Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis PS2 Review

May 30, 2010 by Simon Wigham  
Filed under PS2, Retro Content, Retro Reviews

Alongside the more traditional elements of fighting and item collection, Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis has a focus on item synthesizing. Its battle system functions similarly to Atelier Iris 3, its humour is of the oddball variety, and the game is represented by old fashioned but charismatic 2D visuals. It could quite easily be an Atelier game (even the universe is consistent with it), so it’s really quite baffling as to why it isn’t a part of Gust’s flagship series.

For Atelier Iris fans, the story is going to be a bit of a surprise. The premise sees lead character Vayne being recruited by Al-Revis Academy to learn the art of synthesizing over a period of three years and, believe it or not, that’s a fair assessment of the story as a whole. Vayne and his classmates will encounter their fair share of enemies along the way, with the difference being that the world is never under threat. For a big RPG devotee, it’s really quite shocking for such a key part of the genre to be stripped away, but in a way it’s a welcome change and not half as boring as it sounds.

For a story without such a sense of urgency, there has to be other elements that keeps the narrative interesting. With Mana Khemia, Gust have chosen to focus on the characterization above anything else and it‘s truly quite an ensemble cast. Vayne himself has a mysterious past, which grants a layer of intrigue to the story, Jess often blows things up with her synthesizing experiments, beastgirl Nikki seeks love, with some often comical results, Flay is the oldest but the least irresponsible of the party, Anna likes to keep her working environment clean and her sword skills strong, the bespectacled Roxis is the serious one, who is always focussed on his work and has a strong disliking of Vayne, Pamela is from the Atelier Iris series and is a ghost who enjoys scaring people around the academy, and finally there’s the mysterious alien Muppy, who has a dastardly grin.

From a structure standpoint, Mana Khemia has similarities to the Persona games. You’ll get assignments from your teachers, which can be focussed on anything from fighting or synthesizing, with enough in the way of variety so as to keep things interesting. Completing these assignments will get you grades based on your overall performance. Do well enough and you’ll earn free time that you’re able to spend doing jobs consisting of fetch quests and bounty quests, or talking to other members of your party to learn more about their back stories or their general personalities, which occasionally gains you access to mini quests. Conversely if you don’t get the required grades, you get detention and are forced to carry out certain tasks.

Thankfully, Mana Khemia doesn’t contain those rude random battles, instead you’re able to see your enemies roaming the battlefield, allowing for you to choose your fights as you see fit. Become powerful enough and you’re even able to wipe out enemies without having to even enter battle, just like you can in Atelier Iris 3.

To begin with, the combat is enjoyable, but rather standard fare. It isn’t until your party grows in size that it truly comes to life. Once you get access to more than three characters, you’re able to switch them in battle. The feature can be used when you’re attacking to build some lovely combos and when you’re being attacked to protect weakened allies.

There’s also the burst gauge, which fills up with every successful attack. Once full you’ll enter a heightened state, where your attacks will hit harder and a further gauge will come into play. This is filled by varying conditions such as exploiting the enemy weakness or creating big combos. Once it’s full, you’re able to pull off an attack that is as OTT as it is powerful.

Item synthesis is a key part of the game, even more so than it is with Atelier Iris (the reason I’ll get around to in a second). It remains a fantastic feature and one that can be a real time-sink. On the surface it’s a simple process: you choose the item you want to craft, then add all the varying ingredients. But when you take into consideration that the quality of the finished items are determined by the overall ingredients as well as the fact that you’re able to create other items by mixing up the ingredients, things can begin to get pretty complex. By the later stages of the game it can be overwhelming, but never less than enthralling.

In a sensible move, further accentuating the importance of item synthesis, Gust have tied the character growth to it. Victory in battle doesn’t allow you to level up in the traditional manner, instead you get points, of which you can spend on new skills. Mana Khemia has its own version of Final Fantasy X’s sphere grid, it‘s here where you‘ll learn your skills. Synthesizing new items will often slot them into at least one of the characters grid, and each item comes with skills that can be learnt by spending your points. It makes item crafting even more of a fun and satisfying aspect of the game.

Mana Khemia has sprite based graphics, which are very charming, though that charm is lessened by some horrific framerate issues that for an RPG never get any more than annoying, there‘s still no excuse though, for making what is already a dated looking game look even more old and decrepit. The sprites are also rather dated next to the high resolution casts of Odin Sphere and Guilty Gear. The music on the other hand is the usual high quality for a Gust game.

For those who consistently craft items to upgrade their characters, Mana Khemia is going to last them 60 hours. Those with an obsession for getting the ingredients of items just right will clock up even more hours. In a way the length is detrimental to the game. The fairly uneventful story can begin to get slightly boring and occasionally I yearned for some more exciting plot points, but then the oddball humour captured my heart again, then all was well once more.

Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis can certainly be considered as a spiritual successor to the Atelier Iris series, though it to has to be said that it’s not as good as the highpoints of that series. It has nearly as many weaknesses as it does strengths, but has enough in the way of goodness to still be a good, compulsive offering.

7/10

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