|System: PS2||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Gust||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: NIS America||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: March 31, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Pete Richards
From developers Gust, the people who brought you popular RPGs Atelier Iris and Air Tonelico, comes Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis. As you may have guessed, this game has an extreme focus on alchemy and using it in turn-based combat. What separates this title from the others is its campus simulation in which you must follow a school schedule with passing grades to earn free-roaming time.
In Mana Khemia, players are required to play as a group of students attending the Al-Revis Alchemy Academy. Vayne, the protagonist, is a young orphan who possesses stronger magical powers than the others. The rest of the gang consists of a beast girl named Nikki, the pink-haired Jessica, and the young boy Flay. Along with your small group of friends, you must continually improve your crafts. While attending Al-Revis, you will have to work together to complete class assignments with passing grades to make it through each school semester. These school assignments can involve anything from collecting items to defeating a monster using your powers. By passing your classes, you are granted two weeks of free time at the end of the semester to roam freely and interact with the variety of interesting characters going about their business. If you fail, you will have to redo the assignment over again until you pass and are allowed to progress. Gaining the free time is really the main focus of the game because once you are granted permission, you can meet new party members and learn new skills.
While the school setting is educational to an extent, the problem is that the lessons you will learn seem more like tutorials that offer rewards and have been incorporated into the story. Because you are locked into a school schedule and must pass your classes to progress, this game seems extremely constricting and repetitive. If you fail your classes, you are forced to do harder and more time-consuming lessons until you pass. It lacks the freedom of doing what you wish as you have no choice but to follow the strict school schedule. As you progress through the game, you will inevitably always have to return to school once your "spring break" is over, which is very annoying. It never seems like you are progressing or moving forward with the game, and there is no real sense of adventure as you are constantly drawn back to Al-Revis. The good thing is the maps are fairly large, consisting of the Al-Revis campus map and a number of area maps where you can travel to by selecting from a menu. However, you only have limited time until you have to report back to school where you will have to pass more classes, which seems to be an overkill focus of this game. If you're the type of person who gets a thrill out of raising your hand in class and being the first one with the correct answer, this game is a teacher's pet's best friend.
While free-roaming, you will find yourself interacting with lots of different characters and having a few adventures, but inevitablyyou will be drawn back to school. While the game doesn't give you a very good sense of exploration, where the Mana Khemia gives you a sense of depth is in its alchemy system. There are many items that must be created by gathering different components, and all of your skills must be learned by attending school. You can gather recipes for magic by purchasing them, earning them by completing different tasks or having them given to you by party members. You must then gather the proper items needed to perform them, which can be a bit daunting. You will have to explore different areas and find these elements to unlock the ability to perform the spell.