Reisalin “Ryza” Stout and her friends are back in another heart-warming RPG which closes out the 'Secret' sub-series. The long-running Atelier series is well known for featuring young alchemists who spend much of their adventure gathering ingredients, crafting new items, and beating up foes. Atelier Ryza 3 is no exception to that format, but what has changed is the sheer scale of the world that you'll get to explore.
Taking place just a year after the events of the last game, you'll begin in a familiar location, Ryza's home island of Kurken. However, things soon start to get strange when mysterious new islands and ruins appear nearby. As the island's only alchemist, Ryza takes it upon herself to go and investigate and it's not long before you'll be travelling far and wide.
There's a very strong sense of nostalgia in the opening hours, as you're re-introduced to many of Ryza's childhood friends. You'll end up with a huge party of 11 different people, and while some are new, many of them are familiar faces. It's great to see how the likes of Klaudia, Lent, and Tao have grown over the course of the trilogy. Of course, if you haven't played the first two games then some of these moments will be lost on you. There's a handy recap movie available from the main menu, which sums up the events of the last two games, but it's probably not detailed enough if you haven't played through them.
As you venture further through the story, new regions will be unlocked for you to explore. Each one is a large open area with a different vibrant style; there are areas filled with forests, ancient ruins, and underwater areas to discover. Sometimes large open worlds can end up feeling a bit barren and empty, but thankfully that's not the case here. You'll be running around activating ziplines, summoning cute mounts, and climbing mountains to try to explore every nook and cranny of the world. It's a real joy to try to see what's ahead as you'll never know when you might stumble across a new ingredient for synthesis or a treasure chest.
While you're investigating what the appearance of the new islands means, there are plenty of side quests to occupy your time. Many of these quests will have you exploring the surrounding areas, as well as getting to know your party members better. There are also lots of time-limited quests that are randomly activated as you walk around. While the rewards for completing them are usually pretty great, the actual activities can be a bit repetitive. They mainly consist of hunting down a specific monster or gathering certain materials. You're not punished for missing a deadline so it's usually easier to just ignore them — unless it's something that can be done on your way to the next story quest.
With so many side activities to indulge in, it can mean the pace of the main story can falter. It takes a while for the mystery of the islands to really start to unfold, but you'll be having so much fun exploring the world and playing around with alchemy that you won't really mind too much.
It's a little bit annoying (but not totally unexpected) that Ryza seems to have left many of the adventure tools and weapons, created during her second adventure, behind in the capital city. Thankfully, she does at least remember how to re-make most of them. The Alchemy system is simple enough to understand. You'll be adding ingredients into each node, and if they have the right elements you'll unlock traits or increase the stats of the finished item. It's a flexible system that's easy to use and incredibly fun to experiment with. There are loads of different things for you to create, including items that can help you out in battles.
The combat system is fast and fluid, if a little chaotic at times. You'll have three party members in battle as well as two members in the back row who you can swap between. The action is conducted in real-time and you'll have to wait for a gauge to fill up before using basic attacks. These attacks grant you Ability Points, which you can use to activate various combat skills. Using skills will give you Core Charge points, which are used to activate items in battle. It probably sounds a little confusing, but it doesn't take long to get into the rhythm of building up different points and unleashing all manner of pain down on your foes.
Most enemies you come across aren't too much of a challenge, but bosses can definitely be a bit trickier. If you do get knocked out it's usually a sign that you need to take another look at your equipment and spend a bit of time upgrading everything before trying again.
Developer Gust hasn't reinvented the wheel here; both the alchemy and battle systems are similar to the previous games, with small quality-of-life improvements making things more streamlined. The biggest change is a new 'Secret Key' system. You'll be able to create special keys which can be used in various ways, such as in battle to provide your party with buffs, or during alchemy to enhance synthesis. Each key you create has a limited number of uses but it's easy to get more through battle or by absorbing 'land energy'. It's a unique system which definitely gets more useful as you play around with it and get access to more powerful keys.
With how impressive most of the game is, it's a bit of a shame that the text lacks a little bit of polish. As the voice-overs are in Japanese only, you'll be spending a fair amount of time reading, which makes it particularly noticeable when there are typos and grammatical errors. It's also a shame that the text size isn't adjustable as the UI is a little bit busy, and it can be hard to read everything if you're not sitting close to your screen.
Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key is the biggest Atelier game to date. Ryza and her friends are just as charming as ever and this is a fantastic way to end the trilogy. The vibrant open-world areas are a joy to explore, and the slick combat and engaging alchemy system will keep you entertained throughout.