The Secret series was first introduced to the world at the end of 2019. Compared to other Atelier subseries, this series has been well-received by both new players and series’ fans due to its relatively easier gameplay, innovative combat mechanics, and exquisite character designs. The first game’s success led to the release of the second installment in late 2020, and now the series has officially presented its finale with Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End and the Secret Key.
Before Ryza's graduation adventure begins, a group of mysterious islands suddenly appears near Kurken Island where Ryza and her companions reside, severely affecting the communication and trading routes between the island's residents and civilizations outside the island. Of course, as the strongest alchemist on the island, Ryza simply cannot ignore this matter, thus she sets out on another summer adventure with her friends to uncover the truth behind the events. During her journey, a mysterious voice repeatedly appears in Ryza's mind, seemingly guiding her to bring a certain key to the ruins in the islands. During a synthesis, Ryza coincidentally creates the key, thereby gradually unlocking new powers and the truth behind the islands.
Shortly after diving into the PC version of Atelier Ryza 3, I quickly noticed improvements made in the visual presentation of characters and objects in the game. With the graphics quality set to the maximum, players who have played previous games in the series may notice a more solid look to the game but may not be able to pinpoint the exact changes. In my view, the visual presentation of objects in Atelier Ryza 3 is more realistic than in previous games due to increased complexity of visual details. For example, environmental objects like trees and large stones now have more polygons, which, when combined with improved lighting and shadow effects, makes the game feel more immersive. Additionally, the game has made subtle improvements in skin reflection, resulting in more visually appealing characters with smoother skin (iykyk).
Overall, I believe that Atelier Ryza 3 has the best visual display of all Atelier titles, thanks to these meticulous improvements. However, it is worth mentioning that the game's depth of field (DOF) setting is not up to par, as it feels like a layer of mosaic over distant sceneries, which undermines the beauty of the game's landscapes. Therefore, I recommend against turning on the DOF setting.
Atelier Ryza 3 features a semi-open world format with four major regions for players to explore. The seamless transitions between areas within each region present a smoother gameplay experience. Compared to previous installments, the exploratory area in Atelier Ryza 3 is unprecedentedly massive. Like many open/semi-open world games, this game has many "landmarks" for players to visit and unlock, which can be used as teleportation points. With the increased map size comes more opportunities for map interactions, such as unlockable treasure chests, hidden spaces filled with treasures, various transporting devices, and the newly added camping system.
In addition, Ryza and her companions can build a customizable base in each region, which are various ateliers that come with different effects. Decorations inside the ateliers can also be obtained through exploration or completing missions. With the running speed of the characters increased slightly, and the points of interests and gathering nodes are clearly richer than in previous games, being one of the main focus of the Secret series, I think the “exploration” element in this game is pretty well done and the map does not give me the impression of being enormous just for the sake of it.
Players in Atelier Ryza 3 are guided through the story by the presence of different quests. Apart from the main quests, the game also includes normal quests, character quests, and party quests. The character quests allow players to learn about each character's background story and traits while party quests enable them to acquire unique skills. Additionally, random quests appear sporadically, and they require players to hunt monsters, gather materials, and synthesize them. The quests' difficulty level corresponds to the player's current level, and they offer rewards such as materials and SP. Atelier Ryza 3 also introduces world quests that revolve around the distinct cultures or issues of each region. Upon completion, these quests have tangible impacts on the game world, such as altering the shop catalogues and changing natural landscapes and town environments. With a vast semi-open world and diverse types of quests, Atelier Ryza 3 offers even more playable content than its two predecessors.
Continuing the unique ATB combat systems from the previous two games, Atelier Ryza 3 boasts a turn-based combat system that feels almost real-time. During battles, players can only control one character at a time, but can switch between them at any point. They can accumulate AP by using regular attacks and then spend them to trigger various powerful skills. Uncontrolled characters will fight on their own, either accumulating AP for the player in support mode or spending it to launch skill attacks in aggressive mode. This combat system offers a great deal of flexibility, as front-row characters can switch with back-row characters to continue casting skills, allowing for a wide range of skill combinations.
One major alteration to the game's combat system is the inclusion of a fifth member in the lineup, enabling a "three in front, two in back" formation. This modification vastly expands the possibilities for players to exercise creativity during battle, providing more diverse skill combinations and strategies when facing different types of monsters. With a rich roster of 11 characters, each with their unique abilities, this game offers an exceptional combat experience for fans of the series. The "Key Modification" system allows players to transform keys collected into weapons that provide a variety of bonuses to the team. Although the combat might seem complex, playing on Easy or Normal difficulty does not demand too much of the player’s combat mechanics, so casual players can enjoy other elements of the game without too much stress.
Atelier Ryza 3 has a synthesis system that is very similar to its predecessor. Players still collect various materials from exploration areas and synthesize them into desired forms. However, this game introduces "Super Traits", which have more powerful effects than regular traits and can only be inherited directly from the raw materials to the synthesized product. Even though the synthesis system in the Secret series is considerably simpler than other Atelier games, it can still be challenging for beginners. Fortunately, players who find it difficult can choose to use the "Auto-Add Materials" feature, which automatically completes the synthesis. Nonetheless, I still recommend that players patiently learn and enjoy the synthesis system, which is the core gameplay of the Atelier series. After all, successfully synthesizing the ideal equipment can provide a sense of achievement comparable to defeating a difficult boss in an action game.
Finally, one just couldn’t not mention the "Secret Keys" system, which is the core to the game’s story and builds upon all the previous mechanics. This new feature offer players various gameplay advantages and are divided into four different areas: equipment, combat, synthesis, and exploration. Players can create new keys by absorbing essences from various landmarks or monsters. The key creation process is much like a gacha system, where each key has a unique rarity, appearance, and effect. Keys with "Symbol" effects provide attribute bonuses when equipped to characters, while "Buff" effects provide unique buffs during Key Modification. On the other hand, "Adventure" effects offer benefits for exploration and material collection, and "Synthesis" effects provide various bonuses for synthesizing, such as increasing the number of times materials could be added during the process. In short, the key system adds variety to the gameplay, although not necessary beyond the main storyline, it undoubtedly makes the already less repetitive gameplay more diverse.
In general, I think that Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End and the Secret Key not only lives up to expectations as the final installment in the trilogy, but it also exceeds them with its improved gameplay mechanics and new features. Among all the games in the Atelier series, the Secret series seems to be the most suitable for a semi-open world format due to its focus on summer exploration and the adventurous personalities of the main characters. While the addition of new mechanics to an already complex system may be daunting for beginners, under Easy and Normal difficulties, players’ progress would not be much affected by whether or not the new features are properly utilized. Thus, I am confident that even beginners can still enjoy the game to a great extent. Although it is bittersweet to see the end of the Secret series, this game undeniably serves as a perfect conclusion to the trilogy, and as unlikely as it may seem, I still hold a glimmer of hope that we might see Ryza and her companions in future games.
That sums up Lluvia’s record and impression of Ryza and her companions’ final summer adventure. New players out there who have any questions about the series and are hesitant about whether or not to get their hands on Atelier Ryza 3, check out our Atelier Ryza series recap and introduction!