There are franchises that are so niche that they simply fly under peoples’ radars. And that doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily bad, just not mainstream. In RPGs, The Legend of Heroes used to be that for me. A series I had previously zero experience with before playing the Trails of Cold Steel games, and it existed for nearly a decade before my discovery of it. Differently from it, for years I’ve heard about the Atelier franchise, all of those extremely good things, but it wasn’t until the third and final entry in the Ryza sub-series that I finally got to see it for myself.
Studio Gust’s Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key, even though it’s a late entry into the story, is extremely easy to get into. After a surprisingly long and in-depth recap movie that exists for people just like me who are getting into the trilogy this late in, I was ready to go. Funnily enough, on the grand scheme of Atelier Ryza, though, part 3’s main plot is more closely tied to the first entry than the second, as that one happened to be more of a side story more than anything.
The gist of Atelier Ryza is that you play as titular Ryza, an alchemist whose goal in life is simply to help people. And by doing so, she develops her skills and well, gets to meet a ton of friends along the way. So many that at first it was a tad difficult to keep track of all of them. And if they weren’t as colorful of a cast as they are, I would still have trouble now, but I eventually got to catch up on all of her relationships as Atelier Ryza 3 kicked off yet another journey in her thick diary of adventures. Yes, she keeps one, that’s not just a piece of flowery writing on my part.
The main thrust of the game is intrinsically tied to the events of the first Atelier Ryza, Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout, where Ryza and her friends helped avert the destruction of the island they call home by dealing with the creatures and powerful artifacts underground. Apparently, after her holiday during the second game, Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy, the situation changed, and her home is once again threatened by powers seemingly tied to the ones she dealt with alongside her friends before. It’s up to them to get cracking and fix everything before earthquakes tear through the region and sick it for good.
Alchemy obviously plays a huge part in the series, and Atelier Ryza 3 takes it to extreme lengths in making it an absolutely necessity in-game, as it’s a vital tool in acquiring all sorts of remedies and other consumables that your team can use and that the many quests you will complete for townsfolk and strangers all about will require you craft. But before you get cooking, you will need to find ingredients, and thankfully it’s as easy as hitting things with your staff and picking up the materials that pop out.
And this wouldn’t be an RPG without combat. It’s not at all as involved as other colorful Japanese RPGs, though. You get limited movement and cooldowns with which you get to whack all sorts of monsters and enemies with Ryza’s friends, and to be honest, it’s the part of the game that got me the least excited to get into. I did wholeheartedly enjoy everything tied to the fighting, such as the aforementioned hunt for items to be used in alchemy, but poking creeps until they die is breezy enough for it to be a pain, but that doesn’t make it any less boring.
Then again, everything else about Atelier Ryza 3 is positively stellar. It feels great to get into a game such as this that isn’t nearly as involved as the usual RPG fare, and having the opportunity to focus on activities other than killing feels extremely fresh. I felt similarly when playing Potion Permit last year, and this one takes it even further thanks to its personable cast of characters and its sublime presentation.
It’s no exaggeration to say that this is one of the brightest games I’ve ever played, and the same can be said for elements in it that are not simply tied to its visuals. The whole ambiance within Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key feels extremely easygoing for as chaotic as the events that take place can get, all things considered. It’s the sort of game you play as a break from more intense ones, or something you pop into your system in between.