There are 22 games and you need to relax. Yes, Arland is great. I know you love it and want everyone to play it -- now resist temptation and talk less; you're scaring the noobs.
Of course, I'm one to talk, I wrote a lengthy article full of recommendations. It's not like giving all the information is always a bad thing, but, as always, context matters. Specifically, as I wrote this I thought of many chatroom and forum interactions I've witnessed and been a part of.
In general, a person new to the series asking where to start falls into one of three categories.
Group One: I want to play a specific game, I require headpats and validation
This group is pretty easy to deal with. You tell them yes, play that game. Yeah, even if they're talking about Meruru or Shallie or other less advised games -- tell them yes. Even if the game is Nelke -- you can tell them yes. You might explain how it's different, and that it's preferred to have some series knowledge, but you can tell them yes if they seem to be really into the idea of Nelke. Tell. Them. Yes.
You only correct them if they have a severe misconception about the game. You might think this is silly to describe it this way, but there is a slight emotional attachment to the idea of playing that specific game. So, let's take a practical example.
A person comes in and wants validation on their choice to play Ryza as their first game. They think the series is super cute and like the vibe Ryza gives off. As someone more knowledgeable, you can of course mention Sophie as a cuter game... but honestly, you don't need to. Yes, Sophie is cuter. This is not in question. In bringing up Sophie in this context, you are steering them away from a game they're already interested in; stop! Give them the headpats they crave, don't linger on the details of other games without a super strong reason.
Group Two: There are a million games and I'm lost
The second group is where information overload can often be a problem. In regard to my own guide, I try to cater to both subgroups of this category -- the ones that want the info, and the ones that want a simple answer. I debate how much I should talk all the time, honestly, but it's there.
For both of these subgroups, the simple answer is still usually the best. And I'll scream it until the answer changes -- the simple answer is Ryza or Sophie. I know you think Dusk is neat; I can go on that tangent in a bit.
Suppose a person listed Persona 5, Dragon Quest XI, and Pokemon as examples of their taste, in an attempt to narrow it down. None of those games are helpful. We could just point these people to Iris and Mana Khemia and send them on their merry way, but there's a bigger problem with people like this -- they have no idea how the series differs from typical JRPGs and it's important to correct them on those points. You'd get more out of these people by directly asking if they like cute girls doing cute things and item crafting.
If they point to things like Rune Factory, they probably know Atelier is mostly nonstandard and they're in the right place. It's also not too strange for people without strong JRPG backgrounds to find something interesting in Atelier -- the crafting is a significant draw and the games are generally comfy. It's at an intersection of niches that brings in weirder backgrounds and tastes than you'd expect.
So basically, there are a lot of clueless people around looking for an entry. Some explanation may be merited. However, a word of caution.
Many people are completely overwhelmed and you should give them no more than two games that match their listed tastes (or Ryza and Sophie without strong info on that front). Narrowing it down will significantly reduce the sense of being overwhelmed, they don't want to hear a ton of details, they want an answer. Far too often I see people talk about ten games when recommending to these people and they really need to stop talking. Keep it simple, they don't comprehend all the nuances.
For the people who want the full infodump? These are the people you can try to sell on Dusk. You'll love talking to them. These people want an optimal experience and they will be very attentive to what you say. This group is less common though. Or maybe they're just better at google. Either way, I don't see them much.
Group Three: I have a very specific requirement, are there any games that fulfill it?
These questions can get weird. I once saw someone asking if there were dead girls in the series (yikes). As an example I see more commonly, some people will not play a game without a male protagonist. The answer may be "this series is not for you", and honestly? That's okay. You won't win them all. Please do not try. If the answer to their question is Annie, you don't hold back; tell them Annie is their game. They will likely not play the entire series, and whether a game is good for beginners doesn't much matter.
The promised tangent: Why Ryza or Sophie?
You know, neither of these are my personal favorite games. I'd give it to Dusk a million times over. But you know what these games have that Dusk doesn't?
And yes, that's the simple reason why pushing Dusk is not the right answer. To get more into it, if you ask me, Escha & Logy is a brilliant beginner game, where Ayesha is not. Escha & Logy is probably the best game for learning item crafting mechanics -- it has the modern ideas but isn't particularly complex in how you engage with the crafting. Ayesha is comparatively a nightmare in that respect, and it's a very unguided experience to boot. (And, for the record, I do base this off things I've seen people say about Ayesha. It's just rougher in general.)
People will naturally want to play the games in order. There's not a strong story incentive for those particular games, but it's still a natural approach. Nowadays you're probably buying the DX collection, and thus have all three. You're really gonna let Ayesha sit there? And some people may, you will win some people over giving the full explanation. But I shy away from it. Simple answers are more effective. Why give a thousand asterisks to an explanation where I can give another explanation with zero?
Why don't I push Arland? Similar reason; it's more complicated. A bit of Totori not getting any sort of update, a bit of 'too many people are generally scared of time limits'. Rorona's a fine choice in a vacuum.
Ryza or Sophie? Pick 'em up and play. One comes in a convenient trilogy package. Not much else to say.
And yes, to say it directly, this article was born out of frustration from watching Reddit and Discord for many years. I've seen many noobs get steered away from Ryza in particular without a good reason, and I've seen many people try to be overly helpful by mentioning five more games than necessary. You mean well, but please relax.
I'd argue whether it's best doesn't really matter. Better to let it go. Ryza really resonates with a greater audience, I don't really consider this a bad thing even if I wouldn't personally call it a top tier subseries.
My one peeve is when people do "give headpats" to people pulled in by Ryza but they feel the need to add "They're the best games in the series period." Because they aren't... they really aren't...