It feels like the stakes are always higher with the third entry in an Atelier series. How are the characterizations? Are the mechanics getting better and not worse? Do the plot threads come together and provide sufficient answers? A bad finale can ruin the whole experience and tarnish memories of the previous installments. Fortunately, Atelier Ryza 3 exceeds expectations and is a fitting send-off for characters we’ve spent years supporting.
Ryza’s spent years figuring out what to do with her life and achieving her alchemy goals, and Atelier Ryza 3 begins with us seeing how that’s worked out for her. She’s a pillar of the Kurken Island community, relied upon for her skill and insight. Her childhood friends Bos and Tao both seem impressed with her. It’s a good thing she has come so far, because strange things are happening. A cluster of islands now known as the Kark Isles appeared out of nowhere, Ryza heard a mysterious voice and felt weird while investigating them. Earthquakes also hit again, despite her stabilizing her hometown in the original Atelier Ryza with friends. Seeing where this is all leading, she summons back her friends Klaudia and Lent, and joins with them and other allies like Patty, Kala, Dian, Federica, Empel, and Lila to understand what’s going on.
What’s especially appreciated about Atelier Ryza 3 is how it really is focused on not just Ryza herself, but her friends. This is a tale of personal growth and empowerment, of course. We’ve seen how much Ryza matured from a precocious teenager to a mature, dependable adult. But at the same time, this happened for Klaudia, Lent, and Tao. It even feels like Gust values the importance of this core quartet, as it takes time in the game’s introduction to just focus on the four of them returning to kick off a new adventure again, with Bos kindly bowing out for a moment so they can have their moment.
That said, it’s also appreciated that this attention to character details isn’t left to only the main four. We’ve seen Bos and Patty grow throughout previous games, and that continues here as well. Spoilers aside, some people do tend to take priority while others are left out. But in general, it can feel like you’re really getting to know some of them. So much so that if someone didn’t follow through the whole series, they won’t appreciate the way characters relate to each other and how much their conversations have evolved. Yes, this is my way of pointing out that Atelier Ryza 3 is a game you should 100% not touch unless you played the previous two entries. It is great, but a part of that comes from the continuing development and pay-off.
Especially since there’s so much here, and the occasional focus on core characters like Ryza, Klaudia, Lent, Tao, and even Bos or Patty, means you can center on something when dealing with so many other things. You have new party members. There are keys that can be used in synthesis, to open doors, and to deal with in battles. There’s your expanded Atelier, with bonuses you can trigger. Synthesis involves basic recipes, going through those ones you have to create extra items, adding Super Traits to creations, using keys to make them better, and getting SP from them so you can unlock more bonuses in Ryza’s skill tree. There are campaign quests, world quests, and even brief ones you may happen upon in the field that involve a task like defeating certain enemies. It gets to be so much, so being able to return to focus on certain people’s stories or some marked alchemy projects helps. Especially since the story can wander quite a bit and take a while to get into things.
While there may be some pacing issues, those don’t exist for battles. Atelier Ryza 3 builds on the systems and concepts from the previous two games. That means this time, you’ve got three characters who can actively behind attacking enemies as their action gauge fills, switch between aggressive and support modes, and pull in backline allies to take part in a combo and join the fight. Chaining together attacks for combos is a priority again, as is eventually getting monster energy for keys. The only thing that might throw people off as they head into these fights early on is that using equipped items requires Core Charge, which you gain by making smart combat decisions. The fact that keys can be used speeds it up even more by doing things like decreasing requirements. While the game can still occasionally be challenging, it really helps people who are here for crafting get back to what they enjoy most.
Synthesis does still feel quite satisfying as well. But then, it’s always been something of a highlight for the Atelier Ryza series. It again feels like a system where Ryza is learning and growing as an alchemist as you complete creations. This is because of following what is basically a “map” by taking all of the items you’ve found while exploring the world and plugging them in as needed. The more you find, the more you’re able to do, and it really feels like an accomplishment when you increased your quality limits in the skill tree or finally found the item you needed to use a familiar recipe to make something completely new. The keys amplify that, given you can get more items or traits that make good or useful items even more invaluable.
As for exploration, it’s great to go around the world again! Old and new locations appear, which is appreciated. It’s also fun if you get a “flashback” to a moment in a past entry upon getting there for the first time. I loved how underwater exploration works, and occasionally happening upon dolphins to make exploring watery spaces is such fun. People gain access to gathering tools swiftly, keeping you from feeling locked out of areas. Not to mention fast travel basically being available as soon as you get in and reach a landmark is a godsend. The world does feel more connected as well, with no loading really breaking the immersion between areas and battles as in past games.
It isn’t completely perfect, however. However, many of the issues may bother some more than others, depending on how important different elements of the Atelier series are to folks. The skill tree remaining a mystery until you unlock nodes frustrated me to no end, as you can’t see what lies ahead in a direction until you purchase an upgrade. Some spaces can seem a bit too expansive, with a lot of empty areas in some spots and around towns. Though the thing that bothered me most is the tendency for the auto-create function to essentially waste my materials when I just wanted to quickly craft a few more bombs or healing items. It’d end up being faster to manually do so, rather than let it do so for me, as then I’d need to stop the automated process to adjust quantities.
Also, the Switch version of Atelier Ryza 3 feels like it is making some sacrifices. The characters look amazing. Cinematics are pretty great as well. However when Ryza heads out into the field, you can see some of the flaws. There were times in particular crowded areas with a number of enemies and elements that I noticed frame rates drop. While enemies will always look good and some elements and areas are find, I occasionally came across a gathering point or environmental access where the textures quality dipped and it seemed out of place. Not to mention that the further away something would be, the worse it would look. See a dragon from far enough away and rather than smooth, flying animations, you see jerky movements.
Atelier Ryza 3 is a game that makes good on its promises. We’ve spent years getting to know Ryza and her friends and learning more about their world. Now there’s this pay-off that really feels fulfilling. Yes, some minor elements might keep it from being completely perfect. Considering how much it accomplishes, it’s still an admirable achievement.
Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key is available for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC.