It’s hard to believe that the Atelier Ryza series is less than four years old. As Gust’s best-selling titles in this long-running franchise, the adventures of Reisalin Stout and her friends have resonated with many people in a short time. Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End and the Secret Key is the conclusion of the Secret trilogy and manages to be the best yet. While taking a more focused approach with its narrative, it retains the series’ penchant for relaxed gathering, laid-back exploration and fast-paced combat.
After her journey to the capital in the previous game, Ryza returns to her hometown on Kurken Island for Summer vacation. Older and more skilled as an alchemist, but still very stubborn and set in her ways, her arrival is quickly followed by the emergence of the Kark Islands. Though Tao and Bos are there to assist against monsters in the initial scouting party, Ryza begins hearing a cryptic voice in her head, pushing her to investigate the Islands further.
"Though many of the mainland’s areas are reused, it’s now one giant map instead of a series of interconnected levels."
With another adventure on her hands, she sends a letter to her allies, and together with Klaudia and Lent, the group sets out to discover the mystery behind the Kark Islands. Right away, the narrative is impressive in its urgency. You’re not only thrown into battle very quickly but told in no uncertain terms that what’s happening is an emergency. It also serves as a tutorial to get players up to speed on the combat mechanics while quickly introducing the initial characters.
After this, you’re quickly introduced to Ryza’s hometown and her Secret Hideout, where the alchemy happens. You’ll fulfil a few basic requests for the townsfolk, which helps get you up to speed on the alchemy basics, and then it’s off to the mainland to investigate the Kark Islands.
Though many of the mainland’s areas are reused, it’s now one giant map instead of a series of interconnected levels. No loading times, as you seamlessly go from one location to the next, gathering materials, potentially crowding your basket and returning to the hideout to dump them.
The Kark Islands are a massive mini-region with landmarks, enemies, and secrets. You’ll encounter dolphins, who serve as mounts to traverse the underwater parts, and each small island provides different secrets and Random Quests to complete. Of course, after reaching the mysterious castle, Ryza and friends can use the Secret Key, thanks to the mysterious voice, to craft new Pristine Keys and Hollow Keys.
"But make no mistake – the gameplay loop of previous games is very much present here. Despite the story’s urgency, Atelier Ryza 3 is very much about taking things at your own pace."
And this is only really the beginning of the game, as Ryza and the group encounter Frederica, the deputy head chief of the craftsman guild in Sardonica, located in the new Cleria region. It’s another large map to explore, teeming with people to talk to, stores to visit, materials to gather (and buy) and lots of ground to offer. The sheer size and scale are pretty impressive, keeping fans busy as they explore each nook and cranny (though the rewards may not always be worth it).
But make no mistake – the gameplay loop of previous games is very much present here. Despite the story’s urgency, Atelier Ryza 3 is very much about taking things at your own pace. While it’s encouraged to progress quickly to unlock more alchemy and combat options, you can idle in places for as long as you’d like, completing Random Quests for SP and other materials, fighting monsters to level up and experimenting with the crafting. It’s relaxing in that respect, but combat will keep you on your toes due to its action-based nature.
When entering battles, your party and enemies will have an ATB-like bar to fill while waiting for their turns and gathering AP. You can guard against attacks in real-time, and when it’s your turn, execute combos and use abilities to damage enemies. As you accrue CC, the ATB bar is bypassed to use items and immediately deal damage.
However, you can also switch between party members in the back row, continuing combos and feeding into the Orders from your teammates. Deal some physical damage with Ryza, switch to Klaudia and deal magic damage, which activates Orders from Lent and Tao, and then switch to Bos to finish off enemies.
"For the most part, battles in Atelier Ryza 3 are fast-paced and fluid."
While your two other active party members are controlled by the AI, either in Support or Aggressive modes, you can directly control them in battle. It’s a good way to block damage against stronger opponents, especially bosses. With multiple foes at once, it can get disorienting when a single party member is targeted by their attacks.
You won’t necessarily see what they’re doing, resulting in some iffy blocking. It’s particularly annoying when attacked mid-combo – better indicators for when attacks are about to land would have helped. You could pause in the middle of combat for a better idea of the positioning, so there’s at least that.
Each character has a Core Crystal with a corresponding element, and by using Core Shards, you can unlock benefits like increasing the max CC and the amount at the start of a battle, boosting the power of Core Items and reducing CC cost. So if you have Bos dealing, say, Ice damage with an attack, he’ll gain more CC. With stronger Core Item effects and reduced CC costs, you could assail foes with bombs to quickly end fights against weaker enemies.
For the most part, battles in Atelier Ryza 3 are fast-paced and fluid. And just when you think things are getting easy or settling into a monotonous rhythm (which can happen due to somewhat lackluster enemy variety), keys are introduced. The Hollow Keys are used on enemies below 80 percent health to extract various effects, which can provide temporary buffs and effects to a party member in combat. They’re reliant on CC and Technical Level (which must be above two), and they can offer some interesting little boosts when needed.
"It’s a lot to manage, especially if you pick up a lot of junk materials that don’t have the requisite traits, high enough quality, or the required level to fill out the Material Loops."
Keys are generated at landmarks and can open glowing chests in that region to obtain materials. You also have Pristine Keys, which are crafted and provide even more effects.
All this feeds into the core gameplay loop of alchemy. You’ll once again gather materials and synthesize different items, filling out material loops to bestow them with different keys. Alchemy is important for creating Gathering Tools like the Hammer, Fishing Rod and Scythe for collecting various materials. It’s also used to craft and upgrade armor and weapons, synthesize items with different types of elemental damage and heal your party, and much more.
The alchemy system is fairly complex, especially as you sort through materials with different traits and qualities. Crafting materials with a specific trait and then stacking them can lead to much stronger effects, and that’s not even factoring in the Super Traits, which have separate conditions to unlock. Throw in Keys, which perform several functions like adding materials, increasing attributes, and much more, and you can tinker with item creation for a very long time.
It’s a lot to manage, especially if you pick up a lot of junk materials that don’t have the requisite traits, high enough quality, or the required level to fill out the Material Loops. Of course, if things get too complex, you can go with a quick crafting method, which automatically adds all the required ingredients to craft an item (with a choice of High-Quality or Low-Quality materials). As you earn SP, you’ll unlock new recipes in the Skill Tree, further expanding your range of alchemical options.
"Bugs were few and far between, with the biggest being an entire lake that was somehow empty but still had leaves and a boat on the surface."
The complexity of the systems can be overwhelming to pick up at first, especially when the otherwise helpful tutorials skip out on some important bits. It would have been nice to know about certain characters’ Orders for stunning enemies when they’re preparing stronger attacks (though there are other ways to break them).
In terms of presentation, Atelier Ryza 3 looks very good, with a bright and colorful palette and gorgeous animated vistas to explore. Performance is also good, though I had to tone down some settings on PC for a more consistent 60 FPS. The temporal anti-aliasing also felt a bit off, but FXAA does the job just fine. Bugs were few and far between, with the biggest being an entire lake that was somehow empty but still had leaves and a boat on the surface.
The music is easily more impressive than the visuals, with the orchestration delivering bold, rousing tunes one second and more contemplative, emotionally involving tracks with more distinct instruments. It helps evoke that feeling of being in a fairy tale without getting too whimsical.
"Far from reinventing the wheel, it expands on established systems, feeds into the sense of adventure with massive seamless maps, and delivers a compelling plot with a likeable cast."
Though the writing isn’t going to overwhelm anyone with its brilliance, there are still some genuinely fun and heart-warming moments. I was most impressed by the overall progression of the cast’s arc. If Ryza 1 evoked that feeling of a memorable Summer with your friends, then Ryza 3 is about those feelings of nostalgia as the group transitions to adulthood. It’s a throwback to the days of hanging out with your friends, making jokes, and seeing what awaits around every corner. Just make sure you get used to the field dialogue – it’s limited and repeated a lot.
If you couldn’t get into the first two games, be it the overall vibe or the alchemy, then Atelier Ryza 3 will do little to change your mind. As a send-off to a story that’s developed at its own comfortable pace, Alchemist of the End and the Secret Key is a pretty good RPG. Far from reinventing the wheel, it expands on established systems, feeds into the sense of adventure with massive seamless maps, and delivers a compelling plot with a likeable cast.
This game was reviewed on PC.
A strong conclusion to the trilogy with a more focused narrative. Large maps are fun to explore and packed with things to do. Art-style and visuals are great, and backed by impressive orchestral music. Fast-paced combat with a lot of choice, further amplified with the addition of Keys. Alchemy is fun to tinker and offers a lot of options.
Limited and repetitive field dialogue. Blocking during combat can get hectic around multiple foes. Some bugs and slight hiccups with optimization. Tutorials skip out on some important info at times. You'll pick up a lot of junk and have to backtrack frequently to the Atelier to dump it all.
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