In 2019, Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout started a strong new chapter in the decades-running alchemy-themed Atelier JRPG series. A new creative team brought a fresh approach to the series, with Atelier Ryza introducing a charming new protagonist, a renewed narrative focus, and one of the most inventive RPG battle systems I’ve ever experienced. Atelier Ryza broke ground for the series in a lot of ways, and the changes paid off – it outsold every other entry in the series.
Typically, a new year brings us a new Atelier title with a completely different protagonist and setting that are only loosely tied to the events of the previous game. For the first time in series history, though, we’ve got a returning protagonist and a direct sequel in the form of this year’s Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy.
A lot of what made the first Atelier Ryza so memorable was the all-too-relatable story of a group of young friends each trying to find themselves and discover their passions in life. Atelier Ryza 2 takes place three years after Ryza and her friends have wrapped up their soul-searching adventure, but this time the driving force behind Ryzas journey is just as relatable: stagnation. While most of her pals ended up leaving their small island home to pursue bigger and better things, Ryza stayed behind to continue training in alchemy. After years of the same small-town routine, though, she feels stuck. With no clear path forward, an opportunity presents itself as a local resident asks Ryza to investigate a strange gemstone that’s been in his family for generations.
So Ryza sets out to the massive royal capital Ashra-am Baird to reunite with her friends and begin searching for answers to this gemstone mystery, while also grappling with how different life is in the big city. The Atelier series has often explored the idea of leaving familiar surroundings for new and incredibly unfamiliar ones, but Atelier Ryza 2 once again manages to mingle its anime fantasy story with all too realistic parallels to everyday life that make it so much more engaging. Ryza and her friends learn that money makes moves in the big city, and while a change of scenery can provide freedom and new experiences, it’s also a test of who you are as a person and how you tackle being responsible for yourself for the first time ever.
Of course, mixed in with these realistic themes are the typical mystical mysteries and alchemic adventures the series is known for. Ryza and her friend Tao discover a handful of ancient ruins in the surrounding areas, with plenty of secrets to uncover within them. Hunting down these ancient mysteries is actually incorporated into the overworld exploration with a refreshing new Compass of Recollection tool. As you explore ruins, fighting enemies and gathering alchemy materials, you can also discover things like Memory Vestiges and Ruin Fragments that, when properly pieced together in your journal, will divulge information on what went down in each of these abandoned areas.
Hunting for memories adds a fresh new layer to environment exploration, but there are even more layers thanks to new environment exploration tools you can craft. Ropes that let you swing across gaps, underwater breathing devices, and even rideable creatures that let you dig for new types of materials all help Atelier Ryza 2 feel like a major step up from its predecessors. There was a taste of this in the previous game, when harvesting tools like axes and sickles allowed you to reap new types of materials from familiar harvesting spots, but hunting for ancient memories adds an archaeological spin to exploration that is so unlike anything else in the series. The new environment exploration tools help make every environment feel even more natural and fully realised.
You aren’t just grabbing flowers and reading ghost diaries when you’re out and about, you’ll also be encountering plenty of enemies, and when you do, you’re in for one of the most exciting forms of RPG combat I’ve ever experienced. Atelier Ryza introduced a fast and frenetic combat system that kept you on your toes at all times and things haven’t changed much in the sequel.
Every character and creature in a battle acts as soon as their turn comes up in the progress bar, and as time rolls on or your team perform attacks, you accumulate AP that you can spend to dish out special attacks. You can swap between characters at will and, if you time things and save AP wisely, chain together lengthy onslaughts of attacks and abilities that leave your enemy absolutely flattened. It’s not a significant change over the last game, but there are some slight improvements to how equipped items work, as well as a new system that lets you chain together special attacks if you have enough AP.
Alchemy in Atelier Ryza 2 also works similar to how it did in the previous game. Crafting a new item sees you plugging materials into a grid of connected spheres, with each sphere feeding into a certain property of the item and, if you explore far enough into the grid, unlocking new kinds of item recipes for you. There’s a new skill point system that lets you spend points earned from alchemizing to unlock familiar recipes from the last game, but the recipe tree exploration will be how you unlock many new items in the end-game. For players who only engage with the alchemy moderately, it’s a fluid and interesting experience, but the minor qualms and clunkiness that affected advanced alchemy from the first game persist in the sequel.
While combat and alchemy are pretty familiar and recognizable, it’s worth mentioning the impressively updated visuals of Atelier Ryza 2. A lot of characters and environments, especially protagonist Ryza, sport sharper textures and softer shadows that are an impressive jump forward, even on PS4. Improved lighting effects, rippling surface water, and more environmental details add an astounding amount of depth to the experience that really stands out when you compare it to how the previous game looked. Of the many visual upgrades, the constant use of depth-of-field ends up being the only misfire – at times it adds some beauty to the scene, but it often ends up obscuring your surroundings a bit too much.