Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy Review for PlayStation 2 (PS2)

Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy Review for PlayStation 2 (PS2)

Still Plenty of Magic Left

If there’s one thing the PS2 is likely to be remembered as – outside of being one of the biggest hardware successes in gaming history – it’s for being the seminal platform for RPGs. That legacy continues on as NIS (Nippon Ichi Software) brings us the sequel to Mana Khemia. Prepare yourself for an overload of JRPG sensibilities in this adorable yet complex, little adventure.

Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy screenshot

Mana Khemia 2 takes place roughly 15 years after the events of the first game, and you’ll choose to play as either Raze or Ulrika from the outset. Their stories run parallel, but the unique perspectives of each character promise substantial replay value for folks who find themselves smitten with the game.

The story revolves around the confines of the Al-Revis Academy, and much of the actual gameplay is weaved into classes and jobs you’ll take on as a student of the school. Rather than travel in real time about the world map, however, you’ll navigate main portions of the world via menu selections, á la Final Fantasy Tactics. It’s a system that works great for this particular title, since combat and customization are the game’s deeper focus.

If you’re looking for a lot of bang for your buck, you’re sure to get it here. Mana Khemia 2 offers plenty to do and see, but getting over the game’s initial opening will take some mental stamina. There’s much to digest in terms of the battle system and character enhancements, so prepare to sift through a good deal of text when first setting out on this adventure.

That being said, the game has really good pacing, though you will be forced to tread over old ground quite a bit. Gameplay nuggets are doled out in wonderfully delicious rations, and the systems on offer here are mostly gems.

Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy screenshot

Though the dialogue and story progression are well written, they aren’t necessarily Mana Khemia 2’s main focus. The developers, pulling from a myriad of clichés, sew a yarn seemingly custom made to poke fun at traditional JRPG conventions. The game can be cute and entertaining if you appreciate its sense of humor, though some folks might simply find its collection of characters irritatingly whiny.

The story, however, is mere window dressing for a host of very interesting and enjoyable gameplay components. Most of the areas you’ll travel to off campus are set up like typical RPG dungeons. Upon entering one of these areas, you’ll travel in real time using the analog stick. You can also jump, and borrowing from the likes of Tales of Symphonia, monster indicators roam about each level.

There are actually tons of different mechanics in Mana Khemia 2 that seem to be influenced by past RPGs such as Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. For example, when running into monster indicators on the field, a symbol will pop up onscreen cuing you to push a particular face button on the controller. Push the correct button in time, and you’ll land the first attack in battle; pick the wrong one or not respond in time, and the enemy gets first dibs. It’s a minor thing to be sure, but it’s a subtle addition that helps keep you actively involved throughout the entire game.

Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy screenshot

The battle system, though, really goes above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to sprucing up turn-based combat. The battle menu isn’t complex – all the standard options are available – but you’ll find that, though you’ll often have plenty of time to think through your strategy, you’ll always be fully engaged during each encounter.

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.

Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy screenshot

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.

The entire world is cute and expressive, however, the animations aren’t very impressive. The overall resolution is fairly low. 4.1 Control
Control when moving about dungeons is simple but a lot of fun. The battle system and other gameplay mechanics are mostly a joy. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Most of the tunes are fun and fitting, and there’s tons of voice work. Themes do get lopped off abruptly sometimes, though, and characters repeat the same one-liners during battle way too often. 4.4 Play Value
There’s a lot of game to enjoy here, and the two perspectives are different enough to warrant additional playthroughs. Either way, you’ll never see everything the game has to offer in a single run, and it’s a very engaging experience. 4.1 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • Dual Battle: ManaKhemia2 adopts a unique type of turn based battle system. You will have a set of attackers and supporters that switch in and out throughout the battle with attack/support actions.
  • Massive Item Crafting: Over 100 items to craft. Players can search for ingredients throughout the world and create new items using what you’ve found.

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