Mana Kehmia (Hands On)
NIS and Gust have teamed up yet again for another niche JRPG that’s going to fly in under your radar. After last year’s double team of Ar Tonelico and Atelier Iris 3 I guess they decided to dial it back on quantity and put forth a more concentrated effort with Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis. It’s time to head back to school and get back to the basics of alchemy. It also means it’s time to go back to 2-D sprites, quick turn-based combat, and an amnesiac protagonist who goes through some self discovery with the help of his friends.
Mana Khemia has a different twist on story progression, one seen recently in Persona 3, and that’s a return to school. In order to become a master alchemist, the main character Vayne finds himself in the Al-Revis Alchemy Academy. Here is where you learn all the basics behind battle and alchemy. While on campus you can attend classes or go to the various school grounds in search of new alchemy recipes. By completing classes you unlock new areas off campus to find more ingredients for alchemy compositions.
The classes are all simple quests and once they are completed you are given a letter grade. The grade you receive goes towards your eventual graduation, which is quite a long ways off. But the lessons you receive in Al Revis will all be put to good use as you create new weapons, armor, and consumable items. This time around the alchemy system is a bit deeper when it comes to creating new items. Each item has specific attributes that get added in to the newly created item, so if an item has an attribute that increases hit points, you can plug that attribute in to a newly created item. What is great is that you can keep changing the ingredients of the items you wish to make if you find better ingredients with better stats. Once you’ve found your ideal for an item you can mass create them and bypass a lot of the steps that go in to making items.
An early look at this game shows off the simplistic 2-D sprites that Gust is known for. The game looks like all the previous Gust efforts, but now the character art and battles are looking sharper and more detailed than ever. Too bad the same can’t be said for the rest of the surroundings. You could put screenshots of this game next to screenshots of say, Atelier Iris 3 and I think you’d be hard pressed to identify the differences between the two. The audio is also similar to previous efforts from NIS and Gust, but the voice acting is as strong as ever. It’s good to see they’ve found a studio that gives them quality work.
Combat is devoid of random battles thankfully, and moves at a very brisk pace. Animations and attacks are for the most part very quick. Battles don’t yield experience, instead you earn AP which can bu dumped in to stats. These stats aren’t immediately available and only make themselves accessible by creating specific weapons, armor or items. These required alchemic creations vary from character to character so it pays to make even the most useless of items, especially if it’ll help boost specific attributes.
Even though there hasn’t been a graphical leap forward the game play and strong story are as strong as ever and there are a few new tweaks here and there that make this a must have for fans of the Atelier Iris and Ar Tonelico games. Check back with us soon for a full blown review
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
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In a past life I worked with Interplay, EA, Harmonix, Konami, and a number of other developers and have recently returned from a job in Texas doing production work for a company that did cell phone games. Now I'm working for a record label, along with Gaming Nexus, and anywhere else that sees fit to employ me.