Atelier Ryza 2 review: Ryzing to the challenge

by VR Lars
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Atelier Ryza 2 is the 22nd game in Gust‘s Atelier series, and – obviously – the second one starring Reisalin Stout, a character that the fanbase has wildly run away with because she’s got her thighs out all the time. Given that the big boys of the JRPG realm are all pretty emotionally heavy these days, is there still room for cute games with bright colours and ridiculously well-endowed girls?

Well, yes and no. If I had to sum up my thoughts as briefly as possible, Atelier Ryza 2 is a good game. From a purely analytical point of view, it’s nothing ground-breaking, but it offers fun, laid back exploration, rewarding combat, and plenty of value for money. However, it certainly seems as though the developers have doubled down on Ryza’s fan service quota due to her popularity, and that sort of runs at odds with the story itself. Of course, some people would consider that a selling point, alongside all the various other things Atelier Ryza 2 brings to the table – so read on to see if this one’s for you.

A semi-traditional JRPG that takes it easy

JRPGs are usually helmed by broody, intense characters surrounded by staple characters like “Sexy Earnest Girl”, “Sexy Mean Girl”, and “Gruff Old Man With A Heart of Gold”. What’s really enjoyable about Atelier Ryza 2 is just how chill everything is. The story is driven by gentle curiosity, and while combat offers the odd change of pace to break it up, you’re never urged incessantly to the next bit of dialogue or set piece. Most of the time, you can take exactly as much time as you want to explore and harvest without the threat of the world ending any minute looming over your head.

There are little splashes of drama here and there, sure – but the overwhelming vibe is one of friends casually solving mysteries together, and that’s pretty great. The story unfolds through the exploration of ancient ruins dotted through the world map, tasking Ryza with using a mysterious compass to recover lost memories. The memories are gathered in the exploration diary, and you’ve gotta use a bit of common sense to sequence them together in the appropriate order. It’s interesting enough to inspire further exploration without being demanding or massively thought intensive.

It’s a very relaxing, casual experience that gives players a surprising amount of freedom. Different difficulty modes allow a level of challenge catered to individual requirements, and there’s plenty to besides chase the main story. Granted, many of the sidequests are simple fetch/craft affairs, but the rewards are usually suitable for the amount of work involved and you always get this sense that whatever you pick up will help eventually. Atelier Ryza 2 is made for people who love the grind, so if you’re looking for something with a bit of focus it might not be for you.

This screenshot was provided in the official press release.

Exploration itself can feel a bit clunky. At times you’ve have to jump, climb or crawl your way through obstacles and these bits, short as they are, just feel tacked on for the sake of variety. The environments are not nearly as delightful to walk around as they are to look at, which is frustrating because there’s so much charm on the surface. There’s plenty of cool stuff to see, sure – but getting around it all is nothing special.

A rewarding, intricate crafting system

Ryza is an alchemist by trade, which in her world means she can literally create anything with the right ingredients. Weapons, food, crafting tools, explosives – this will, naturally, start out pretty simple, but you’ll still be encouraged to hoover up anything that shines in the environment like a crow with an amphetamine habit. You’ll probably spend more time gathering materials than you will fighting enemies – which also drop materials, making everything feed back into this core crafting loop.

Returning to Ryza’s atelier just takes the single push of a button, making it easy and fluid to pop in and out of the overworld with all the bits of rock and random mushrooms you can carry. Alchemy itself is as simple or complex as you want it to be. You can fine tune every step of the process yourself, hand selecting the ingredients you want to maximise the quality and effects, or you can hit a shoulder button and watch the game do it all for you. This became a must for me, purely because of the sheer amount of craftable stuff.

Solving mysteries in the ruins rewards you with more unlockable recipes on the ever-expanding skill tree. All the different moving parts of Atelier Ryza 2 come together really smoothly, and the emphasis on crafting over anything else was genuinely very refreshing in a genre so dominated by fighting and shouting. Don’t worry, though – the game’s combat is still very fleshed out and present.

Quickfire, accessible combat with a bit too much clutter

Enemies wander around in the overworld, minding their own business most of the time – but they’ve got what Ryza needs, and if she has to beat a few sheep to death with a stick to further her pursuit of alchemical mastery, so be it. Atelier Ryza 2, like the first one before it, employs a hybrid turn-based/real time combat system. On the surface it seems pretty straightforward, and it certainly deepens as the game introduces new items and party members. You can swap between characters in combat at any time, which allows you to maximise combo outputs and makes it feel like there’s never any down time.

Although the natural instinct is to stick with Ryza – she is the heroine, after all – it’s much more effective (and flashy) to swap between party members as their turns come up. There’s often so much going on onscreen – there’s some information that helps you out, and a bunch of stuff that just seems to get in the way. This is a problem Atelier Ryza 2 suffers with on a grander scale. It’s happy to load you up with all the complicated information at once, but rarely hits the simpler notes, which can result in some pointless confusion here and there.

Atelier Ryza 2 and the Neverending Fan Service

There’s quite a lot of gratuitous cleavage and blatant fan-service, which can definitely undermine the game’s chill, innocent atmosphere. Atelier Ryza‘s most appealing aspect is the relaxed approach compared to a lot of its JRPG brethren – there’s no brooding intensity or world-ending threat to overcome, and it really benefits from that. Save the world? Nah. Pick some flowers! Grind some materials to improve your tools. Soak in some colourful environments and the relaxing soundtrack. But whatever you do, don’t forget that the protagonist has a cracking pair.

This might seem like a ridiculous thing to pick up on, and it’s very easy to just accept fan service as part and parcel when you regularly consume JRPGs and anime. Personally I’m not violently opposed to it or anything, but, as ever, there’s a really thin line to walk between showing off the odd glimpse of thigh and what is essentially sexualisation of your characters in direct contrast to the personality the story is establishing. Ryza is a boisterous, determined tomboy on a constant quest for adventure – and yet she bends over, pushing her chest out with a coy giggle when she’s successfully synthesized something new.

It’s super-exaggerated. It’s not as jarring as Persona 5, which started with taking down an evil teacher who constantly sexualised teenage girls, and then went on to sexualise that same teenage girl for hours. But it really does start to feel like Atelier Ryza’s story and characterisation is at odds with this idea that female characters need to move their jiggly bits about to interest a larger fanbase.

Atelier Ryza 2: A charming yet flawed JRPG

When Atelier Ryza 2 stops trying to titillate you, it’s a very rewarding and sincere experience. The cluttered combat and clumsy world exploration are easily forgiven in the face of all of the other charms. The crafting and story progression can all be taken at your own pace, making it a refreshing change of pace. Diving into this welcoming, colourful world is a simple joy most of the time, and though it probably hasn’t moved on that far from its predecessor, Ryza fans will be delighted with this continuation of her story.

Atelier Ryza 2 is available now on Steam, Switch and PS4, with a free upgrade to the PS5 version when it’s ready. Find more of our game reviews here!

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