The Atelier series has always had a small but strong following but the games truly exploded onto the RPG scene with the release of Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness and The Secret Hideout back in 2017. Since then the first two games have shipped over 1.6 million units, a first for the series.
It’s honestly quite incredible how much the Ryza series has brought so much attention to the franchise to the point that within six years, it’s gotten two sequels and an anime adaptation coming out later this year. It’s far from mainstream success but even as a JRPG fan, I’d only ever heard the series name in passing before this game seemed to bring new people in, primarily with how much players were talking about the main character Ryza and her… assets. So let’s take a quick look at the series and what made it so popular. Was it really just the design?
Ok yeah, let’s address the elephant in the room. Half of the reason people seem to pay attention to Ryza is her more well-endowed design, complete with painfully thick thighs. There’s a reason she got around 20 scale figurines made in her image. She’s clearly become the face of the franchise and that’s not a bad thing, after all, it has led to more games coming out.
The funny thing is, the producer of the game, Junzo Hosoi said they never actually intended Ryza to be so sexy. In his own words, he simply wanted her to be cute:
“Our approach was to make a cute character without any sexual innuendo whatsoever. Everyone sort of looks at her as sort of being sexy, and that’s completely not how we look at her so that really caught us by surprise. (Laughs)”
According to Hosoi, the main reason they gave Ryza her now iconic “short-shorts” was because she’s the daughter of a farmer, and wearing a skirt wouldn’t suit a farm lifestyle. That being said, he also admitted that the character designer Toridamono did ask if he could add his “interests” to Ryza’s design.
Using Fanservice right
With all this being said the Ryza games are not pervy fanservice games in the vein of say Senran Kagura or even Dead or Alive. It also isn’t like Ryza’s design is that much more sexual than the previous Atelier protagonist, all of whom are cute girls and several of whom wear more revealing clothing (I mean have you seen Atelier Marie).
Ryza herself is an endearing character. She’s a cheerful tomboy that wants to go on adventures and falls in love with the idea of alchemy upon seeing it used to make a magic grenade. Her small cast of friends are likewise a fun bunch and play off her energetic attitude well. The thighs may have played a part in her success but there is far more to the series than that.
The difference was that Gust knew how to use the fanservice right. IE, they put Ryza right on the front cover. By advertising, Ryza’s eye-catching design, they were able to bring in more people who wouldn’t have been interested in the franchises otherwise. More people were willing to give the series a chance, exposing them to the alchemy mixing adventure the series is known for.
In many ways, it’s very similar to the situation with Nier Automata and its main character 2B. The previous Nier game featured the prominent side character Kainé who dresses in more skimpy clothing but Automata got far more popular thanks to the main character being an android gothic lolita ninja maid. Of course, having a fun gameplay system designed by Platinum Games helped too. And Ryza likewise, excels in the gameplay department.
Becoming An Alechmist
The fun of Atelier games, at least from a newcomer’s perspective is that they position themselves as the slice-of-life series among the JRPG pantheon. While your Final Fantasy and Shin Megami Tensei entries are killing gods and exploring the existential folly of the human condition, the Atelier games are more about just having fun. Cute girls exploring their quiet fantasy towns hoping to become an alchemist. “Cozy” would be a good way to describe the series (even if some of them are way harder than people realize).
The game really brings in that lighthearted atmosphere with the quiet semi-open world of Ryza’s island town and the friendly NPCs that inhabit it. Several changes were also made to the gameplay systems from previous games to add to the accessible nature. For starters the turn-based combat was changed to an ATB system, encouraging faster play to keep you on your toes. The game also features a more streamlined alchemy system that lacks the time limit when it comes to story missions. Ryza isn’t the first game in the series to have this but it certainly benefits from allowing the player to take their time and get lost in the game. Overall the intention seemed to be to make the game more simple and accessible to fit that cozy aesthetic and it certainly succeeded.
The Rise of Ryza
The recently released Atelier Ryza 3 will serve as the final game in the Ryza series but she has certainly left her mark on the franchise. While her rather generous design certainly played a part in the series’ success, this is backed by a truly lovable character, a cozy world, friendly inhabitants, and an addictive yet simple gameplay loop. Gamers may have come for the thighs, but many have stayed for the content beyond the thighs.
This success has allowed the series to go strong to this day, and not just with Ryza. Since the release of the first Ryza, we’ve seen Atelier Sophie 2 which brought back some older mechanics for veteran fans as well as an upcoming remake of the first Atelier Marie game. The future of the series looks bright, and it’s all thanks to a small-town farmer girl and an artist with a thing for booty shorts.
The entire Atelier Ryza Trilogy is available for PS4, Nintendo Switch, and PC. Check out our review of the latest game in the series Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of The End and The Secret Key for more information.