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Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis: Alchemy 101
Company: NIS America

Though it may sound a whole lot like Gust's other Alchemy-centered RPG series, Atelier Iris, Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis actually breaks away from the excellent and oft-overlooked series. Alchemy still factors into the gameplay, perhaps more so than the Atelier series, though the premise is quite different.

The initial setup is fairly common and follows what could probably be referred to as the "Harry Potter" premise. The story centers on Vayne, an unusually strong novice alchemist who has no idea about his past or how he became so powerful. Vayne's power is eventually discovered by an instructor at the Al-Revis Academy and he is quickly accepted to the school. His interactions with students and instructors, as well as the school structure, are what give Mana Khemia its unique twist.

Playing on the game's school setting, new skills are learned by enrolling in classes. Each provides players with a different assignment which act as quests. Some require you to collect items while others require creating an item. Depending on how well you accomplish each task, you are given a letter grade; if you pass, you'll earn more time to explore your surroundings and build relationships with classmates, leading to new quests and eventually one of several different endings. Fail and you'll have to make up the assignments.

Alchemy plays a much bigger role in Mana Khemia. Nearly everything you come across can be broken down into elements or mixed with other objects to create new ones. However, in order to create new items you'll need to acquire recipes, some of which can only be gained while outside of class. Other items require the aide of fellow classmates, making it doubly important to hit the books. Another new use for alchemy ties into the game's avatar crafting feature. Rather than grinding through combat to learn new skills, you can use alchemy to create new skills and stats, allowing for a certain level of micromanagement when it comes to character creation.

Outside of classwork, Mana Khemia features a much more familiar RPG setup. Battles are turn-based, but much faster than the ones found in the Atelier games. Up to three party members can participate in battles, though you can freely swap out party members during battle. Smart management of unit attacks unlocks Burst Mode, which allows you to knock out an enemy and continue attacking until they wake up. Building up a high-level combo (you can go over 100 hits) isn't as easy as it sounds, though it is a pretty cool thing if you're able to do it. As the story progresses, you'll eventually unlock the Finish Burst, which adds a power exclamation point to your Burst combo.

If you're a fan of the Atelier Iris series, or just looking for a different type of RPG, Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis should give you something to look forward to this March.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker
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