Atelier Ryza 3 Hands-on Preview – Exciting but not newbie-friendly

Posted on February 24, 2023

Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key is the 24th (!!) game in the Atelier series of cozy RPGS about foraging, crafting, and exploring. Ryza is the first character in the series to be the protagonist of two games, and presumably due to her continuing popularity, she’s back for her third. There’s a recap video explaining what happened in the previous two games – which is handy for folks like me who didn’t finish Ryza 1, and never got around to Ryza 2 – but there are several points where the game doesn’t explain as much as it should to new players. Which is a shame, because Ryza 3 introduces new mechanics that take the series in promising new directions. We got to play the first chapter of Atelier Ryza 3 ahead of it’s launch next month.

While Ryza’s previous adventure saw her travelling to distant lands, she’s back home on Kurken Island now. She’s older, wiser, and more confident in her skills as an alchemist, but still sticks her foot in her mouth on a regular basis. While the first chapter will have you revisiting many locations from the first game to catch up with old friends, Atelier Ryza 3 cuts to the action far sooner than most Atelier games do. A brand new set of islands – called Kark Isles – suddenly appears next to Kurken, bringing strange new creatures with them. Plus, Ryza starts hearing mysterious voices who give her an alchemy recipe to build strange keys (more on them in a bit). But all is well, because Ryza’s best friends Tao, Lent, and Klaudia show up to explore Kark Isles together. 

Once again, the main gameplay loop involves you running around the world and picking up ingredients, or gathering them from enemies. Once your bag is full, you can fast travel back to your Atelier to deposit your spoils, and synthesize new items and equipment out of them. Synthesis works largely how it did in the previous Ryzas, with each recipe taking the form of a chart formed of Material Loops. You pump items into each Loop to unlock connected Loops, each signifying a different trait that the final product will have. As always, you can have the AI make items for you if you’re in a hurry. Successful alchemy earns you SP, which you can spend on a separate skill tree to learn new recipes and abilities.

Combat is also mostly the same as the previous two games, iterating on Ryza 2’s formula. Each battle is semi-turn based, with a time gauge indicating when you can act. When you can, you can perform regular attacks to build up AP, which you can then spend on special abilities, which in turn raise the Tactics Gauge, which increases your max AP in battle. While you’re waiting for your turn, you’re free to block against enemy attacks, perfect timing for maximum defence, but I found this inconsistent, since the camera locks onto your currently targeted enemy and everyone else potentially attacks from offscreen. You can now tag in any reserve character on your turn, which is handy when someone’s low on health, but it can be a hassle when AI characters tag themselves out constantly with no explanation. What’s the deal, Klaudia?

I went in expecting to not understand nuances between characters and specifics of the narrative, since I’m coming in relatively fresh to the third game, but I was disappointed that the same attitude extended to mechanics. The game throws many, many tutorials at you from the outset, but the in-game journal only shows you mechanics new to Atelier Ryza 3, not the previous games. I didn’t know how to raise the Tactics Gauge (since it was a manual process in Ryza 1) nor did I know how to heal myself outside of battle. Heck, I didn’t even know you could fast travel to every discovered location until I accidentally figured it out, the game doesn’t mention it anywhere. It’s confusing that Atelier Ryza 3 is so unfriendly to newcomers, especially since Kark Isles signal a fantastic new design shift for the series. 

The recent Atelier games have been known for having beautiful single-loading maps, but they’ve always been linear. When you arrive at Kark Isles you’re immediately told to travel to the far end of them, meaning all the islands in between are yours to explore at your leisure. It almost seems like developer Gust are experimenting with adapting the traditional Atelier formula to a semi-open world format, and what little of it is in the first chapter is a joy. There’s a fantastic degree of verticality letting you see far-off islands and chart your own course. Going off the beaten path usually leads to rewards, and activating two ends of a magical zipline lets you use them to soar across the islands at your leisure. Petting dogs and cats will grant you items or you can follow them to secret areas, Ghost of Tsushima style. You can even ride dolphins to swim across the islands with ease. 

The preview ends with what looks to be a huge new feature – keys. Ryza has a new power that lets her create magical keys that let her pass through locked areas, buff her and her friends in battle. It looks like you can even use them in synthesis somehow, though we couldn’t access that in the preview.

Atelier Ryza 3’s opening takes a while to get to the good stuff – backtracking around locations from the first game can grow tiresome quickly – but once you see Kark, silly name aside, you may not want to leave. The opening chapter isn’t great for newcomers who want to be invested in the story and characters, but the open world stuff is very enticing, especially as the preview ends with a hint that there’s other regions to explore as well.

Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key arrives on PC, Switch, PS4, and PS5 on March 24.