Author’s Note: This review was originally published on June 13th, 2008. Like other reviews of the time, it features “witty” taglines for each section.
Despite where we are in the PS2’s life, the system continues to get excellent titles. Gust’s Mana Khemia: The Alchemist of Al-Revis is no exception. At a glance, this game appears to be the same as Atelier Iris 3: The Grand Phantasm. However, after the first few minutes of playing, you will that the two games are very different. In fact, MK is able to shine in such a way that it stands out from the Atelier Iris games.
Alchemy School is in Session.
Vayne Aurelius is a shy young man living in the mountains with his best mana friend, Sulpher. One day, Vayne gets a surprise visit from a teacher of the Al-Revis Academy named Zeppel. Zeppel invites Vayne to attend the academy in order to become a mighty alchemist. However, why was he sent? Who exactly is Vayne? These questions, and many more, will be answered as you spend your time in school.
When you receive the answer to all of your questions, you will realize that the story in MK is excellent. You will not be controlling a rag-tag group of heroes on a quest to save the world. Instead, you have a story of discovery. You will discover things about the school, about the staff, and about your fellow classmates. What is interesting is how the amazingly developed characters relate to one-another. For a series that usually has simple stories, Nippon Ichi did an excellent job with the translation and brining the story to life.
Stay on Schedule!
Game play in Mana Khemia happens to be the game’s strongest points, both on and off the battlefield. First, we will focus on what you are doing when not battling. MK is divided into chapters, and each chapter revolves around a week of school. During this week you will have classes. If you do well in classes, you will earn free time. With free time, you can do side-quests. You can also do character quests, which allow you to build relationships with your characters and ultimately determine which of the eight endings you will see.
If you do poorly in classes, you will get detention. In detention, you have to accomplish mindless tasks that leave you with no reward. Obviously, you want to get the highest grades possible. This is because free time is so important for accomplishing things that normally lack the time to do. Shopping, creating items, and fully exploring dungeons take time and you need to make sure you have enough free time to do all of these things.
Endless Item Synthesis 101.
Once again, there are a plethora of items to create via alchemy and Mana Khemia has added new features to this system. The best way to describe this is to start from scratch. First, you will be given a recipe. These can be obtained from teachers for class, you can get them in treasure chests, or you can earn them from side-jobs. Next, it is time to make the item by going to your workshop. When you decide to make an item, you will notice that you can substitute certain ingredients for one-another. This is a great feature because it saves you the trouble of either not being at a point in the game when a certain something is available or it allows you to not have to worry about buying something that you are missing. When you have all of the items set, you will see some interesting things. By hitting square, you will notice that you can get one of your friends to help you create the item. One friend will affect one ingredient. However, you do not have to have them help you if so decide. Anyways, you will also notice a spinning wheel at the bottom of the screen. By hitting the X button, you will stop the wheel at a certain element. If the element corresponds to the ingredient’s element, then the finished product’s ether level will increase. The higher the ether level, the more effective the item will be. Finally, when all of the ingredients have gone through the elemental wheel, the item is made.
However, there is more. First, if you substitute certain ingredients in one recipe, you will come up with an entirely new result. Also, if you make one item, one of your characters may gain inspiration for you to create an entirely different item. You can also make weapons, armor, and accessories but they do not use the characters or the elemental wheel. One of the most addicting features that Mana Khemia offers is in item creation because it is both fun and rewarding.
The End of the Day.
Obviously, MK has many things going for it, but there is still more to cover when you are not battling. First, we have the rumor system. When you accomplish certain tasks, you will earn a new rumor. When a rumor is set, your team will gain an increase in stats. Another great feature of MK is that you can have your team members hunt for raw materials or synthesize items. When a day ends, you will earn these items from your team members. Not only is this a nifty feature, it does not cost you a thing! Needless to say, Mana Khemia’s game play is excellent off the battle field. Luckily for you, it is also excellent on the battle field.
Grander than a Phantasm.
At a glance, Mana Khemia looks like it has the same battle system as Atelier Iris 3. When you first begin the game, this is mostly true. You control Vayne as he runs and jumps through the dungeon areas. You can slash a foe to gain the preemptive strike. When you enter the battle, you will see the turn order on the top represented by cards. Each character, monster, and skill that activates over time is shown. The rest of the cards are left blank. If you finish the battle quickly, your time in the dungeon does not decrease. This is good because in the event that you encounter a foe in the night time, you will be up against faster, stronger, and deadlier foes. Thus, you have to avoid night time battles early in the game.
Empty cards that reach the end of the bar on top will go back to the left end in order. When a time-skill reaches the end, it activates. When a monster icon reaches the end, the monster attacks. When one of your team members gets to the end, their turn comes up. There are various things in battle you can do. Every team member can attack, and has their unique skills. You can also use items, defend, or flee. All of your characters learn a variety of skills throughout the game. Furthermore, using the right materials in weapon and armor creation will grant your characters magic spells.
The start of the game gives you only three characters. Your team exchanges blows back and forth. Eventually, you will gain a full party of characters, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. In MK, there are three battle rows. The vanguard row has three openings. This row is what goes into the battle. The next row is the support row. When a character is in the support row, they slowly recover their HP and SP. This row also has three slots. Finally, the wait row has two slots and these two characters will not participate in battle.
The vanguard and support rows add a new level of strategy to the battle system. If a character attacks, you can hit a button to have another character support the first character’s attack. This new character will replace the old character. If an enemy attacks a friend, you can hit a button to make it so someone else gets the hit. However, when a character first enters the support row, they will have to wait a certain number of turns before they can switch again. This system was excellent and offered players a new way to strategize in battle. Each character has their own specialty when it comes to supportive attacking and defending.
An exciting feature is the burst gauge. As damage is given to the foes, a gauge fills up. When it reaches the end, you will enter Burst Mode. This allows you to rack up a high combo attack and causes all enemies to take more damage. This also allows you to perform a Variable Strike. Finally, if you follow certain conditions when in Burst Mode, you can build up another meter. When it fills up, you can unleash a character’s personal Finishing Burst. These super-powerful attacks cause insane damage, but cause Burst Mode to end.
With so much to do in a battle, it should be apparent that the game play in Mana Khemia is always fun. But wait, there is more!
Hit the Books.
When a battle ends, your characters are not awarded experience points. Instead, you get advancement points. However, these are not used to gain levels. Actually, there is no leveling up system in Mana Khemia. Instead, you have the Grow Book. Similar to the Sphere Grid in FFX and the Revelations Chart in Rogue Galaxy, the Grow Book System adds a new level of excitement in Mana Khemia while making sure that the player does not become too powerful, too soon.
Each character has a Grow Book that has item slots in it. Each item slot holds stat increases, new abilities, or both. When the right item is made, it will socket into the slot. Then, you can use your earned AP to increase the item’s designated stat increase, new abilities, or both. The Grow Book was a great feature, but when it gets entirely filled, the fun battles become unnecessary.
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.
The only thing that Mana Khemia has 100% in common with the Atelier series is the graphic style. The characters are 2D sprites that travel in 3D worlds. Both, as expected, are beautiful. The same holds true with the character portraits and in battle. Whether you are looking at a cool, killer move or witnessing awesome magic power, the graphics in Mana Khemia look just as great as they did in Atelier Iris 3. There really is not much to say about them that has not been said already.
Addictive Alma Mater
The music in any of the Atelier games has been good, but not great. However, Mana Khemia changed all that with its amazing soundtrack. That is right; the music is great. Not only will the theme song of Al Revis get stuck in your head and have you humming along, battle music changes throughout the course of the game. The opening and ending themes are JPop tracks and both sound splendid. As per usual, you can have the voice acting be either English or Japanese. However, it is recommended that you go with the Japanese. Not only do the voices sound superior this way, but you will get to hear more spoken dialogue. The rest of the sounds were done well.
Eight is Enough
It is hard to believe that Gust crammed eight endings into this game. This, combined with everything else the game has to offer, makes Mana Khemia worth a purchase. It has replay value, great game play, gorgeous visuals, a killer OST, and so many other things going for it. So, why did I not give it a 10/10? Well, the game does get repetitive at times and the English voice acting is abysmal. Despite these shortcomings, Mana Khemia is proof that the PS2 is not going anywhere. If you want an RPG or a fun game, purchase Mana Khemia and let the school session begin!