One Last Summer Adventure

HIGH There’s so much to do this time!

LOW The titular key.

WTF Okay, so I guess they’re just never going to get together?

The crafting is impeccable, the combat is charmingly chaotic and versatile, and the new, massively enlarged map is gorgeously rendered. So why is this the weakest of the Atelier Ryza Trilogy?

Well, it’s certainly not the core gameplay – that’s as well-designed as ever.

In this third-person action-RPG, the player runs around lush 3D worlds, completing quests and gathering materials either by using tools on hotspots or battling monsters. Gradually they unlock new recipes, eventually learning to craft the epic-level armor and weapons they’ll need to carry them through late-game battles. The progression is mostly smooth, and the main questline introduces new areas at the perfect pace.

It’s not the story either, which once against deals with issues of urban versus rural living, and the dangers of exploiting natural resources haphazardly. This time around, the adventure kicks off when a strange archipelago appears near Ryza’s home of Kurken Island, leading her to reassemble her team and recruit a few new faces in order to get to the bottom of the mystery.

The expanded world is a delight to behold, and in a huge departure for the Atelier series, it’s treated almost like an open world. Where other Atelier entries featured a series of interlinked maps that had entrances and exits that triggered loading screens, Ryza 3 offers huge landscapes to explore.

After leaving Kurken island, the player is free to take Ryza wherever they like, moving seamlessly from a grassland through a large city and then down into a series of canyons and the mines beyond. Or perhaps they’d rather start at the gang’s famous secret hideout and move through crystal spotted caves until they reach the beach and the islands offshore?

Only moving between overall ‘areas’ necessitates a trip to the loading screen, so the player is generally free to explore wherever they want, their curiosity hemmed in only by obstacles that are gradually removed as the plot progresses. There’s so much to do at the start that the developers wisely throttle the pace of new information until things become familiar — I didn’t even get the tutorial about sidequests until I was ten hours in!

Combat has been a bright spot in the Ryza series, as it’s eschewed standard turn-based structure to instead allow all three of the active team members to attack simultaneously, with the player free to take control of any of them at any time, or swap in reserve characters as needed. It’s fast and frantic, and it works great – regular hits on enemies gain skill points for abilities, and when abilities land the player earns core points that can be spent on items that Ryza builds in her workshop.

Gone are the days of items having a strict number of ‘uses’ that have to be recharged at a cost. Ryza 3 wants players to experience the joy of constantly employing the bombs and cures they build without having to worry about resource drain. There’s even a new special attack system – each time a mid-battle request from a teammate is completed, the player gets a point that lasts for the rest of the fight – gather enough of them and powerful bonus abilities can be triggered. It might sound complex here, but the flow is impeccable, and Ryza 3‘s combat is as active as it can be without moving to fully real-time battles the way Final Fantasy did.

So if the story, world, crafting, and combat are just as stellar as I’d expect, why is this the weakest game of the trilogy? It’s simple – the developers broke their decade-plus trend of simplifying each new title, and instead dropped a giant complication in the middle of the adventure, along with a bunch of tedium. What’s to blame? Ryza 3‘s titular key.

On a narrative level, the secret key makes perfect sense and allows the story to go to interesting places. The problem is that the key has non-narrative uses. Specifically, it’s a key that makes other keys.

Every fast-travel location (as well as each enemy!) has a ‘key potential’. The player crafts blank keys at their atelier, and then uses the Secret key to put that potential into a key with specific properties. These include abilities in combat, opening secret areas and, most crucially, making more powerful items via crafting.

The problem is that instead of being permanently unlocked abilities and bonuses like the crafting skills in the Mysterious/Sophie arc, these keys disappear when used, forcing the player to constantly scour the map for certain enemies in order to get a chance to make the best items and resources. While the rest of Ryza 3 is filled with a constant stream of new reveals and discovery, the keys lead to grinding and repetition, bringing back the tedium that the series had so expertly excised over the years, and it never feels like the work is worth it.

Despite this flaw, Ryza 3 is a satisfying conclusion to the Ryza arc. Building an entire series around a single character was a bit of a risky choice, but I’m happy to say that Ryza, as a character, held up as someone who’s worth checking back in on over and over again. In ten years will we be looking back at Ryza as an iconic-level character the way we do Sophie and Platcha? Probably not – but that’s an impossibly high bar. Ryza had an incredible adventure to go on, and now that it’s done, I’m glad we got the chance to go on it with her.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Gust and published by Tecmo/Koei. It is currently available on PS4/5. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS5. Approximately 80 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Fantasy Violence, Suggestive Themes, and Use of Alcohol. As in the first game, drinking comes up in a largely negative context, and the suggestive themes are more playful than lascivious. I’d go so far as to call this basically kid-safe!

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Players: I played most of the game without audio and encountered no difficulties. All dialogue in the game is in Japanese, and there are English subtitles. Text cannot be resized. It’s fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable. Players control movement with the left thumbstick and cameras with the right. World and menu interaction can be controlled with face and shoulder buttons.

Jason Ricardo
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