Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis is finally a go for the US on March 18th and I have the rare opportunity to try the Atelier Iris spinoff before its release date. Now I’ve never played any of the games in the series, so I was a little leery of the game when I first received it. A series with so much history behind it can be pretty intimidating to get into. Luckily with this game, I was pleasantly surprised with what it had to offer. I felt no holes in my knowledge and felt right at home with the game. Hit past the break to see what I think of it:
Before I get to the actual game I have to give you some perspective. I have a confession to make: I like very few RPG’s. Most of them are okay, but they all blend together to me. I’m honestly getting tired of the same old battle system with the same old world destruction plot saved by the same old silent protagonist. My favorite RPG, Skies of Arcadia (anyone who recognizes my name’s reference shouldn’t be surprised), has some of those elements but the charm of the game’s characters and its special move-based battle system really struck a cord with me. Most of all, the whole feel of the game is light-hearted despite the world being taken over by an evil empire. I’ve found games (let alone RPG’s) like this one extremely rare.
Mana Khemia, though, is my kind of game. The first thing that I loved about it was the visual style. I’m always impressed by a game that has tons of beautiful, intricate sprite art. You gotta love a game that takes what you love about the 16-bit era and takes it one step further. Be sure that if you get a hold of the game, to notice the sprites in action during battles. The sprites are amazingly fluid and fast as hell. Furthermore, the anime-style cut-scenes and character portraits are some of the highest quality that I’ve seen in a while, especially in terms of color. This is the first RPG that I’ve seen that’s as bright as Nocturne is dark.
The battle system is on the surface pretty ordinary but there are a lot of cool features that make it stand out among the crowd. The cards at the top left of the battle screen tell you exactly the order that your characters and the enemies attack. This system allows for a fair amount strategy in picking which characters to which actions and when. By picking the right enemy to battle, you can avoid their attacks by stunning them before they can attack. Furthermore, there is no EXP. Yep, it’s unusual I know, but it works. Instead the game forces you to use the Alchemy System to improve equipable items. You must find ingredients in the wild and after battles in order to complete recipes for the items needed to progress. I can see that this system could get annoying especially if it relies too much on luck for you to find your ingredients, but so far I haven’t run into any hurdles.
Outside of the battles are interesting, too. Instead of just walking around and searching bookshelves, you actually have a lot of control over your character. In fact, you’ll find that it plays a lot like an adventure game with the ability to jump and slash environments with your weapon. To me, a lover of the Mario RPG series, this design choice is a huge plus. Having the ability to jump in an RPG makes the game a lot of fun as it can add some platforming elements to mix up the gameplay, and Mana Khemia takes full advantage of it.
The characters and story are what most of you RPG fans are most concerned about and I’m happy to say that the whole game is light-hearted. If you’re a fan of characters that mess up frequently, annoy each other, have delusions of grandeur, and almost never take themselves too seriously, then this game is for you. Oh, and the protagonist speaks!!! Though, I must warn you that the game takes about an hour to get through its initial cut scenes, so be prepared to sit for a while before you battle. Luckily, I enjoyed what I saw. Even the professors that guide your characters are funny and charming.
The characters are all enrolled in an alchemy school and your missions are assigned to you by your teachers. To get good grades you must complete the objectives certain ways, but the game always tells you how to do it, so it’s easy for a guy like me who isn’t totally into completing grindingly difficult scenarios for a precious “S Ranking.”