Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster Review: PS4/PS5

Reawaken your inner demon in this cult classic devilish JRPG, resurrected from the depths of hell.

When speaking about the JRPG genre, few series have gained notoriety in recent years as much as Persona. This massively popular series from Japanese developers, Atlus, has become an easily-recognizable staple of modern gaming thanks to its stylish anime visuals, catchy soundtracks, and colourful casts of characters. Though unbeknownst to many Persona fans, these games themselves are spin-offs of much a larger series, with roots deeply intertwined within the dark, devil-summoning origins of Megami Tensei.

Making its debut in 1987 for PC and NES exclusively in Japan, Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei introduced a role-playing experience full of mature themes and grim undertones. Unlike most other light-hearted RPGs, which were primarily focused on traditional fantasy, this series had the player making deals alongside devils and demons in a hopeless and often depressing setting. Although popular in Japan, the series raised much controversy due to its mature content, distressing themes, and use of religious characters and imagery, making localization challenging.

Megami Tensei NES
The original Megami Tensei on NES.

This was until Nocturne.

The first mainline Shin Megami Tensei game to be released outside of Japan, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne originally launched in 2003 on the PlayStation 2, the following year in the US, and 2005 in Europe as a “director’s cut” version titled Shin Megami Tensei: Lucifer’s Call. Despite remaining very much a niche JRPG, the game managed to receive overwhelmingly-positive reviews and cemented the series within a Western audience. Since then, numerous other Megami Tensei games have seen international releases across multiple console generations.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne PS2
Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne on PlayStation 2.

Now over 15 years since its release, Nocturne, much like the post-apocalyptic Tokyo in which it is set, has been born again and revived in a brand new HD Remaster for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. Though this begs the question: has this cult classic stood the test of time, or has it been outdone by the Persona series for which it is responsible?

Plot

All good JRPGs are set in Tokyo. That’s exactly where Nocturne begins: in the sprawling metropolis that is the heart of Japan. Playing as an unnamed silent protagonist, the story begins as a regular day in the city when tasked to meet up with fellow classmates and visit his school teacher in hospital. The hospital however is eerily quiet and the teacher is nowhere to be found – instead a mysterious figure attempts to take the protagonist’s life. It’s soon revealed that all those within the hospital are to be spared from the impending “Conception”: the destruction and rebirth of the world, which will annihilate all life and rebuild anew.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
If your hospital looks like this, maybe find another hospital.

Having conveniently survived the apocalypse, the player is beckoned by an unholy voice and infused with the power of demons: a Magatama. Undergoing changes even more confronting than those of puberty, the protagonist is forcibly morphed into an accursed “Demi-Fiend“, a forsaken being neither human nor demon. The newfound powers of the Magatama allow the protagonist not only to communicate with demons, but to recruit them to his bidding (a key gameplay element of the series).

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
Sick tatts, Demi-Fiend.

Upon leaving the hospital, Tokyo now lays in complete ruins, having been reconstructed into a spherical “Vortex World” where the majority of the game takes place. Now occupied by two opposing demonic cults, The Mantra Army and The Assembly of Nihilo, these warring factions seek to take control of the Vortex World and rebuild it as their own creation. This can be only be achieved through the manipulation of Magatsuhi (a term you’re going to hear a LOT in Nocturne), the life essence extracted from the suffering of living beings, particularly a race of disturbing artificial humans known as the Mannikins.

Though ultimately it comes down to the Demi-Fiend to decide whose pursuit to rebuild the world may succeed. In discovering new areas of the Vortex World and recruiting demons for your cause, it falls upon you to unravel the motives of each cult and their leaders, and oversee the fate of all who are left within this post-apocalyptic demonic dystopia. It’s a bleak, morbid, and often depressing narrative that is absolutely gripping from start to finish.

Gameplay

Nocturne is very much a traditional JRPG, and features most of the gameplay staples that you would come to expect of the genre, which is divided into several key elements: exploration, dungeons full of clever environmental puzzles, intuitive combat, and character/party customisation.

The Vortex World acts as an overworld hub, which represents Tokyo and is split into areas based on each real-life suburb. Having been to Tokyo multiple times I found it quite amusing to stumble across places that I recognised (though in a dilapidated state). Traversing this overworld as a simple icon allows you to enter more detailed locations, dungeons and labyrinths, where the majority of the game takes place. Most dungeons feature brilliant designs making exploration thoroughly enjoyable, and include puzzles to hinder your progress which will at times require some serious thought.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
I don’t remember seeing this in Tokyo.

Exploration is made even more satisfying with the souls of the deceased and disturbing demons also scattered throughout the new world. These offer hilarious dialogue in between the plot details obtained by conversing with them. Also featured is a quick travel system known as the Amala Network, where you travel via mystical steel drums that are linked together by some sort of satanic internet.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
I guess it’s like a demonic internet modem?

Those who have played Persona will be immediately familiar with many aspects of the combat, as the summoning and fusion of Persona is directly inspired by the demon summoning found within Nocturne. During battle you play solely as the Demi-Fiend but possess the ability to recruit and summon up to three different demons to fight alongside you in combat, each of whom offer a unique skillset. Demons can be recruited during combat by talking to them, offering up items as a sacrifice, or sometimes even seducing them.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
Some demons even run shops, like everyone’s favourite, Jack Frost, ho!

Outside of combat, party customisation comes in the form of swapping demons to/from the player’s stock, which expands with progression through the game. Stopping by the Cathedral of Shadows will also allow the registration and fusion of demons, creating stronger compatriots that cannot be obtained elsewhere. This element of gameplay is akin to the iconic “Velvet Room“, which provides the same service in the Persona series.

However, in a disturbingly un-RPG fashion, there is no equipment in the entire game. No weapons, armour, or even accessories. This is completely replaced by the Magatama: spiritual stones which are acquired throughout the game. By swapping Magatama, the Demi-Fiend’s stats will change and grow differently upon levelling up, providing varying skills that can be chosen and swapped out based on a particular play style. At first it was jarring not to have typical RPG equipment, but eventually I became accustomed to the Magatama which is a simple and satisfying system.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
Magatamas: gotta ingest ’em all.

Visuals

Those spoiled by the incredibly stylish visuals of Persona 5 may have a hard time stepping back into a visual style like Nocturne, which in comparison appears very rough around the edges. Despite being a “HD Remaster,” it’s still immediately obvious that Nocturne is a PlayStation 2 game. The cel-shaded 3D graphics almost seem to scream the early 2000s era. But is this a bad thing? Not quite. Technical limitations of the era meant that graphical fidelity instead had to be enhanced by artistic direction and clever design.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
An abandoned school, one of the more atmospheric areas in the game.

Despite the lack of detail when compared to modern JRPGs, Nocturne manages to create a setting and atmosphere that is equal parts intriguing and disturbing. This is achieved through distinct environments that are often eye-catching and key characters/NPCs that blend modern Japanese society with a hint of the macabre.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
Shibuya Scramble Crossing looking a bit empty.

Soundtrack/Audio

Shoji Meguro – maybe you’ve heard the name? Atlus’ in-house composer has been creating music for the series since the mid ’90s and has since become one of the most praised creators of videogame music. Known for his use of electronic, rock and jazz genres within the SMT/Persona series, Nocturne is a prime example of Meguro’s distinct musical style. Tracks vary from ambient and eerie through to frantic and fast-paced with everything in-between. It’s not quite the peppy J-Pop or acid jazz that has since become synonymous with Meguro, but it’s representative of his earlier creations and features tracks that fit with the melancholy and depressing nature of Nocturne. Check out the track “Tokyo Conception” for one of the more dramatic pieces in the game.

To accompany the soundtrack, a cast of characters ranging from delightfully devilish to downright demonic demonstrate voice acting performances that are some of the best from the PS2 era. The acting can be tense, genuine or convey legitimate emotion, and at times it can be comedic and cheesey (particularly some of the lines delivered by demons). Most importantly, it is at all times entertaining. The HD Remaster also now includes the option to swap between the original Japanese voice acting and the English dub which is a nice touch! My only complaint is that I wish there were more of it – we’ve become spoiled by modern games with full voice acting.

Extras

Nocturne and the Shin Megami Tensei series as a whole have gained a reputation for notorious difficulty. Though at times this can certainly be the case, the HD Remaster now offers a Merciful difficulty which caters to those simply wanting to enjoy the story with minimal challenge. Absolute masochists may even get a kick out of a fiendish hard mode (which I wouldn’t dare touch). This can be changed at any time and helps to make the game far more accessible for a wider audience. Throughout the game I found myself comfortably playing at the standard difficulty, though I did on occasion drop it down to Merciful to avoid frustration or tiresome grinding.

One of the other notable extras in the game is an block puzzle minigame that is thankfully completely optional. It’s reminiscent of early DOS games like Chip’s Challenge and has 20 levels of block-pushing madness that steadily increase in difficulty. After attempting to complete this and failing miserably, I have incredible respect for anyone who manages to finish all levels without the use of a walkthrough. I’d argue it’s tougher than the game itself.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster PS5
I’ll be happy to never see this again.

Conclusion

Not only is this one of the finest JRPGs available on the PlayStation 2, but it’s an excellent entry point for exploring more of the Shin Megami Tensei series, especially for fans who have only been exposed to Persona. Now made more accessible thanks to the HD Remaster, anyone with a PlayStation 4/5 or Nintendo Switch has no excuse to try out this cult classic. Once you look past elements of the game that are now quite dated, you’ll experience an enthralling JRPG that is almost singlehandedly responsible for all other Atlus titles in the West that have followed it.

My recommendation? Don’t sleep on Nocturne.

So, why should you play it?

  • You’d call yourself a fan of the Persona games.
  • Never played any of the previous Shin Megami Tensei games? This is the perfect entry point.
  • Looking for a gripping, JRPG full of dark, mature themes? Look no further.
  • Plenty of difficulty options for those who might have previously struggled.
  • Featuring Dante from the Devil May Cry series.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Played the original to completion? You might give the HD Remaster a pass then.
  • Enjoy upbeat, happy games? Stay well away from Nocturne.

A PlayStation 4 review copy was provided for the purpose of this review. The game was played on PlayStation 5.

ENTER THE REAPERS’ GAME ON JULY 27 – NEO: THE WORLD ENDS WITH YOU LAUNCH DATE CONFIRMED

New Trailer Highlights Characters, Gameplay Alongside PC Version Announcement

SQUARE ENIX® has announced that the action role-playing game NEO: The World Ends with You will release on July 27, 2021 for the PlayStation®4 computer entertainment system and Nintendo Switch™ system and confirmed a PC version of the game will be available on the Epic Games Store this winter (ANZ).

Some familiar faces appear alongside the new cast of NEO: The World Ends With You.

The long-awaited follow-up to the RPG classic The World Ends with You follows protagonist, Rindo, as he explores the heart of Tokyo to uncover the mysteries behind the sinister “Reapers’ Game,” a life-or-death battle for survival in which he has been forced to take part. A new trailer, that debuted today, offers an introduction to a new cast of characters, a vibrant and fashionable equipment system, the game’s hyper-stylish action battle system, and much more. The trailer is available on YouTube: https://youtu.be/xSVYX1FLMGQ

A screenshot of a video game

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The pin-badge system is back again, and as stylish as ever.

NEO: The World Ends with You combines a striking, anime-style Shibuya with fast-paced gameplay, an amped-up soundtrack from composer Takeharu Ishimoto (THRILL Inc.), and an intriguing story to create an unforgettable experience. Players can explore and enjoy the sights, sounds, and culture of this bustling city, fight monsters alongside their allies in flashy battles, and complete missions as they learn more about the “Reapers’ Game” and fight to change the fate they’ve been handed.

The iconic Shibuya scramble crossing. Just with a lot less people.

You can find out more about Neo: The World Ends With You, which launches on July 27th 2021, via the official website:
https://square-enix-games.com/neotwewy/en-us/

Persona 5 Strikers Review – PS4/PS5

They might be Strikers, but this time the Phantom Thieves have hit another home run.

Warriors spin-off games are everywhere. No series is safe.

What originally started as a fighting game similar to the Soulcalibur series, soon evolved into a genre of its own with the PS2 launch title: Dynasty Warriors 2. This game coined the term “crowd-combat“, placing the player on an open battlefield fighting 1 vs 100 against swarms of enemies at once interspersed with stronger bosses in what is often referred to as a musou game (literally translates to Warriors in Japanese). Originally these games were focused on the Three Kingdoms period in China and featured historical settings and characters locked in feudal war. However, it was not long before the influence of these games began to spread to other series:

The Legend of Zelda became Hyrule Warriors (and Age of Calamity).
Fire Emblem became Fire Emblem Warriors.
One Piece became One Piece: Pirate Warriors.
Gundam became Dynasty Warriors: Gundam.
…the list goes on!

And now Persona is the latest series to fall victim with Persona 5 Strikers.
But the catch? It barely feels like a Warriors game at all. Read on to find out why!

PLOT

Set only months after the events of Persona 5 (the base game, not Royal, so no Kasumi), protagonist and leader of the infamous Phantom Thieves, Joker, decides to get the gang back together again for a reunion. Upon gathering the crew, the group discover a popular new phone app known as EMMA taking the world by storm. After attending a public meet and greet with pop star, Alice Hiiragi, the Phantom Thieves are given a calling card and discover they can use the app to enter the Metaverse allowing them to explore new “Jails” to confront the shadow versions of people behaving abnormally in real life. It’s a premise much the same as those of Persona 5.

Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Jail
Yeah, I don’t think real life jails usually look like this…

Several new characters are introduced and are key to the plot of the game. Early on you come across an artificial intelligence affectionately named Sophia, who becomes a playable character in the metaverse and essentially lives inside Joker’s phone. In the place of Sae Nijima (the prosecutor from the original game), the team now begin working alongside police inspector, Zenkichi Hasegawa, and must determine whether he is friend or foe.

Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Characters Zenkichi
“How do you do, fellow Phantom Thieves?”

Shortly after the initial events set in Tokyo/Shibuya, the Phantom Thieves set off on a road trip. Literally. In an oversized camper van that becomes their mobile base, you explore new settings around Japan and discover new jails to uncover those responsible. It feels almost like a coming-of-age story, but makes for an amusing setting and a creative way to explore new regions.

Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Futaba Holiday Road Trip
Even the Phantom Thieves need to take time off occasionally.

GAMEPLAY

Many Persona staples make a return in Strikers, making the game feel far much more like a follow-up than a Warriors spin-off. I had to regularly remind myself I wasn’t playing a true sequel to Persona 5, as it’s quite easy to forget. And that’s a good thing!

Elements like Persona collection and fusion return, and will see you making regular trips to the Velvet Room in-between missions. Managing your team and their equipment is still an important aspect – the only difference is you no longer visit physical stores (so no more Airsoft Shop or Takemi Clinic), instead all of your items are ordered online and delivered directly to the Hideout. There is also still plenty of character interaction and amusing dialogue, though “social links” now have been completely replaced with a simplified “bond level” that allows you to unlock and upgrade various abilities.

Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Lavenza Velvet Room
It’s real velvet.

Overall the gameplay is quite simple and easily approachable: as you progress through the story you’ll trigger scripted events in which you explore new Jails (which are essentially large dungeons). These dungeons involve solving puzzles, clever areas of platforming, and of course plenty of combat which is certainly the highlight of the game. You’ll fight swarms of enemies and bosses to progress further through the Jail, and eventually confront the Monarch at the end in order to change their corrupted heart.

Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Gameplay Jail
The first Jail, which has an Alice in Wonderland theme.

COMBAT

It really wouldn’t be a Warriors game without button-mashing combat and swarms of enemies, but Strikers does incredibly well in allowing this combat to feel as much like the original game as possible. Although it is no longer turn-based and instead gives the player full control over their character’s movement, it incorporates many of the aspects of Persona’s combat:

  • Personas: during combat you can call upon your Persona. If you’re playing as Joker you can pause time, swap Personas mid-combat, and cast spells and abilities on the fly.
  • Your party: you can play as any combination of 4 of the Phantom Thieves (and some guests!) during combat and swap between them using the D-pad. Though characters other than Joker are limited to using only their own Persona.
  • Strengths, weaknesses, and all-out attacks: choosing your abilities is crucial in combat, and by exploiting enemy weakness you’ll be able to knock them down. Once enemies are down then in true Persona fashion a stylish and devastating all-out attack can be performed.
  • Ambushes: enemies can be attacked from behind or above and be swiftly and stealthily dealt with.
Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch All Out Attack Take Your Heart
The all-out attacks are still as satisfying as they were in the original game.

There are also new additions to the combat not previously found in Persona 5, most of which work in favour to make the action-based combat much more engaging:

  • Environmental attacks: each area has unique aspects that you can use during combat (for example, a party-themed area may have party poppers that can be activated to stun an enemy).
  • Ranged weapons: each character has their own ranged weapon with a limited amount of ammo.
  • Showtime attacks: defeating enemies will charge your Showtime Gauge which, when full, allows you to unleash a devastating and visually-impressive attack to clear the battlefield.
Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Showtime Attack
The showtime attacks definitely are the star of the show.

Considering it’s such a massive part of the game and will probably take up the majority of your time, it’s satisfying to know that the combat not only takes many elements from Persona 5, but somehow manages to improve upon them all while maintaining the game’s distinct visual style…

VISUALS AND STYLE

Of course one of the most impressive features of Persona 5 is its stylish visual aesthetic. Every character movement and action is done with flare and an effortless coolness. And it’s not just the animated cutscenes, environments or combat that are impressive; even the game’s loading screens, menus and inventories are an absolute pleasure. Well thankfully Strikers does the series justice and manages to maintain the distinct elegant graphics in its environments, animations, UI, and animated cutscenes (which swap between pre-rendered CGI and stylised anime).

Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Stylish Menu
I could seriously watch these menus for hours.

In keeping the distinct visual style, Strikers manages to feel like a legitimate follow-up to Persona 5 rather than a simple spinoff. However, visuals are only part of P5’s style, as it’s the smooth acid jazz soundtrack that really tops it off.

SOUNDTRACK

Originally composed by series sound director, Shoji Meguro, the music to Persona 5 ranges from smooth jazz and lounge music all the way to big band, electronic and intense upbeat tracks like Rivers in the Desert. Though he was not involved directly in the music for Strikers, many of the tracks from the original game have been incorporated, rearranged or remixed, and are also available if you have a Persona 5 or Royal save file.

The brand new compositions in Strikers feel right at home among the original tracks, and have a much more upbeat tempo fitting of a Warriors game. In particular, many of the battle themes really stand out in this soundtrack and will hype you up while facing off against a challenging enemy.

CONCLUSION

So what’s most impressive about Persona 5 Strikers? It’s the fact that it feels more like a legitimate follow-up to Persona 5 than it does a Warriors spin-off. In retaining the best aspects of Persona 5, Strikers manages to blend its action-based gameplay perfectly into the world of the Phantom Thieves, and unlike other Warriors games does not at all feel forced, repetitive, or unnecessarily padded.

If you’re a die-hard Persona fan and love the series for its characters and story, then Strikers is a rewarding return to the world of the Phantom Thieves. You won’t be turned off by the combat either, as it manages to incorporate aspects of turn-based combat to create an almost hybrid style of battle. My only gripe is the lack of Social Links/Major Arcana, instead being replaced by a dumbed-down “bonds” system that does not feel anywhere near as engaging or rewarding.

Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Ann

So why should you play it?

  • You crave more Persona goodness and enjoy the series.
  • Stylish anime visuals, combat and cutscenes appeal to you.
  • Turn-based combat tends to get a bit boring.
  • The satisfaction of destroying swarms of enemies and over-the-top attacks is unparalleled.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • As a JRPG fanatic you’d only ever play games with turn-based combat.
  • Social Links were the most enjoyable part of Persona for you.

Persona 5 Strikers is available on both Playstation 4, PC and Nintendo Switch. A review code (PS4) was provided for the purpose of this review, though the game was played on a Playstation 5 and performance may vary.

Undertale and Octopath Traveler Coming to Xbox Gamepass

In an announcement overnight, Microsoft has revealed the next set of games arriving on Xbox Gamepass. The list includes popular titles like Nier: Automata, Star Wars: Squadrons, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, indie hit Undertale, and my personal favourite of the bunch, the first game in Square Enix HD-2D series: Octopath Traveler. A brilliant lineup of games with some excellent titles!

The full release schedule is as follows:

Week of March 15: 

·       UndertaleAVAILABLE NOW (Console and PC)
·       Empire of SinMarch 18 (Console and PC)
·       Nier: AutomataMarch 18 (PC)
·       Star Wars: SquadronsMarch 18 (Console)
·       Torchlight IIIMarch 18 (PC)

Week of March 22: 

·       Genesis NoirMarch 25 (Console and PC)
·       Octopath TravelerMarch 25 (Console and PC)
·       Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire – Ultimate EditionMarch 25 (PC)
·       SupralandMarch 25 (PC)
·       Yakuza 6: The Song of LifeMarch 25 (Console and PC)

Week of March 29: 

·       OutridersApril 1 (Console)
·       Narita BoyMarch 30 (Console and PC)

For more information, including news about the latest Xbox Game Pass Quests and DLC, head over to Xbox Wire. The official announcement can be found here: Coming Soon to Xbox Game Pass

Atelier Ryza 2 PS5 Review

A surp-Ryza-ngly thrilling JRPG!

The Atelier series of games began over 20 years ago, with the first game in the series, Atelier Marie: The Alchemist of Salburg, releasing all the way back in 1997 for the Sony PlayStation. An “atelier” is a workshop or studio, and this title is definitely reflected in the series, which have a heavy focus on alchemy, collection and creation of items. Thanks to their cute characters and unique gameplay, Atelier games have gained quite a cult following over the last couple of decades.

Atelier Marie Playstation 1 PS1
Atelier Marie, Sony PlayStation, 1997 (Japan only)

Developed by Gust, a division of Koei Tecmo, there are now 22 games in the main series, and numerous spin-offs, remakes and ports. And yet, this is the first time I’ve ever played an Atelier game. What have I been doing wasting my life without these games!? Well weep for me no longer, because I have finally seen the light, and experienced the sweet charm that is cute girls doing alchemy with Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy for Nintendo Switch and Sony PlayStation PS4/PS5.

A direct sequel to Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout, the game centres around the peppy and spirited Reisalin “T̶h̶i̶g̶h̶z̶a̶ Ryza” Stout: a budding alchemist, teacher, and a friend to absolutely everyone she encounters. In typical JRPG fashion you control Ryza as the main character, and recruit several party members during progression of the game’s story, many of whom are characters from the previous game. Despite not having played the original game, I still managed to gain a decent understanding of who all the characters were and what they meant to Ryza and the game’s story. If possible I would recommend to play the original game first, but if you’re in my situation, I don’t think it detracts much from your overall enjoyment of the game.

Atelier Ryza PS4 PS5 Voluptuous Thighs
Main character, Ryza, known for her voluptuous… personality.

Gameplay is fairly straight-forward: collect items for alchemy from different areas of the map, take them back to your Atelier and use them to craft various items. The more you are able to craft, the more areas of the map you can explore, the more efficient you can become in combat, and the further you can progress the main story and side missions. It’s a very simple concept but incredibly satisfying – coming across that rare item out in the field and bringing it back to be thrown in the cauldron to create something completely different becomes very addicting. There’s also quite a bit of skill needed to synthesise high-quality or complex items, as each ingredient has a particular level of quality and various skills that might be transferred to the synthesised item. This is an essential gameplay mechanic, and certainly enhances other aspects of gameplay such as exploration and combat.

Atelier Ryza PS4 PS5 Synthesis Screen
The synthesis screen, allowing you to add materials to create an array of items.

So the game is completely peaceful, right? No fighting, just strolling around picking flowers and creating items to gift to townspeople?

Wrong. Ryza LOVES to fight.

Adorable sheep, sludgy slimes, rare dragons, immortal suits of armour, Ryza slaughters them all with ease to collect their contents and throw them into the boiling alchemy pot. This is done with the assistance of two other active party members, and another party member that can swap in during combat. You have the option to swap between characters and perform attacks, blocks, special skills, and use items to defeat the helpless creatures. Combat also utilises an “active time battle” system, which makes fighting much more engaging than traditional turn-based JRPG battles. Performing particular skills at the request of your allies will trigger your party’s skills and cause a chain of attacks for massive damage. It’s quite satisfying when a single attack ends up becoming a barrage from all of your characters at once. This means most of the time combat will be an absolute breeze and you won’t even have to consider your actions, but scattered throughout the world and as you progress the story are various bosses, and these can be a bit more of a challenge.

Atelier Ryza PS4 PS5 Combat
The dynamic combat screen, which allows you to swap between characters at any point.

It’s not all about crafting and killing though, as a large component of the game involves exploring ruins, unravelling mysteries, and revealing the truth around a mysterious character who hatched from an egg known as Fi (no, not the talking sword). These essentially acts as “dungeons”: separate areas with a unique visual style, specific enemies to fight and items to collect, and a boss at the end. While exploring the ruins, fighting enemies, and using various crafted items, your goal is to piece together fragments of each area and discover the history of the location through snippets of text. Ryza is also in possession of a magical compass that guides her towards points of interest in each location. How convenient! Overall I found collecting and piecing together these fragments to be a little bit tedious, but the reward is worth the hassle as it allows you to gain points needed to synthesise new items. Exploring these ruins is not an optional part of the game, and is required in order to progress the main story.

Atelier Ryza PS4 PS5 Exploration Underwater City Ruins
One of the game’s ruins: an ancient underwater city. Doesn’t look very ruined to me!

In addition to the main story there is plenty of extra content to keep you hooked on Atelier Ryza. Numerous side quests involving the game’s main characters and townspeople, levelling up the shops located in the town, unlocking new parts of the skill tree, upgrading weapons at the local blacksmith, and befriending and sending out an adorable Puni (slime) on missions to collect alchemy items. There’s even a screenshot mode where you can pose Ryza, other characters and enemies and take some amusing shots (pictured below) – an essential part of any modern video game! I had a thrilling time with all these optional parts of the game, and they definitely add much more gameplay value than just powering through the ruins and main story.

Atelier Ryza PS4 PS5 Photo Mode alchemy pot
Ryza only uses the finest ingredients in her alchemy.

With a crisp anime art-style, 4K resolution on the PS5, vibrant colours and lighting, and detailed character models, Atelier Ryza is one of the best-looking JRPGs I’ve seen yet. Some of the environmental models can look a bit jagged up close, and animations during character interactions are noticeably robotic, but overall it’s a very visually-pleasing game. Combine that with a brilliant acoustic score from composer Kazuki Yanagawa, who has composed music for almost all the main Atelier games, and you’ve got an incredibly charming aesthetic for the game. His music has a refreshing, calm, folky sound with plenty of acoustic instruments and catchy melodies, and the occasional intense upbeat song during the game’s combat and boss fights – it’s a perfect fit for the series.

After playing Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy on PlayStation 5, I’m intrigued by the rest of the series and will certainly be playing some of the earlier titles for more alchemical action. And if you’re like me and have never played an Atelier game before, don’t hesitate to try out Ryza 2, even with it being a direct sequel.

So why should I play it?

  • You enjoy JRPGs, particularly those with a focus on collecting/crafting.
  • You’re an anime fan and enjoy series with cute characters.
  • You’ve never played a game in the Atelier series.
  • You want a decent JRPG to play on the PS5.

But why shouldn’t I play it?

  • You don’t enjoy games with a focus on collecting/crafting.
  • Cute anime girls might make you embarrassed.
  • If you don’t have the time to commit hours to a lengthy JRPG.

A review copy of the game for PlayStation 5 was provided for the purpose of this review.