Growing up and living your whole life on an Island with many restrictions and taboos can be grieving. It might entice you to want to see what the outside world has to offer. It may even open up new possibilities and shape who you truly are. This is the case when it comes to Ryza and her friends in Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout.
The game revolves around a girl known as Ryza and her friends. Ambitious as they are, they aim to explore the outer lands while setting their own goals to one day achieve. When things go south on one of their little adventures, two outsiders came to their aid and that’s where the real story begins and the mysteries start to unravel.
Known as the village’s troublemakers to some, Ryza gains a deep interest in alchemy, Lent chases after improving his fighting skills and Tao wants to learn how to read the books in his family’s household. With a lot of cutscenes and dialogue to read, you will learn more about the characters, the island they live on and the deep dark secrets that were meant to be forgotten.
With an interest in improving her newfound talent for alchemy and the thirst for adventure, Ryza sets out with her friends to gather materials, fight monsters and explore the world around her. The game guides players with a tutorial for every new step taken. First time battling? The game will explain to you how it’s done. Made a hammer? Don’t worry, it has you covered.
With the good, also comes the bad. The tutorial does a good job of covering certain aspects of the game, however, there are some important things you will have to figure out on your own.
Maps and Exploration
Playing as the protagonist Ryza, you will find yourself traveling through areas on the island, exploring new locations and gathering materials to use for alchemy. There is without a doubt a lot of locations to visit and you will also find yourself revisiting some to do certain tasks. A marker is present on the map which indicates where you should go next to continue with the main story, so you’ll never be lost, aimlessly running all over the place to continue. Story notes can also be pulled up explaining what needs to be done next. This is extremely convenient for those who put the game down for a couple of days, forgot where they were at and picked it back up to continue.
The game truly shines when it comes to sightseeing. Everything is beautiful from the buildings to the fountains to the grassy fields for a Nintendo Switch game. The game designer outdid themselves with the graphics. This makes exploring new places a real treat.
Collecting materials throughout the lands is relaxing mixed in with the soothing music you will listen to. It’s enough to forget how long you’ve been playing at times and it may even go as far as forgetting about dusting the rust off your blade for a fight. Merchants offer materials, weapons, and armor for sale. Their stock is updated with higher quality items as you progress through the game, making it confident for players who missed an item and are discouraged from trying to find it in the world.
Without the ability to fast-travel, walking or running from area to area would have been a tedious task in the long run. Thankfully, Atelier Ryza allows you to jump from point to point on the map through guideposts or the dedicated map. This is limited to the special landmarks you have explored. The dedicated map is likely unlocked later in the game.
Things would have been even more hectic since saving your game’s progress is only available in your room/hideout, but fortunately, fast-traveling makes it easier to jump straight to the location. If your basket is ever full from gathering materials, you can quickly jump to your room/hideout to unload, save and head back out to gather even more materials without the headaches.
Monsters Are Visible On The Map
Monsters will lurk in some of the areas you travel to. Some will chase after you while others will mind their own business until you choose to break the peace. The monsters that chase after you will be more common later in the game. Still, they aren’t fast enough to catch up to you so it’s always possible to outrun them or avoid them (if you’re careful). The drawbacks of avoiding fights often are missing item drops (especially rare drops) and leveling up your characters, therefore it’s unwise to go through a majority of the game dodging monsters left and right.
The variety of monsters isn’t the best although it isn’t downright terrible. Each monster race has the same physical appearance but different color schemes. The color schemes differentiate the strong from the weak.
The Battle System in Atelier Ryza
The battles in Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout are turn-based but with a twist. It’s mixed with real-time elements that make it a necessity to stay focused on the combat. Taking a break to run for a bottle of water can mean the death of a character in your party.
A timer is set up on the bottom-left side of the screen showing you which character can execute their next action. You can use a normal attack, a skill, an item or change the position of your character. Swapping between party members before their turn lets you control them, otherwise, they will act on their own depending on whether you set aggressive or negative mode.
- Negative mode (default): party members use normal attacks.
- Aggressive mode: party members will consume AP to use skills.
Your party is given Action Points (AP) which allows your characters to use their special skills. A normal attack, which is obviously weaker than a skill, increases your AP instead of consuming it. Resetting your AP during battle raises your Tactical Level. A higher tactical level means your AP gauge will have a higher maximum cap, your characters will perform combo normal attacks and other benefits. Items consume CC which can be recovered from sacrificing an item or returning to your hideout. Besides the skills your characters will have access to, you will learn about even more powerful skills (eg. Order Skills) and the unique ways to use them as the game progresses.
Everything moves at a fast pace and you will be putting yourself at a disadvantage if you take time to consider your next move. Not paying close attention to everything displayed on the screen may also put you at a pause at times. Although the combat can be fun when you’re winning and showing off your fancy moves, it can feel frustrating when you’re not. For example, if your characters are suffering from a negative status effect that delays your next turn or you’re stunned and unable to select your next action. Choosing the right gear might help in these situations.
The game starts with three difficulty modes: easy, normal and hard.
The easy mode is just as the name suggests. You will be capable of defeating a powerful enemy without them lifting a finger or have them badly hurt your characters. It’s perfect if you just want to breeze through fights and enjoy the story. Normal difficulty isn’t that tough, however, some boss fights can make your life harder. As an example, the endgame boss will not flinch unless your weapons and gear are in tip-top shape. Hard is for the hardcore players who want a serious challenge. It might even require a lot of grinding for the perfect weapons/gear and highest levels.
Losing a battle sends you straight back to your room or hideout. You will also lose some items you collected in your basket, including rare drops from a boss fight, therefore once again the fast-traveling option is like a saint for these situations.
There are two types of quests in the game: party quests and side quests.
Side quests will be available at a certain point in the game for players to tackle. They are small optional errands you will be tasked with. Completing a quest rewards the player with something useful that may help them on their adventure. They are also a good distraction from the main story which adds to the hours invested in the game.
Most of the quests aren’t difficult to complete. You may even possess the requested item before learning about the quest details, allowing you to complete it immediately to get the reward. Some can be troublesome to go out and get if you are not sure where to start looking. An item menu is available to inform you about the locations of materials, however, it does not contain them all.
Party quests, on the other hand, are goals set by party members to complete. Completing them will unlock passive skills for the respective character. It’s easy to miss unlocking the passive skills due to how they’re hidden away in the quest menu and you must manually select the quest to complete if the requirements have been met.
Besides adventuring, the game focuses a lot on alchemy. Players will find themselves synthesizing different materials they have gathered to create totally new items. There is a learning curve to it but after absorbing the information and gaining some experience, it may turn you into a completionist. From unlocking all of the new recipes to making the best weapons, armor, and accessories.
Other activities such as fishing and gardening also exist in this game, however, they are lacking. The process for these activities is simple as they could get. Throw a fishing rod line in the fishing spot and you’re guaranteed to catch a fish.
The Secret Hideout
The diary table in the Secret Hideout has several great ideas that would have added a little cherry on top to the entire game, but sadly that’s not the case this time. Costumes are only available in the more expensive Deluxe Edition of the game. Even so, they aren’t all that different. Mostly just recolors. The limited remaining costumes are given out in the form of free updates. Using alchemy to create free wearable clothing (costumes from the changing room, not equip screen) would have been a welcoming addition and would have at least given the changing room a purpose.
Even though it’s poorly hinted, hideout remodeling can be achieved with alchemy using the base materials used for the hideout. Unlocking the recipes will be a challenging task and you may have to wait until late in the game to begin decorating.
Searching Through Materials
Gathering a ton of materials for synthesis is a crucial part of the game. This means searching through items is important as well. The game does this decently well, however, some improvements could have been made to make life easier.
Sort and Filter options are available while going through the synthesis process. Item sorting is possible by date, guide, quality, quantity, and element. Filtering options are by item, category, effect, trait, element, element value, and favorites. Combined with the fact that recipes use specific materials, you will likely never encounter any issue here.
This is the troublesome area. With no categories to separate the items and the limited sorting options at your disposal, it makes it annoying to find the items you are willing to let go out of the hundreds you may have collected.
The game is filled with cutscenes and there is voice acting, however, there is a catch. The voice acting is in Japanese with English subtitles to accompany it. Almost all of the cutscenes with Japanese voice acting and English subtitles will require the press of the controller’s A button to continue the dialogue, making it impossible to miss a word. Although that’s a good thing, it can be annoying repeatedly pressing the A button but you get used to it the more you play where it becomes unnoticeable.
Finishing the game lets you choose between starting over with everything you have collected or continuing. Choosing to continue will allow you to continue where you left off in the game with more objectives to complete. Two new difficulties will be unlocked (Very Hard and Charismatic) and Extras will be added to the title screen.
The Extras you will gain access to are:
- An art gallery
- Concert hall
These Extras do not add anything to the game itself, however, it’s a little additional content to check over such as the soundtrack, character models, artwork, start/end movies, and some voice notes from the voice actors. It’s a nice little gift some people will highly appreciate.
With a lot of beautiful places to explore and alchemy recipes to attempt, Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout will keep you occupied for 30-45 hours in your first playthrough. The combat takes a little getting used to at first. The fast turn-based real-time action will demand all of your attention and keep your interest in the battle. If the game gets too difficult, the difficulty can be adjusted at any time. There’s no need to fire up a new file to start over on a lower difficulty.
With that said, the game forces you to discover some things on your own when the guidance system should have helped. Selling select items to merchants in bulk can be a pain and the lack of costumes is disappointing. The paid costumes from the Deluxe Edition aren’t anything special either.
Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout gets a 9/10.