The latest game in the long-running Atelier series, Atelier Ryza, is an interesting break from series norms, both thematically and gameplay-wise, but stays true to the series’ main theme of the wonderment of alchemy. We follow the story of Reizalin Stout, a young daughter of farmers, who just wants to set out on adventures with her childhood friends, and get away from the banality that comes with a quiet island life. When they take a short trip to the mainland for the first time, they get into trouble and are saved by the alchemists Empel and Lila, who opens their eyes to the world of alchemy, and changes it forever.
Early on, we get to see the Ryza and her friends Lent and Tao’s troubles first-hand – Ryza is hounded by her overprotective parents who only want her to continue in their farming life, while Tao is bullied relentlessly, and Lent has issues with his alcoholic father. With nothing to aim for in life, Ryza spends her days coming up with harebrained schemes and dragging her friends into them, while Lent and Tao have dreams that they aren’t able to fulfill on their own. The game really hammers in the sort of aimless days that pass on the island for them, until that fateful day they meet Empel and Lila on their little adventure.
Seeing the potential of what alchemy can do, Ryza asks Empel to teach her the basics, while Lent and Tao get their shot at their dreams thanks to Lila’s skill in fighting, and Empel’s knowledge of the ancient language. As Ryza learns the basics of alchemy, we get to see how she begins to gain more confidence in forging her own path in life, starting with helping out her family and townsfolk by creating needed items. Ryza’s quest to learn alchemy is a step-by-step process that can drag a bit for players, but also lets players truly understand just why she’s so enamored with the craft.
This is exemplified by the gameplay system of alchemy, which takes a much different form compared to previous games. The new skill tree-esque format is very intuitive, having players fill in slots with materials needed to make the item, as well as modify the items with extra properties. There isn’t much you can do besides make the basic item at first, but as the number of slots you can fill in at once opens up, players get to experience the thrill of customizing the basics of the recipes Empel teaches you alongside Ryza herself.
This also applies to the Recipe Morph mechanic, which lets players unlock new recipes via following certain node paths while creating items. The act of creating new unknown items by modifying existing ones is a natural extension of adding properties to items, and really feels like you’re experimenting and discovering these new applications for alchemy alongside Ryza, rather than randomly throwing materials into the pot at hoping for the best.
It’s true that the start of Atelier Ryza can be slow, and that might make some players impatient for the next big plot event to happen. But it also lets us take in just how world-changing the craft is to Ryza, and emphasize with the wonderment that is to be found in the craft.
Atelier Ryza is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC.