Review: Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis (PS2)

Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis (PS2)
Developer: Gust
Publisher: NIS America
Genre: Turn Based RPG
Release Date: March 31, 2008


Ahh, the good old PS2. I love my PS2. It gets more use than any system I own right now and can always provide a good all-around gaming experience.

When I first received Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis for review, I have to admit that I was hesitant. These days, I’m a pick-up-and-play type of gamer, so needless to say RPG’s aren’t really on my radar. But, upon further investigation, I kept an open mind and decided to give it a go. I have a soft spot for the PS2, its quirky little niche games and simulation-style RPG’s in general.

So, armed with Mana Khemia, will my faithful PS2 still provide that good all-around gaming experience that I so crave? Did I make the right decision in agreeing to review this game?

Read on to find out…

1. Story

First, a little background. Mana Khemia comes to us from Gust by way of NIS America. Fans will know the name Gust from the popular Atelier Iris series, and much like the other titles in that series, Mana Khemia focuses on the theme of changing one object into another, aka Alchemy. The twist in Mana Khemia, however, is that you take on the role of Vayne Aurelius – a young man who just happens to have been recruited into the be-all of institutes for alchemy study: Al-Revis Academy. That’s right – the story follows Vayne through his three years at the Academy. Sure, this is going to garner some comparisons to Harry Potter, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Without rambling too much, or spoiling anything, as stated above the story follows young Vayne Aurelius during his stay at Al-Revis Academy. Vayne is not alone during his tutelage, however, as he is joined by his mana Sulpher (a cat) and his fellow classmates Nikki and Jess. The story does start off a little slow and can get a bit wordy at times, but it’s worth having the patience to get to the good stuff. You will find that things quickly pick up and that this (at least in my opinion) is one of the more interesting RPG storylines out on the market today.

SCORE: GREAT

2. Graphics
Smooooth. I was very surprised to see that even though Mana Khemia runs at 480i, that it still looked great on an HDTV. All of the game characters are rendered in 2D, whereas the backgrounds are rendered in 3D – and they blend pretty nicely for the most part, save for a few environments.

When you grade graphics for a game that’s on a last-gen system, you have to take into consideration what’s been done on that system, not on next-gen systems. For the style of game and the experience that Gust & NIS America were trying to create, I think the graphics were spot on in this outing.

Oh, I wouldn’t be able to grade graphics if I didn’t mention the opening scene. Full-on anime video, which didn’t show any visible signs of over-compression from my vantage point.

SCORE: GREAT

3. Sound
Probably the best aspect of this gaming experience for me. First and foremost, and other publishers and developers take note here (*cough*KOEI*cough*). I love, love, love it when the original Japanese voice track is included as an option – and I’m not alone on this one! I honestly can’t even grade the English voiceovers because I played Mana Khemia entirely in Japanese. The Japanese voice-acting, by the way, was perfect. I felt that all of the actors were spot on with their character portrayals and really felt even more drawn into the game because of it.

Music? Another huge plus. Great variation in themes – from school to battles to bosses – with little repetition. The fact that the battle music changes it up as you delve deeper into the game is great and makes me nostalgic for the days of Final Fantasy games on the SNES.

SCORE: CLASSIC

4. Control + Gameplay
Since Man Khemia‘s story takes place at an alchemy school, you can probably guess that a lot of the game is themed around school classes, events, etc. As you progress through each chapter, your gameplay will be segmented into a series of weeks. You will have a week of class – where you choose and complete your class, after which you’re given a grade and are awarded a number of units (the higher the grade, the higher the units you’re awarded).

In a way, units work like school credits. If you gather enough units within a given week you’re rewarded with free weeks to replace your remaining class weeks. During these free week periods you have the option of completing non-compulsory jobs for money, new alchemy recipes and the pretty essential character event scenarios – which progress the relationship between Vayne and his classmates as well as revealing interesting background information about these characters. The reason I call these scenarios “Ëœessential’ is because they directly effect one of the many endings you’ll receive upon completion of the game.

So yeah, it’s in your best interest to rack up those units and get those free weeks! Otherwise you’re going to be spending your time taking extra credit classes to make up for the lost units!

Chapters, classes and storylines aside, the meat of the gameplay comes with the art of alchemy – the main theme of the game. As the story progresses you will come across various alchemic recipes which allow you to transform one item into another item, using a “Cauldron”, or one piece of equipment into another piece of equipment, using an “Athanor”.

Of course these recipes require ingredients and to obtain your ingredients there is a lot of exploring to do. Dungeons and other such environments are where you will do the bulk of this ingredient gathering. Enemies populate the world map and you can easily track them down to initiate a battle – no random unseen monster battles here. The battle system is pretty standard, but one thing I found that was as the time passed from day into night, the monsters became more aggressive and thus more difficult to defeat in battle. Nice little touch, in my opinion.

SCORE: GREAT

5. Re-playability
The various character scenarios offer a chance at multiple game endings which is usually a good hint at a games re-playability. I’ve only accomplished one so far, after about 45 hours of combined gameplay, but I’ve read reports that the game contains at least seven endings!

Other than that, there are a phenomenal amount of alchemic recipes for you to got through and successfully synthesize which should keep you busy on any of your multiple plays through the game.

SCORE: GREAT

6. Balance
Much like any RPG-style game, if you keep up with your levelling – and recipe completion in this particular case – you should receive a fairly balanced challenge from the game. Of course if you’re below par you’re probably going to get your butt kicked by a few of the meaner monsters out there, especially during evening battles. The class assignments and instructions can be a bit confusing at times so you may need a few repeats in that area, but otherwise Mana Khemia is a fairly balanced game that I’d say even a novice could excel at.

SCORE: GOOD

7. Originality
Mana Khemia brings forth a fairly standard sim-styled RPG gaming experiences with a few new twists. The classroom/assignment learning aspect was a nice change of pace from the usual “here is your mission go do it” fare that we’re used to in these games. I like the fact that you can also influence the outcome of the game by the characters and scenarios that you choose to interact with

SCORE: VERY GOOD

8. Addictiveness
Are those extra endings really worth the 40+ hour gameplay time? If you are a huge fan of the game and this style, then yes. If not then it may be a bit daunting and just not worth it for you to replay and get those extra endings. That said, during my first run through the game, I kept coming back for more and would play for hours on end – “Just one more week!” I rarely get sucked into RPG’s like this anymore so it definitely says something about Mana Khemia if it did that to yours truly!

SCORE: VERY GOOD

9. Appeal Factor
Fans of this genre will love this game. Fans of Gust’s past releases will no doubt love this game as well. New fans? Maybe, maybe not. But they should definitely give it a try. Mana Khemia is deceiving at first. I wasn’t so sure I was even interested in this game, but it turned me right around and sucked me in and I loved every minute of it.

SCORE: GREAT

10. Miscellaneous
In game extras include some usual features such as a full soundtrack of game music and an art gallery of the characters. Outside of the game, if you went for the box set, you’re given a nifty mini-poster and stat guide as well as that same full soundtrack, but on CD.

SCORE: VERY GOOD

The Scores
Story: GREAT
Graphics: GREAT
Sound CLASSIC
Control + Gameplay: GREAT
Re-playability: GREAT
Balance: GOOD
Originality: VERY GOOD
Addictiveness: VERY GOOD
Appeal Factor: GREAT
Misc: VERY GOOD

Final Rating: GREAT

Short Attention Span Summary
This is the highest score I’ve ever given to a video game here at DHGF. If you’re an J-RPG fan, you owe it to yourself to play this game!

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