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Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist Of The End & The Secret Key Review - Another Ryza Tale That Could Have Been So Much More

EDITORS' RATING : 7 / 10
Pros
  • Incredibly addicting and satisfying gameplay loop
  • Engaging new gameplay gimmick that adds a compelling extra layer to the tried-and-true formula
  • Respects its characters' individuality and growth over the past three games
Cons
  • Localization is riddled with errors and inconsistencies
  • Extremely minimal gameplay guidance and unhelpful tutorials
  • Very unsatisfying plot progression that feels more rushed and unpolished the further you get

A Nintendo Switch review code was provided to Zaaz for this review. "Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key" will be available on March 24, 2023 for PS5, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam.

Upon loading up "Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key," the menu treats you to the standard two options of "New Game" and "Settings," as well as a third option to watch a "Prologue Movie" — players of the second installment in the series will recognize this as the narrated montage of the events of the previous games, added as a quick recap for returning players as well as context for series newcomers. 

However, unlike the relatively short and sweet Prologue Movie of "Atelier Ryza 2" — which did a fairly good job of explaining the characters' relationships to one another and Ryza's emotional journey throughout — the recaps included in "Atelier Ryza 3" are visually lacking in charm and somewhat incoherent. They gloss over important information while spending way too long on inane details in a way that makes it extremely hard to follow who's who in relation to the protagonist, and what even actually happened to the world and characters so far. 

Not the greatest of introductions overall, though, thankfully, there's an option to skip it altogether. Returning players don't need it, and newcomers are better off just jumping into the game and figuring things out via the callbacks that already exist inside the game itself, of which there are plenty. Unlike other sequel games that are designed as viable standalone experiences, "Atelier Ryza 3" is very much tailored to providing the latest upgraded "Atelier Ryza" experience to existing fans — and it hits the mark adequately enough.

Intermediate Alchemists Only

After a brief mise-en-scene introduction that throws you right into your first fight, you take on the role of Reisalin "Ryza" Stout, a 21-year-old alchemist faced with an entire archipelago full of monsters showing up right on the shores of her rural island hometown. This is, of course, after she's already saved the world twice over. She's no longer the irresponsible 17-year-old running away from adult supervision. Ryza is now a pillar of her community trying to circumvent another potential apocalypse before it can happen.

Being geared towards returning players who were with Ryza at the clumsy start of her journey, nostalgia plays a huge part in the story of "Atelier Ryza 3" as the characters pretty much constantly reminisce on how far they've come since those early days. In some ways, this provides quite a bit of context for newcomers to grasp who's who and what's going on — enough that it might get a little tedious for existing fans.

This is ironic considering the game's incredibly hands-off approach to player guidance. With the core gameplay formula being more or less unchanged since "Atelier Ryza 2," the tutorials guide you through the bare minimum basics before throwing you to the wolves when it comes to actual details or ways to progress to more complex processes. It isn't too hard to figure out with a little experimentation, but the inconsistency between the story insisting on retreading inane details while the gameplay expects you to already know the finer points is, frankly, a little jarring.

Don't fix what isn't broken

That said, the gameplay is just as good as ever. With an open-world style map with discoverable fast travel points and oodles of harvestable ingredients strewn about, it is so, so easy to get sidetracked. You'll probably find yourself spending hours in some remote corner of the map, doing randomly generated quest after randomly generated quest while farming shiny new ingredients — all so you can squirrel them back to the atelier to spend another few hours unlocking recipe morphs and perfecting new editions of your existing gear. And then, because all this crafting awards you more Skill Points to unlock new recipes and crafting perks with, you'll end up going out with your shiny new gathering tools to grab better and rarer ingredients, then running back to make even better gear from those materials. Rinse and repeat — the gameplay loop itself is fiercely addictive and satisfying.

And, of course, there is the main new gameplay gimmick that this installment revolves around — the keys. Despite the rather lackluster and somewhat unhelpful tutorial the game gives, the keys add a whole new dimension to crafting and gearing once you do figure out how to use them effectively. The right key for the right recipe — even if low-level — can be an absolute game-changer that can make the difference between a mediocre result and an excellent one, or turn the tide from a losing battle to a surefire victory.

But the broken parts weren't actually fixed, either

Although the keys are a nice addition, it is somewhat unfortunate that the RNG-based nature of key generation — and the fact that you have a finite amount of them — tends to discourage experimentation more often than not. This only exacerbates the slightly risky nature of Skill Point investment in the skill tree, which completely lacks transparency in terms of what perks will actually unlock new branches, or which direction you need to head in to unlock certain recipes.

Many of the flaws that existed in the previous games also make a repeat appearance, as well. The camera collision is still horrifically janky, resulting in nausea-inducing motion if you're unfortunate enough to get stuck in a tight corner — which, incidentally, happens a bit too often due to odd barrier placements.

Another glaring issue is the localization. Imperfect translations are understandable — flat-out punctuation and spelling errors in a game from one of the biggest JRPG developers in the world are really not. There's also the fact that each characters' tone and formality fluctuates wildly between lines within the same conversation to the same person, on top of the actual errors in the gameplay features — one major noticeable issue is that both the Symbol of Agility and Vitality buffed HP, neither of them touching the Speed stat at all. All in all, it's a rather disappointing bit of sloppiness from a full-price AAA JRPG.

So much untapped potential

In the end, the most disappointing thing about "Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key" is that it could have been the next big evolution of the "Atelier" series. Instead, it's just more of the same without getting any better or worse than before. It retains its winning gameplay formula as-is, only adding one new mechanic that comes with its own flaws. And despite the shiny new character models and artwork, the rough localization mistakes hold it back from feeling as polished as it should. In hindsight, it's even hard to tell how much of the tutorials' lack of clarity was tied to the rushed translations.

That doesn't mean it's a bad game by any stretch. The gameplay loop still feels like absolute catnip for the completionist and crafting enthusiast the game is meant for, and the combat is still compelling without being too dull or too intense. It's just a shame, is all — this game has the makings of something next-level that it isn't quite able to reach. Still, fans of the series will probably get a satisfying experience from it, and going back to grind out the end-game upgrades will definitely be tempting — right after you figure out where the heck you're supposed to unlock Creaminea so you can finally get past the mid-game world quests.

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