PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5
March 24, 2023
A glowing world filled with riches, a satisfyingly dense combat experience, and a whole lot of crafting await in Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key, the final adventure in Koei Tecmo’s trilogy focused on plucky alchemist Ryza.
Our very own Pedro had the opportunity to preview this title earlier in the year. While he found it full of joy, he was also nervous that it would be unfriendly to anyone who hadn’t played either of the previous entries in the series. As a JRPG fan who has somehow missed each of the 23 games in the Atelier franchise so far, I was full of trepidation – however, it turns out that Atelier Ryza 3 is a comforting, bright, joyful experience from beginning to end, no matter your prior history with the series.
A short video accessible from the title screen explains the plots of protagonist Ryza’s first two adventures, before the game launches you straight into the third. Strange new islands have appeared right next to Ryza’s home, disrupting her relaxing summer plans with her friends. She is tasked with investigating the source of the new islands, and along the way she meets old friends, makes new ones, and generally solves the world’s problems. It’s typical JRPG fare with few surprises, but the many layers of charm and variety of quirky characters make for a comforting adventure.
Atelier Ryza 3’s world is expansive, vibrant, and free to explore once key locations are unlocked. Ryza and friends spend their time exploring its lush grasslands, lively towns, and luminous mines, gathering crafting materials and seeking answers to their various mysteries. Fast travel landmarks are generous, but leave enough space between them to encourage wandering off the beaten path. There are nooks and crannies filled with rare ingredients and optional side quests at every turn, adding to the intrinsic reward of exploration. Additionally, what would usually be considered “filler” quests serve to flesh out the world, allowing you to spend time with party members and get to know their quirks and histories. For fans of the first two Atelier Ryza titles, these moments likely carry emotional gravitas. For newcomers, they instead enrich the world you’re travelling through with extra context.
Of course, the glorious world of Atelier Ryza 3 is not without its dangers. Peppered across each map is a slew of typical JRPG beasties – happy-go-lucky slimes (here called Punis), haunted suits of armour, and the odd elemental sprite all prowl the Kark Isles and its surrounds. Upon walking into one, you’ll be swiftly launched into a battle. The combat system in the Atelier Ryza trilogy is a mixture of active and turn-based, with a cooldown timer dictating when actions can be taken. Each of the three active party members can spend accrued AP to perform combat skills with varying combo effects and elemental strengths, with particular types of attack potentially triggering powerful Order Skills. This in turn builds up your party’s Tactics Level, which enhances some abilities, gives better battle rewards, and increases your maximum AP capacity. You can use items in combat to damage enemies and buff your allies by accruing CC, and you can even switch out to either of your two reserve party members to continue an attack combo. Each battle becomes a dance of timing, waiting for the perfect moment to block an enemy attack or unleash a powerful ability.
Being the third title in the series, there’s an expectation that players will be at least a little familiar with the flow of combat. The tutorials come flowing through thick and fast and can feel overwhelming. However, the pacing of the main story and focus on exploration leaves plenty of time for fumbling through each new battle mechanic as it unlocks. There are also key skill-check moments that encourage you to engage in the combat system holistically. I found myself completely ignoring mechanics that I didn’t understand for long stretches of gameplay, only to come up against an enemy that practically forced me to learn how that particular mechanic worked. It’s a well-balanced, gentle coaxing towards learning how the many systems interact. At one point, I was being destroyed by a boss several levels higher than my party, until I learned that I could use Federica’s Order Drive to continuously extend an ability that gave me practically infinite health regeneration – an incredibly satisfying discovery, and exactly the kind of mechanic-twisting shenanigans I crave in a JRPG.
As well as playing an important role in the story, the titular Secret Keys feed into each gameplay system, becoming vital tools in your arsenal. Ryza can create Keys at various Landmarks across the world. Handily, these are also fast-travel points. She can use these Keys at glowing points in the overworld to enhance ingredient collection or cause random events to trigger. Keys can also be used in battle via “Key Modification” to trigger timed abilities, or you can choose to create new Keys from enemies while they’re stunned or vulnerable. It’s especially worth creating Keys while fighting bosses, since these tend to have very useful effects (such as the aforementioned health regeneration). Each Key has a certain number of uses, which can be augmented through Atelier Ryza 3’s intricate crafting system.
As in previous titles, Atelier Ryza 3 allows you to harness the power of alchemy to synthesise objects from the ingredients you’ve gathered. Upon returning to any of the ateliers (bases) you’ve built across the world, Ryza can use her cauldron to create an ever-expanding repertoire of items, such as weapons, accessories, consumables, and more advanced crafting ingredients. Each recipe requires that a number of core ingredients be added to a crafting tree, with nodes corresponding to four elements. Traits can be added depending on the ingredients you use, such as adding extra damage to particular enemy types or a higher selling price for your item. It gets… complex, and again, the tutorials are somehow both extremely lengthy and not very helpful. I spent the first half of the game pressing the auto-craft button, until a mandatory story quest required me to craft a very specific kind of axe that meant I had to learn how the whole thing worked all at once.
Usually, I would hate this kind of “forced crafting” mechanic. However, the entire world of Atelier Ryza 3 is built to enrich and enhance the synthesis mechanic. Every element in the game feeds back into Ryza’s core role as an alchemist: the story quests focus on what she can make next; new weapons for combat must be crafted; each new overworld location contains new crafting materials; and even the titular Keys provide vital abilities and enhancements while synthesising. To get the best weapons and armour, you’ll need to engage with the entire suite of synthesising abilities and figure out how to make entirely new ingredients via Morph pathways on the crafting tree. I found myself obsessing over each new recipe, trying to maximise the ingredients I used so that my crafted items would be of the highest quality with minimal waste. Much like its combat, Atelier Ryza 3’s synthesis system proves extremely satisfying once mastered.
While the world of Atelier Ryza 3 is vast, gorgeously colourful, and beautifully realised, playing on Switch does have its drawbacks. Performance is pretty good in docked mode, and there is a settings option to prioritise framerate over resolution. However, frame drops, a low draw distance, and tiny menu fonts make playing in handheld less pleasant (even on the OLED model). It’s also worth noting that there is no English voice acting available. These issues are minor enough not to be a dealbreaker for most players – however, the infrequent moments of anime fanservice are harder to ignore. You’ll be exploring a lovely, lush forest one minute, only for Ryza to need to crawl through a cave the next and be “treated” to a full five seconds of upskirting. There’s also an unskippable sexualised drawing of Ryza that you need to view whenever you want to change the in-game time. These moments are jarring when they occur, especially considering how wholesome and relaxing the rest of the game feels.
Icky moments aside, Atelier Ryza 3 is a delightful treat to play. Its roughly thirty hour main story is augmented by a massive world full of optional side quests and tonnes of extra challenges that I can’t wait to get stuck into. Fans of classic JRPGs such as Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy will find plenty to love in this title, as will anyone who craves the refreshing combat and expansive worlds of the Xenoblade Chronicles series – thanks to its intricate crafting system, I’d even recommend Atelier Ryza 3 to Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley diehards looking for something new.
- Deep and engaging crafting and gathering gameplay loop
- Satisfying combat system with a well-paced learning curve
- Beautiful, relaxing world to explore at your leisure
- Haphazard tutorials may turn some players off
- Leans a little too closely into anime tropes at times
Atelier Ryza 3 is a wonderfully cheerful celebration of everything there is to love about modern JRPGs. Its gorgeously realised world is filled to the brim with quirky characters, vibrant environments, and a whole lot of charm. While its many interlocking systems (which are taught through tutorials that prove simultaneously verbose and unhelpful) may prove a barrier for newer players, persistence and a sense of curiosity are rewarded with a rich and deeply satisfying level of mastery. The core gameplay features – exploration, combat, synthesis, and key creation – feed into each other in a delicious loop that is at once addictive and relaxing. Atelier Ryza 3 is a joyous, cosy romp that will delight any JRPG fan looking for something refreshing.