PREVIEW: Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairyby Jean-Karlo Lemus,
Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends and the Secret Fairy is, in a word, cozy. With the new generation of consoles fast approaching and more emphasis than ever on bigger, grander, weightier worlds and stakes, Atelier Ryza 2 is content with swaddling you with a good time, even if it's a bit rustic at it.
Taking place three years after the events of the first Atelier Ryza, Lost Legends finds the spunky alchemist traveling to Ashra-am Baird to unlock the secrets of the Rainbow Jewel. Meeting up with her old friends Bos and Tao, as well as newcomers Patty and Clifford, Ryza once again finds herself uncovering the secrets of ancient kingdoms by traipsing through ancient ruins.
Right from its opening, Atelier Ryza 2 bills itself as another summer adventure for Ryza, and the game strives for that feeling from the get-go. The afternoon sunlight in Ashra-am Baird is harsh and bright, cicadas buzz in the distance, and the greenery of the trees and shrubs is at its most intense. The kingdom's many locales, from cobblestone streets and academic squares to well-worn country roads, are all charming and picturesque, with each location being a great contender for an afternoon picnic. Ryza can run and jump through these areas as she seeks new ruins, alchemic ingredients, or quest-giving NPCs. Approaching certain locations can also unlock special vingettes wherein Ryza meets and develops friendships with locals. And, of course, areas outside of town have monsters on the prowl.
Combat is initiated by either touching an enemy or whacking them with your weapon, the latter granting you an advantage. In a style reminiscent of the Grandia series, combat in Atelier Ryza 2 is timing-based: icons representing all combatants are on a meter, racing towards the center. Characters whose icons are at the center can take an action: they may use basic attacks to build up Action Points, use Action Points to activate or chain their Skills, and by using their Skills collect and use Core Charges that allow them to use items. Using Skills increases your Tactics level, which raises your Action Point cap for that fight and opens the door to longer skill chains. This system incentivizes using all options available to you, weaving from basic attacks to Skills as often as possible so as to chain as many powerful items in your Item Rushes as you can. There is also an element of teamwork between yourself and your party members; using certain skills upon their requests can activate Order Skills, which deal increased damage to enemies. These too can be chained with items or even other Order Skills, resulting in fast-paced combat where you quickly rack up massive, flashy combos against hapless enemies. The result is a combat system that, while not incredibly deep at first glance, nevertheless rewards you for exploring its many aspects.
Dungeon exploration is highly incentivized and rewarded too. Ryza and friends are constantly on the hunt for new dungeons to explore in search of the secrets behind the Rainbow Jewel. These ruins are not particularly challenging, usually requiring that Ryza synthesize some tool or other to overcome a greater obstacle. However, the real fun is in the Recollection system. As you explore the dungeon and find items, you increase your exploration rate of dungeons. Upon reaching a certain percentage, players can use the Compass of Recollection to find memories scattered throughout the dungeon. These memories can be used to decode old memories or historical logs about dungeons, revealing their historical importance beyond just places to fight monsters. Completing logs also grants you vital SP, which is needed for Alchemy.
You see, Ryza can collect all kinds of ingredients out in the world, in dungeons, and from monsters—but she also needs alchemic recipes to make items from them. The Skill Tree lets you buy new recipes, but this requires SP that can be gained from finding and exploring dungeons or synthesizing new items, which in turn allows you to make powerful items for use in combat, tools for use in the world map, or general items needed to satisfy side-quests in town. The result is a game where all of its aspects blend and flow with each other satisfyingly. Exploring dungeons nets you vital SP for unlocking new items, making new items makes combat easier, which in turn makes dungeon exploration easier.
In the section of the game we played, the flaws were minor and manageable. Ryza is animated smoothly, but her movements in the world feel sluggish. The camera never seems to move as fast as you want, either. Combat is also sometimes a bit too hectic, with very precise timing windows for inputting commands for combos or special attacks—it can take a moment before it feels like you're actually utilizing the system to its fullest instead of just mashing buttons. And while there's a map on-screen during combat that indicates positioning for characters and enemies alike, there never seems to be a decent-enough indicator for which of your party members an enemy will attack. It's also very easy to be attacked by an off-screen enemy without having a chance to block.
These complaints are slight, however, in the face of Atelier Ryza 2's down-key scope. This game's intent is to be cozy, to delight you with lovely vistas and intriguing dungeons, and to charm you with Ryza's smiles as she synthesizes a new item or meets new friends. With the onset of autumn, Atelier Ryza 2 is a stray summer sunbeam to warm our chilly days.
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