Admittedly, I never checked out the original PS2 title Mana Khemia: Alchemist of Al-Revis until I started playing this title. I needed to check it out on the original system because I like to compare games, especially when they are ports to other systems and it has only been a year since the release on the PS2. Usually this means that a game has progressed or there are added bonuses for those rushing out to pick up the “newer” version of the game. However, I recommend halting that rapid trip to the store to pick up this particular title.
Mana Khemia: Student Alliance’s story revolves mostly around a character named Vayne Aurelius. Vayne lives in the park with his talking cat Sulpher, and he is invited to attend a school of alchemy. Once arriving at the school, he befriends the usual ragtag group of characters in an RPG: Jess – an ambitious alchemist with pink hair, Nikki – an “overly excitable” cat girl, and the macho man with a giant sword – Flay. You begin things by accepting quests. Since this is in a classroom setting you’d think your teachers would dole out assignments, but this isn’t the case, as you will be accepting assignments from the front desk and returning to the faculty lounge or front office once your quest is complete.
Student Alliance’s quests are used to earn credits for the semester. Much like most guild-style RPGs, the quests you go on will have you gathering specific items, killing specific monsters, and even synthesizing items since this is a game about alchemy. When not taking on class required credit quests, you will have the option to do other quests in order to find out more about the characters in the game. Since they also follow the traditional hazy back-story motif of other RPGs, this will be a highlight for some. In fact, I would say this is one of the most compelling aspects of the game along with the sexual innuendos. Mana Khemia: Student Alliance is so full of sexual innuendos that I am really surprised this was rated Everyone 10+. They are almost as bad as the old Disney movies. You know the ones with “SEX” written in the clouds or Aladdin asking Jasmine to take her clothes off. The main difference is you don’t have to pause the game or turn the volume up to hear them; they are blatantly displayed.
The battle system and progression of the characters is were the main troubles with the game begin. While simplistic with the turn-based system in combat, it seems a little pointless to lock the active party members to just three, considering there are only four characters in the game. This means there is almost always a character that is lower on the totem pole as far as the progression goes. Of course, the option of swapping the characters out does help, but most of the time it becomes pointless to even think about doing this unless you are trying to add an effect to an attack or make it more powerful. I do have to point out one good thing about the battles in the game; they are not random, which is good for avoiding unnecessary damage to your party. Even if your party is hurt, you can teleport back to the school for items and various other things to help on your quest, but this also proves problematic, but I will get to that in a moment. In addition to the regular battle system, you and a friend can team up to battle certain monsters as long as they have a copy of the game too. This is a great way to get items that you won’t be able to acquire without a friend to help you out.
The character progression is a bit cumbersome. Even though it takes a few notes from the Final Fantasy XII “license” system, it doesn’t achieve quite the same magic. The experience you gain is spent on leveling your character. You’ll have to use your skills of alchemy in order to advance the characters. Spending your experience on one attribute will open up three other status blocks in your Growth Book. Crafting the status blocks with the original spot will give you new attributes, thus resulting in leveling up. Since the license board was one of my favorite parts of Final Fantasy XII, I did enjoy this aspect.
I understand this is a game about alchemy and it is even cool to have all of the school-themed stuff. However, why do I have to use alchemy to make important things like health potions? As I stated earlier, I had some moments of frustration with the teleporting back to the school aspect to help your team. When you visit the item store, you learn that there are no items in the item store. Instead, there are ingredients… expensive ingredients. So, if I am seriously in need of help for my party and I don’t have all of the ingredients to make a health potion, I am out questing to find the items in order to make my party viable enough to finish the prior quest, and it proves more distracting than rewarding in the end.
Another problem plaguing this game is the inconsistent graphics. During battles, things look great. The sleek animations for the characters and their attacks are wonderful. You almost hate transferring from the battles to the outer world – mainly because the outer world is so blurry that things look smeared and dull. One of the reasons this may be is due to the frame rate issues the game has. There will be times that the game will just stop in place and it will recognize the action you just pushed. For example, when trying to go to the menu, more often than not, you will have to wait nearly three seconds to go into and out of the menu. This may seem consequential on the surface, but when you need it to happen and it takes that long, it becomes bothersome. At first, I faulted the controls, but then I realized it was more due the loading times of the game itself. One other issue is the constant load screens; they happen at every turn and it is another distracting thing from the game. The sounds of the game are typical and the anime voice over work is so-so. Some of it is nicely done, while others, at times, will cause you to groan every time the character speaks. However, despite those faults mentioned, the soundtrack of the game is nicely done in an RPG flavor.
Mana Khemia: Student Alliance wants to be a good game, and in fact the PS2 title from last year was a good title. However, problems inherent to porting games to the PSP hinder this game more frequently than it should. If you can get past the load times, frame rate issues, graphic impairments, and meticulous alchemy mechanic being shoved down your throat at every turn, then you will like this game. Seriously, even if you are a fan of the original game, you will be hard-pressed to find the appeal of this title and will be disappointed in the end. Play the original, it’ll be cheaper and more entertaining in the long run.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 1.0 Graphics
The blurry, out-of-battle graphics hurt your eyes so much you’d wish this game came with a blindfold. 2.5 Control
At times, you will wonder if it is the controls of the game or the load times that make them seem broken. 2.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Typical anime fare – some good voice work and some straight up annoying stuff. The soundtrack is the redeeming quality to the sound. 1.5 Play Value
Play the original PS2 game. 1.5 Overall Rating – Avoid
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.