|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: Aug. 26, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
By bombarding a single enemy with regular attacks, you can stun them, in which case your next blow will do critical damage. Oppressing enemies in this way or exploiting some elemental weakness will build up a wing meter called the Unite gauge. Once the gauge is full, your party will do increased damage as well as accumulate extra alchemy points (AP - more on that later) at the end of the battle.
Taking the combat one step further, however, you'll have support characters in your party who you can call in on the fly to either add additional damage to attacks or block incoming attacks from enemies. Once a support character has been called into battle, the character they swapped out with will begin to replenish their SP (magic energy) as they sit on the sidelines, so to speak. It's an absolutely excellent system that's both rewarding and downright fun.
Tying everything together is the academy itself, where most of your quests originate. You'll have to sign on to take certain classes, and you'll be graded on your success at the end of each assignment. Your dorm is where you can go to synthesize new items and equipment, and in addition to their typical function, items are linked to customizing your character through something called a Grow Book. As you defeat enemies, you'll earn AP, which can then be spent in the Grow Book to increase various stats. Each item and piece of gear is represented by a recipe card, and as you acquire new cards, you'll open new options to grow your characters.
Most of your gear will come from alchemy, so you won't rely too heavily upon vendors. Synthesis plays a huge part of Mana Khemia 2, and the process is enjoyable and addictive. Don't be surprised if you find yourself sidetracked for hours just scrounging around for ingredients needed to complete a particular recipe.
On the production front, the game is a bit lackluster. The graphics and music get the job done, but it's a presentation that could have easily been pulled off on one of the two current handheld systems. Mana Khemia 2 is mostly made up of 2D assets with a few 3D elements tossed into the backgrounds that give the game a real sense of visual depth. The chibi sprites are cute, but the animations are very conservative. The background art and character stills are reminiscent of Square Enix's Mana series, and the way in which various 2D elements are stacked makes for some very attractive dungeon areas. The school, however, is pretty ho-hum, and the visual effects are fairly unremarkable as well.
Surprisingly, there's a healthy bit of voice work crammed under the game's hood, and many anime favorites (such as Yuri Lowenthal) lend their talents to the character roster. It's typical JRPG delivery - teen angst and all - but it's fun for what it's meant to be. Our only major complaint here is that, during battle, characters will repeat the same one-liners over and over and over again. The music is generic fare, with hard-rocking, lead-guitar-laden combat sequences and uber-silly jigs during more light-hearted exchanges.
The individual elements of Mana Khemia 2 are nothing special, really, though this is one game that is certainly greater than the sum of its parts. The story doesn't take itself seriously, but the gameplay here packs quite a punch. It's a great marriage of mechanics that should satisfy RPG fans still gaming on the PS2. The presentation and production values are conservative and aged, but you'll likely be having too much fun with the game to notice.
CCC Freelance Writer