The Atelier series of JRPGs has always had a few hallmarks like a very adorable art style and an approachable, whimsical plot. But as the series’ fan base grows and matures, so should the games, right? That’s what makes the upcoming Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout such an intriguing entry for the series. While Atelier tends to focus on younger girls discovering magical skills that dwell within them, Ever Darkness is setting itself up to be more of a coming-of-age story. There are also some very distinct differences in the color tones and backgrounds that will make up the game’s world. The game also features a new turn-based combat system as well as a new upgrading system that allows players to tweak characters to their own combat styles.
During TGS we had a chance to catch up with the game’s producer Junzo Hoso to get some in-depth details on what fans can expect from the latest chapter in the Atelier series.
Shacknews: Do you level up or is everything done through a grid system, like adding items to that?
Junzo: It’s basically through battle that your characters can level up. In addition to leveling up in battle, you can give the characters certain roles. So for example, the main character Ryza, she can be the attacker, and you’ll want probably another character, instead of her being the attacker, or her being the defender. So you’ll have three characters that can be in battle at once, and you can assign different roles for them in order to create your ideal team.
Shacknews: Are certain characters better for certain roles? Is that part of the team composition?
Junzo: So yes, there are certain characters that are definitely more suited for one area than others. But in this rules system, if they are weak in certain areas, you can also strengthen those areas. So if one character seems weaker in attack, you can strengthen that attack parameter so they become stronger in battle.
Shacknews: So it becomes about how you manage the skill tree?
Junzo: Yes. And also in this series, you can create weapons as well, and assign them to any character. So if one character seems weak, you can give them a powerful weapon to use. So it’s not just about the skill tree, it’s about what weapons or items you give the player that can make them better or worse.
Shacknews: The last game was somewhat similar in style. The colors were different and the characters were a lot cuter, very petite. These seem like more mature characters. I know this has got more of a coming-of-age story. Was part of making this sort of a new beginning for the series, reinventing the art style?
Junzo: Yes, definitely, because it is a new series we decided to use a new character and a new illustrator to create the character designs for the new series. And also because it’s a concept to go along with a summer adventure. One summer adventure to go along with the concept. From the Atelier series onward, it kind of had a similar taste with succeeding titles, but we decided to go in a different direction than that, with the liberty of it being a new series. It’s something that we always try to do with new series.
Shacknews: Where did the decision to change the combat come from? I enjoy turn-based RPG combat. So I’m wondering, does it go along with new beginnings or was it just time for a change? Were you looking at other games for inspiration?
Junzo: So it is a little bit of both. It is a new series, and also we’ve been hearing from a lot of players that the players who are looking for the turn-based RPG seem to be lowering in numbers. They wanted something different. We also saw in other games that a lot of them are going towards a real-time system, and how they’ve been able to incorporate that very well. So we looked to that for inspiration for this one. You know, with turn based systems, there is a very strategic element to it, which we know is a lot of fun. We were conscious not to lose that aspect of it.
Shacknews: Are we allowed to talk specifics of the story, like who the characters are and what’s happening to them at this point? Can we get an overview of the new story and who the characters we are going to be playing as are?
Junzo: The story follows these everyday kids as they go through one summer adventure. There are four characters, boys and girls, and they go on an adventure -- we can’t get into too much detail because there are spoilers in there -- and through this adventure it’s how they grow up through a summer, and they make these memories, and they are able to reflect on these memories as they grow older. And they see that by experiencing this, it’s sort of how they learn more about themselves, or how they got through things. So it provides that story for them. It’s kind of like Stranger Things or Goonies, it’s that feel for the story.
Shacknews: So Stranger Things and Goonies were inspirations for these things?
Junzo: Yes. I watched Stranger Things, Goonies, and Stand by Me, and I wanted to make this game. I am really into Stranger Things.
Shacknews: So what about your own personal experiences growing up? Did your own youth have an inspiration here as well?
Junzo: Definitely. You know I am 34, and there are times we have get-togethers with my peers from elementary school or even junior high school. We haven’t seen each other for 20 years or so and we talk about our experiences as kids, as we can get back to that time. You can feel like a kid again when you talk about these memories. I wanted to share that experience through this game, though in my years, there weren’t any girls involved.
Shacknews: Does magic still play a big part in the story this time around?
Junzo: Definitely, when Ryza starts to learn about alchemy, she is able to come up with her own goals, so that is a key point in the story as well.
Shacknews: From a technical standpoint, since this is a new art style, what engine is this running on, and what challenges did they encounter when creating this new look?
Junzo: They actually didn’t use a new engine for this; they used an existing engine for this game. But it comes down to finding ways of how to show things, and how to make things, So they looked at their process and came up with new ways while using the same engine. So that was the real challenge, of coming up with different ways to show this new style.
Shacknews: And the battle system, did they have to build that on top of this new framework?
Junzo: Yes, they built on top of that.
Shacknews: Is the tone going to be darker this time? You mention Goonies and Stranger things, which are family-friendly, but still a bit scary. I’m curious if this will be darker or scarier than previous entries.
Junzo: Yes, it takes a bit of a dark turn. As you get through the story, there are things that will come up.
Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout is set to launch for PS4, PC, and Nintendo Switch on October 28 just in time for Halloween.