of people in certain circles will call it too “girly” or “feminine”), but it looks to be some relief from today’s grimdark and post-apocalyptic games, not to mention all the gray-looking military shooters that come out on the regular.
The World and its Characters
From my preview, the world of Atelier Ryza has the look of a hobbit village from The Lord of the Rings, or something out of the Zelda series. Despite the similarities, I believe Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout will be far superior to Breath of the Wild, and hopefully that statement doesn’t cause another Jim Sterling-esque controversy. (This is obviously a joke; I have never liked the Zelda games, but respect them for their place in the industry.)
As for the main character, Ryza, she seems to have that same sense of adventure as Frodo or Link. The game’s website describes her as the following:
An ordinary girl whose unique characteristic is the fact that she is just that – ordinary. Ryza has a wild and tomboyish personality with a strong sense of justice. While she can be stubborn in her convictions, her heart is in the right place.
Through her and her friends’ adventures, Ryza learns the art of alchemy — a staple system of the larger Atelier series. In Atelier Ryza, alchemy acts as a gathering and crafting mechanic; items that the player produces during alchemy can then be used in battle and other parts of gameplay.
An Old-School Battle System
Speaking of battles, Atelier Ryza features turn-based battles, much to the dismay of those who liken them to simple quick-time events and think both should have died years ago. (Hey, it’s a JRPG — what’d you expect?) That said, Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout will also incorporate some real-time elements into its traditional turn-based action — namely, an active time battle (ATB) system, along with the ability to switch characters on the fly.
Overall, Atelier Ryza’s story looks to be a classic hero’s journey or coming of age tale, supported by an excellent soundtrack reminiscent of the gorgeous music found in Nights of Azure.
The game itself has a nostalgic look and feel to it, harking back to the games of the PlayStation 2 era. During that era, studios were limited by technology to more linear-styled games, and had to polish their games to truly stand out. With today’s technology, studios are able to create massive worlds, yet run the risk of getting complaints about their games feeling empty. Since GUST isn’t a AAA studio, and since Ryza isn’t marketing itself as having a huge, open world, the studio will really need to polish what’s here to leave a lasting impression.
I was a little disappointed that Ryza wasn’t going to be a new Nights of Azure title, but it has won me over. It reminds me a lot of the Shantae series in terms of personality, has that classic PS2-era look and feel, and seems like a breath of fresh air compared to today’s ultra-realistic walking simulators and military shooters.
Thankfully, the future looks bright for Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout. In Japan, where the game is already out, Ryza sold over 100,000 copies in its first week of release (via Gematsu), and is on track to become the best selling game in the franchise.
Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout releases in the U.S. on October 29, and will be available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch.
Enjoy my preview of Atelier Ryza? Excited for the game? Share your thoughts below.