Gust’s Atelier series has been around for a long time. Despite it being one of the most consist games series in terms of quality and quantity, it has — until recently — been thought of as a niche interest, the kind of game that was for only a certain type of gamer. Primarily that meant girls, or Japanese gamers.
But despite what game magazines (or your preconceived notions of masculinity and the Patriarchy) may tell you, the Atelier series is a must play for more reasons than just its outstanding crafting mechanics and fun stories. This a series your sons need to play to teach them to respect woman without them knowing it.
Normalize Women in Power
Whether it is soldiers, merchants, or the titular Alchemist themselves, the Atelier games have no shortage of women in power. In fact, with the exception of handful in the supporting cast and NPCs, you’ll have a hard time finding a lot of male characters in this series over all, and fewer ones that actively affect the narrative. There has only been one game where you had an optional male alchemist as main protagonist.
This is somewhat unique to Atelier. The video game industry as a whole has had a historically fraught relationship with female representation. Women often only serve as eye candy (see Zero Suit Samus or Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball) or as prizes to be own/saved (Final Fantasy 15, and most of the Mario series). In Atelier they actively shape the world around them.
While I wouldn’t call these series a feminist manifesto. It is definitely is not that. It is far and away one of the most progressive game series you find, and it passes the Bechdel.
Represent Healthy Platonic Relationships Between Men and Women
There is very little romantic love in Atelier games. I haven’t played everyone of them, so I cannot say there isn’t any, but you will rarely find it front and center.
Instead relationships focus on the importance of trust, being supportive, and platonic affection. This goes as far as embedding relationships into combat.
The Atelier Ryza series does this particularly well. While you can go into combat with any of your main party, you will only be successful if you know what the other characters need in order to execute their power-up moves. This can be, having items that boost their skills, or heal damage. It can be being ready to deal elemental or physical damage.
Getting to know your characters, anticipating what they need to succeed, can make a difficult battle an near walk in the park. It can also turn the tide, especially late in the game when enemies can get more difficult.
The Importance of Preparedness and Study Over Brute Strength
Just as you need to learn your combat partners, being a thorough student of alchemy is also just as important to these games as leveling up. Even with high levels, enemies can become cumbersome if you did not take the time learn how to rebuild and reinforce combat equipment, or learn how to synthesize items that can deal extra damage, or add status effects to enemies.
My first run through Ryza 2, I found myself stonewalled at the last boss because I’d forgotten to upgrade my armor and weapons, having stopped somewhere at the mid-tier gear that had let me cruise through combat since the 20 or 30 hour mark. At hour 60, and facing the last boss, I found my whole party wiped out. And I was playing on easy.
Thirty minutes working on new materials, and find new recipes within my old ones, and I was ready to face the final boss. This time, with an updated armor set for my combat party, and enhanced weapons, we were able to cruise through, killing the boss in only five or ten minutes of fighting.
Mind you, I was not under leveled at this point in the game. Taking particular delight in the combat system, my characters were all significantly over the necessary levels. Atelier doesn’t let you skate through on pure muscle. If you aren’t strategizing and prepping, you aren’t playing it right, and you aren’t winning.
Where to Start
While all of the Atelier games are interesting, I recommend starting with Atelier Ryza and Ryza 2. They are the newest installments, so they come with all the quality of life improvements that come from decades of game development. They are also the most popular and easiest to find.
There is also the added benefit of the art style. While the earlier games have a lot of bright pastels and a decidedly moe aesthetic, Ryza is more muted. The art style is more inline with a Shonen or Seinen anime, with a more muted color palette.
There are more male characters in these two games than in most others also. The initial cast is split 50/50 in both games, and pretty much stays that way. This can go a long way into tricking your son into thinking the men are the main characters initially.
Also, there is Ryza herself. I don’t need to say it, because the whole internet already did, but for reals: Guys like thighs. If you ever had to trick a boy into playing a game about friendship, feminism, and the importance of studying, Reisalin “Ryza” Stout is the girl to do it.
And you son should. If only for the combat and alchemy, have them play this game. In the end, they just might walk away with a better worldview — one that doesn’t see empowered women as an oddity or threat, but instead as an expectation.
That can only be a good thing.