Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End and the Secret Key Review
When Gust first revealed Atelier Ryza, I doubt they were expecting the success that it would have. Most people, myself included I have to admit, were probably more interested in the character design of the titular Ryza rather than the game itself. However, what ended up truly capturing my attention was just how excellent the game was as a whole. It led me to picking up Atelier Ryza 2 as well, which marked the first time in the series that a protagonist also starred in a sequel. Now, it is time to end Ryza's trilogy with the third game, Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End and the Secret Key. How well can Gust cap off their surprising success?
A year after the events of the second game, it is summer yet again as strange happenings begin to occur on sleepy Kurken Island. A new landmass called the Kark Isles has suddenly appeared near Kurken Island and is disrupting the island with occasional earthquakes. Around the same time as it appeared, Ryza has been hearing a voice in her head that is beckoning her to discover the ultimate truth behind alchemy in this world. After receiving a vision of a recipe in her head, she synthesizes a key that looks like it will be instrumental in her adventure going forward.
One thing I wasn't expecting going into Atelier Ryza 3 was its sheer size. After stepping into the Kark Isles, the game opens up and allows you to explore. Almost the entirety of the first Atelier Ryza game is available for exploration in this game and, unlike the first game, there are no loading screens between areas. In fact, the only loading screens that exist are when you fast-travel or enter buildings. Other than that, the entire seamless world is your oyster. I was frankly blown away from being given free rein to explore as I wished. However, that isn't the only region in the game as Ryza 3 has four different regions to explore, all of which are "open zone". These zones are whole worlds unto themselves which you can explore at your leisure.
Once I saw the second and third regions open up, I knew I was in trouble. Open-ended games like this spell danger for me as someone who likes to fill in every square inch on any map I get. Before I knew it, I was playing Ryza 3 like it was Breath of the Wild or Assassin's Creed; I had to reach every single "landmark" so I could uncover the part of the map that was hidden. Opening a new region meant a whole swath of new materials to collect, which meant performing more alchemy, which meant better items, etc. The gameplay loop was addicting and kept me going for the length of the adventure.
Despite being much larger in scope and more open-ended than the previous games in the series, Atelier Ryza 3 also has a much greater emphasis on story. It also tells a much more compelling tale than its prequels did, with a lot more attention placed on its characters and the mystery behind the mysterious Kark Isles. "Character quests" are also sprinkled throughout the world, allowing players more time to spend with this wholesome cast of characters that we have come to know and love over the course of this trilogy. Adding new party members unlocks more character quests throughout the world, so there was always a fun new moment to experience.
However, these great character moments and story emphasis came at a cost. Some of the localized lines are strangely translated, and sometimes even grammatical errors pop up. It feels like some of the lines were run through Google Translate and entered in with light editing or even as-is. Some lines sounded too robotic or unnatural, like an AI was the one who translated the game using basic English. In addition to all of this, the text uses an extremely small font. Trying to read some of the lines felt like I was taking an eye exam. If Koei Tecmo is only going to use Japanese dubs for the Atelier games going forward, at least make the text easy to read.
Atelier Ryza 3 retains the action turn-based combat system of the previous two games, along with the visual changes to combat featured in Atelier Ryza 2. Atelier Ryza 3 also keeps Atelier Ryza 2's focus on items, which should please longtime fans who may have been turned off by the first game's lack of attention to the series' signature battle feature. Ensuring you have good items prepped before you head out into the field is essential in Ryza 3. Going out unprepared is sure to earn you multiple return trips back to the atelier since enemies don't mess around in this game.
Ryza 3 has a nice and consistent difficulty level as long as you stick to the expected story paths. However, the game does expect you to have good items to help you out in fights. Fighting without items will elongate battles and lead to a lot of damage taken even from basic enemies. Should you decide to wander off the story path into other areas, you do so at your own risk. Like other open-world RPGs, there are enemies that are definitely above your level that can wipe the floor with your party if you wander in too early.
Once you have a grasp of the battle system, it is incredibly fun to play. Landing basic attacks will grant you AP, AP will give you access to hard-hitting skills, which will lead to an increase in your "Core Charges". Core Charges are used for items, and each item has an associated Core Charge. The cycle of building up these mechanics each fight is the key to successful battles in Ryza 3, and it is always immensely satisfying, even after tens of hours put into the game. Ryza 3 also has "secret keys" as a new addition to battles. These keys can be gained from exploring landmarks or taking them from enemies. When used, they can provide specific buffs to your party for a duration, allowing for increased strategy on when to efficiently use items and keys together.
I played Ryza 3 on Switch, just as I have the rest of the trilogy. From what I can tell, Ryza 3 is the best-optimized port of the Atelier Ryza trilogy with faster loading screens even despite its "open-zones". I can load into the game in about a minute, as opposed to Ryza 1 and Ryza 2 which both took a minute just to get to the title screen. When it comes to pure performance, the Switch still is probably not the best option for Ryza 3, with some pop-in enemies on the overworld, lag spikes during frenetic combat, and really odd lighting in certain areas. An update has helped out with the graphics since release, but if you have a good PC or a PS5, those are the best options.
While some may prefer the more compact and focused elements of Ryza 1 and Ryza 2's gameplay, I preferred the open-zone exploration of this game more. Bringing back most of the party members from previous games in addition to a couple of new ones - Bos finally joins the party - means this truly is an adventure filled with nostalgia from the past over the course of these few years we've experienced with this cast.
Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End and the Secret Key is a satisfying end to the "Secret" trilogy. Gust truly went all-out for Ryza's final adventure and I think it was well worth the effort. The open-zone gameplay and story elements truly felt like Gust reaching a new level on what they could do with their games. It's hard to know if Gust can ever replicate or surpass the Ryza trilogy in terms of success, but the lessons learned with this trilogy could help them nail down a course to success for the Atelier franchise. Until such a time happens, I congratulate Gust on their success with all three of these games and I'm looking forward to seeing what they come up with next.