Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End and the Secret Key Review – Review

A fine sendoff to an adventurous, alchemy-inclined lass.

Typically, the Atelier series comes in trilogies, though there have been recent exceptions. What’s notable about the “Secret” subseries is that the main protagonist is the same character for every entry. With one of my favorite alchemy systems and perhaps my favorite Atelier alchemist, it’s great to be back for her final act.

Reisalin “Ryza” Stout has been back on her home island for some time now, helping out her local community as an alchemist. Suddenly, mysterious isles appear nearby rife with monsters, so Ryza and her friends set out to investigate these isles. Simultaneously, Ryza is called on by a mysterious voice to create a key and try to find the “code of the universe.” Personally, I believe the second entry in the Ryza series could be played relatively independently of the first one, but this final act of summer adventures certainly requires prior knowledge of the earlier titles to fully enjoy the story. There is a prologue movie summarizing the first two games, but it only covers the basic gist of the plot and doesn’t get into the important personal connections.

The aforementioned “key” is both an important story element and a new gameplay one, with Ryza being able to create keys for various uses. Keys are powered up either at landmarks or from absorbing an enemy’s power, and then are used either as equipment, to get bonuses in both battle and synthesis, or open special walls and caches. I found using keys collected from bosses was best for equipment, and I mostly saved the others to occasionally acquire an extra use while crafting or to give me a temporary buff in a boss fight. Ryza 3 keeps the game’s active battle system, along with the use of core crystals so that items you create and use in battle don’t disappear. I found that I unlocked the special Fatal Drive attack a lot sooner, but you do start the game at level 20.

When starting the game I was itching to be set loose, and it actually happened a fair bit sooner than I expected, letting me freely travel around and synthesize what recipes I already knew. Alchemist of the End and The Secret Key was pretty hands-off and let me recreate all the travel tools, such as the air drop and spirit whistle pretty early on, giving us the return of mounts and underwater exploration. The map sizes in this game are significantly bigger than prior Atelier games, with the entire map from the first Ryza being one entirely open location with no loading (bar the boat travel needed to get between isles). There are also a few other regions of comparable size that get rather winding and be a bit hard to navigate at first.

The Atelier games come in subseries and the detailed mechanics such as how synthesis works tend to stay within them. But there are quite a few things from Sophie 2–which launched in between the second and third Ryza games–that I wish were implemented in Ryza 3. In Sophie 2, when a battle started it would take place in world, and the nearby enemies would join in; this system was not kept in Ryza 3, meaning I will walk into a single enemy that may generate extra buddies, and then upon finishing that fight run into another enemy that was right there, starting a whole other battle. Out of the many times I got stuck, some were more annoying than others, such as finding out an ingot type that was unlocked through recipe morphing in the previous games was now hidden in the skill tree instead. While I knew it was unlikely the dungeon system from the last Ryza game would appear again, I lament the lack of anything to replace it. Everything feels a bit stretched out in comparison to the connectedness of Ryza 2, which is showcased by having multiple ateliers and the merchant Romy’s development and stock being different per region, despite all relying on you. Personally, I enjoyed Ryza 2 a bit more than this one, but for anyone that’s made it that far into her adventures, the third game is still certainly worth playing.

One of the other changes is the replacement of a quest board with random quests. In some aspects, I enjoyed it; for instance, when you’re out and about certain enemies spawn a quest to fight them, it can be taken care of then and there. But for the most part I found it more annoying as I’d have to report a quest back to whichever particular NPC requested it. There are some basic quality of life additions, fortunately, such as when a story quest gives me a new recipe, the required ingredients will also be given out in the quest description and markers.

As the final chapter in Ryza’s adventure, there are a lot more cutscenes than usual, which didn’t feel too bad until I got to a part of the story that really felt like filler. While it’s important to see character development, especially for the new faces, there’s already tons of these scenes littered throughout the world that having even more in the story felt like a drag.

I played the previous Ryza games on PlayStation systems, so the Switch version represents a bit of a visual downgrade in comparison, and seeing some of the beautifully designed areas felt a bit sadder. However, this comparative lessening of visual quality seems to have been worth it as the loading times were remarkably short for a Switch game with such large areas–most loads take around five seconds, maybe longer if a cutscene were being loaded. I also found performance mostly stable until I got to one particular region, which didn’t seem any more busy but, at least while mounted, resulted in such severe stuttering that I’d be stuck in place for a couple seconds. Thankfully, though, I didn’t experience any crashes.

There have been updates in response to some graphical complaints and removal of some motion blurring, but so far nothing has been said about fixing the text. The text size in this game is abysmally small, and outside of the usual style of cutscenes, there’s no opaque background behind this white text either. The smallest text is found in the exploration dialogue, which might seem unimportant but there’s unique story-related comments that appear there as well. With such a heavy focus on story and crafting it seems criminal to make the text nigh illegible at times, and switching to handheld mode makes no difference either. Like most recent games in the series there’s no English voice acting to alleviate the issue either, and unfortunately, the small text greatly impacted my enjoyment of the game. There were also a few moments where what was said seemed to make little if any sense, possibly from directly translating a phrase with no equivalent.

In Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End and The Secret Key, there’s plenty of systems to min/max to your heart’s content, and fans will enjoy getting to hang out with the cast one final time. While I wish things were perhaps a bit more compact, most will enjoy the expansive world and plethora of experiences to have, even if the text is more than a little hard to read. This finale to Ryza’s summer adventures is nonetheless a worthwhile journey for fans to embark on.

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