Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key [Game Review]

Game Info:

  • System: Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, PC
  • Publisher: Koei Tecmo
  • Developer: Gust
  • Release Date: March 23, 2023
Prior to the 2019 release of Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout, Gust’s alchemy-based crafting and exploration franchise was something of a niche, even within the JRPG community. Known for its relatively low budget and “gothic lolita” inspired vibes, the franchise had done well enough for itself (even earning an anime adaptation of Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky) but never managed to hit the mainstream.

That all changed in September 2019, when Gust threw away decades of established patterns in the franchise, banking everything on a peppy girl called Reisalin “Ryza” Stout, and her bright summer-time adventure. The healthy dose of fan-service and a brilliantly reimagined crafting system worked wonders, propelling the Atelier franchise into the mainstream JRPG limelight.

In just over a year, Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout had sold 500,000 copies—making it the best-selling title in the series. Subsequently, we’ve seen Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy, more officially-licensed figures than you could ever afford to own, and in March 2023, the announcement of an anime series to be produced by Liden Films, with voice acting by the game’s original cast.

With such a tremendous run over three-and-a-bit years, Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key has now arrived—the official end of Ryza’s journey (at least, in mainline titles). Not only has Ryza herself become a highly recognizable character, but her trilogy has propelled developer Gust to new heights, allowing them to rapidly scale their team, improve their graphics engine, and sit at the top end of AA JRPG titles.

Today on Honey’s Anime, we’re reviewing this final chapter of Ryza’s incredible adventure in Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key!

Ryza’s third and final installment is her largest to date, absolutely chock-full of new areas to explore, old friends to reunite with, and even fresh faces joining the team. Developer Gust has created an open-world experience that rivals the breadth of Xenoblade Chronicles, with interconnected areas that—for the first time in the franchise’s history—no longer have loading screens.

With a vast world to explore, Ryza’s range of abilities has increased even further, giving her new mobility options in water (swimming and diving), easier exploration actions such as climbing or mantling small cliffs, and even a return of her animal companions that’ll let you get around the world at high speed. Gust has fine-tuned the animations and movements, making gathering items faster, and giving players a decent running speed so they can explore the environments quicker and easier than before.

In the game’s opening hours alone, we were amazed at how well Gust has recreated Kurken Island and the ‘mainland’ from the original Atelier Ryza. Every map and location from the first game is present, but expanded and connected, allowing you to wander down memory lane, revisiting old locations right alongside our now-adult-aged characters. That alone would’ve been worth the investment, but Gust has gone ahead and added three whole new ‘regions’ to the game, each of them as large as the original base game’s map!

Each new area comes with new materials, new monsters, new allies, and plenty of hidden treasure chests to uncover. We easily lost hours in exploration alone, snatching up all the materials that weren’t bolted down, and smacking the local wildlife around to level up. These new regions are definitely the highlight of the experience, bringing Atelier Ryza 3 close in line with the scale of last year’s Xenoblade Chronicles 3.

Graphically, Atelier Ryza 3 is on-par with Atelier Ryza 2, although—like many players on PS4 and PS5—we disliked the heavy use of ‘Depth of Field’ blur. Thankfully, Gust has already started work on a patch to reduce the Depth of Field effect, but it’s frustrating that PC players had the ability to alter that setting from the start, leaving console players in the lurch.

Outside of that specific problem, the game looks better than ever, with brand-new facial animations adding heaps of personality to Ryza and the gang. Environments are bright, weather effects are quite nice, and although it’s not really pushing any boundaries when you consider how the series looked in 2018’s Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings, Gust has come an incredibly long way in such a short span of time. Previews for the upcoming remake of Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg show how confident the developers have become with their engine and with editing their own formula—all thanks to Ryza.

Speaking of that all-important formula, each installment in the Atelier franchise usually tweaks something with the crafting system—so how do Ryza 3’s crafting mechanics hold up to previous entries?

The ‘material loop’ system from the previous two games returns in Atelier Ryza 3. This is still one of the most beginner-friendly crafting systems in the franchise’s long history, but it’s not without its depth.

As with the previous games, you’ll be slotting materials into specific “loops,” which alter the output statistics of the item or weapon you’re crafting. With better-quality materials, you can make items with more powerful effects, and as we’d expect, you can lose countless hours min-maxing the perfect items. Once you’ve unlocked some of Ryza’s old abilities—like duplicating items, or ‘rebuilding’ items—you can sink huge amounts of time into refashioning your equipment and items to have the perfect stats.

If you’d rather not spend too long in the crafting menus, then Atelier Ryza 3 offers an auto-complete option, just like the previous two entries. If you’d rather get back to exploring, you can quickly auto-generate items that’ll definitely be good enough for a casual player. This beginner-friendly approach to Atelier Ryza 3 is certainly welcome, and although we’d recommend starting at the beginning of Ryza’s trilogy, you could still drop right into this latest installment and have plenty of fun.

There are some new changes to the crafting system, though, by way of the game’s “Keys” (which we’ll touch on later), and a new property called ‘Super Traits.’ These are rare traits that are more difficult to assign to an item but carry significant bonuses. As series veterans, we loved the small refinements to the crafting system, along with the detailed sorting and filtering mechanics that allow you to drill deeper into your stock of materials.

With all those shiny new items and weapons, you’ll then take to the open world to hunt monsters and gather new materials. This core loop of the Atelier franchise is as addictive as ever since crafting better-quality gathering tools (such as axes, hammers, sickles, or fishing rods) gives you better-quality materials, which you can use to make better items—and so forth.

Similar to the Monster Hunter franchise, there’s an addictive element to this build-and-improve system that feels better balanced here than anywhere else in the franchise—a true testament to Gust’s developers and overall vision for the game.

Unfortunately, despite all the improvements that have come with Atelier Ryza 3, we did find one area of the game that, for us at least, didn’t quite hit the mark—the combat.

Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout’s combat system was a divisive change to the franchise’s established formula. Previous entries had all been turn-based affairs that required you to carefully manage the use of your healing and damaging items while using characters’ skills to dish out damage or inflict special status effects.

Ryza’s trilogy, however, departed from the tried-and-true Conditional Turn-Based (CTB) system, in favor of an Active Time Battle (ATB) system—a gameplay type popularized by the Final Fantasy franchise back in the ’90s (and most recently seen again in Final Fantasy VII Remake).

This ATB system sees Ryza and two companions wait for an “AP” gauge to fill up, after which you can dish out physical attack damage or use a variety of magical abilities in quick succession. You can also throw out bombs and healing potions, but using items requires “Core Charges” which are unlocked via fulfilling “Orders.” These “Orders” appear from your comrades, and require you to meet a condition—usually by activating a specific type of ability against an enemy.

While you’re waiting for that AP gauge to fill up, you can defend against incoming attacks, or burn a stack of existing AP points to forcibly make it your turn—provided you only want to use items. You can also toggle to other characters, or switch other characters in to deal bonus damage, chaining those attacks into more skills to unleash extra damage on the enemy.

As a combat system, we think it works quite nicely—it’s fast-paced, battles rarely last longer than a minute or two, and everything looks particularly flashy.

Our issue is that the battle system seems to actively discourage the player from many of the game’s core crafting mechanics. As we’ve mentioned, Ryza’s ATB system has been divisive among Atelier fans, and it doesn’t appear like Gust intends to stick with the system going forward. Both the 2022 release, Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream, and the upcoming 2023 remake, Atelier Marie Remake: The Alchemist of Salburg will return to a CTB system that prioritizes item usage and methodical planning.

In the Atelier Ryza trilogy, the fast-paced nature of battles rewards players who are good at managing the field, watching enemy attacks, and stringing together consecutive skills in an action-game-esque manner. Sure, you can use powerful bombs or heal your allies, but in general, you’ll win battles by smacking the enemy more times than they smack you. It’s disappointing since there are so many usable items to craft, but few opportunities to feel like they’re anything except a passing nod to past games.

Still, there was one addition to the combat system we particularly enjoyed—the titular ‘Secret Keys.’

Atelier Ryza 3 introduces a new mechanic for this game only—the crafting of “keys.”
These items are pseudo-randomly generated by interacting with landmarks in the environment or crafting them mid-battle from an injured enemy. Each key is subtly influenced by the location you made it, carrying a bevy of traits and abilities which affect adventuring, combat, or crafting.

Rather than coming off as a one-time gimmick, the Secret Keys is an engaging and thoroughly enjoyable addition to the game. With the right key, you can add extra attributes to your crafting, influence the quality of items you pick up while exploring, or—perhaps the most entertaining of all—be equipped as a weapon during combat. Any character can create or use keys, and during battle, you can wield a modified version of your weapon for a short period of time, allowing you to ruthlessly attack the enemy heedless of your ATB gauge.

You’ll also find locked-off areas of the map that can only be opened by keys of a certain type; scattered throughout the environments are randomly generated ‘caches’ that, when unlocked with a Key, grant some rare items. Keys only have a certain number of uses, so you’ll need to carefully balance using which keys for what, and when, adding a nice strategic layer to the mechanic.

Ultimately, the Secret Keys serve to further the game’s plot, but we were thoroughly impressed by how well this new system was integrated into the game. And speaking of plot, it’s finally time that we talk about the Atelier Ryza 3’s biggest drawcard—the story.

As we mentioned at the start of the article, 2019’s Atelier Ryza opened the series up to (quite literally) hundreds of thousands of new players. Over the course of all three titles, Ryza and her friends have become important characters in our hearts—colorful, entertaining, and meaningful.

Atelier Ryza 3 is a poignant but beautiful game, one that means all the more if you’ve played since the first game. The characters are often chatting with each other while you explore, or taking breaks to reminisce about old adventures in familiar locations. With every cutscene, we’re reminded just how much our characters have grown—from excited but ill-prepared adventurers in Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout, to boldly discovering their futures in Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy.

Returning to Kurken Island, and discovering new faces and new regions along the way, Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key offers a beautiful tapestry of emotions, elevated by the fantastic voice acting of the Japanese cast. We’re not ashamed to admit that the thought of saying goodbye to Ryza one last time makes us a little teary-eyed—but that’s a huge compliment to Gust, and how well they’ve brought their characters to life.

At least we have the anime, so it’s not goodbye forever, right?!

Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key is Gust’s finest work, a triumphant culmination of everything that Ryza’s trilogy has allowed the studio to expand upon. Without Ryza, the Atelier franchise might have languished as a fun, but ultimately niche, JRPG—now, it’s a well-regarded franchise with gorgeous artwork, licensed figures, and now remakes of the very first games.

Atelier Ryza 3’s crafting, exploration, and combat mechanics all shine in their own ways, pulling together to create an addictive gameplay loop that can be as mind-bogglingly deep or as beginner-friendly as you’d like.

This may be Ryza’s final summer, but we think it’s the beginning of a brand-new future for the Atelier franchise.

Are you going to pick up Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key? Let us know what you think in the comments below, and as always, thanks for reading!

(Thank you to Koei Tecmo and Gust for providing us with a PS5 review copy. We played the title on a PS4 Pro.)

Author: Brett Michael Orr

I’m a writer, gamer, and reviewer of manga & light novels, from Melbourne, Australia. When I’m not creating a new world, I’ll be absorbed in a good JRPG, watching some anime, or reading up a storm!

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