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Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis
Score: 80%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Gust
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG

Graphics & Sound:
Although Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis isn't directly related to Gust's Atelier Iris series, it shares a very important link with the series - alchemy. While the lost art played a big part in the Atelier Iris series, Mana Khemia takes it much further by incorporating it into just about every aspect of gameplay.

Gust more or less hit the presentation high mark with the last Atelier Iris, so there isn't much more to Mana Khemia outside of a few new animations and spiffier special effects. Characters and backgrounds are still hand-drawn and have a fun charm that gives the game a unique character. Much of the focus is on various characters you interact with, and each have their own visual identities that play into their personalities. The same can be said for audio; it isn't anything spectacular, though it is still more interesting than most soundtracks and is something I wouldn't mind adding to my collection of videogame soundtracks.


Gameplay:
You take the role of Vayne, an orphan with inexplicably strong alchemic powers. His powers earn him the attention of the Al-Revis Alchemic Academy, which is the alchemic equivalent of Hogwarts' School. Most of the gameplay follows the same semester-based structure; after signing up for a class, you complete assignments. Assignments involve everything from collecting the necessary items to complete an item to killing a specific monster. Each assignment focuses on a specific gameplay element that comes in handy once you get the chance to explore on your own.

Although most classes feel like glorified tutorials at times, it is still important to complete them as best as you can. Each assignment is graded as a class. If you get a good grade, you are rewarded with "Free Time" to do whatever you want; fail and you'll have to redo the assignment. You really want to gain as much Free Time as you can since it allows you time to go out and meet party members as well as learning new skills that you probably wouldn't learn in class. Make-up assignments are also typically more challenging than your original assignment.

The entire structure feels a lot like Persona 3, though it isn't as compelling. The school-based structure is fine, though it lacks the same sense of "openness" as Persona 3's system. You'll meet plenty of characters and have a few cool adventures, but you never feel like you're building relationships with anyone. Everything feels a little too linear and structured, which makes some aspects feel forced, rather than giving you the freedom to play around. The structure also takes away from the feeling of progression. You're always returning to campus, which places limits on where you can go. True, Persona 3 faced a similar problem, but the number of things you could do, like chasing after the head cheerleader or joining a club, made the school feel like a setting, whereas Mana Khemia basically turns it into a structured dungeon.


Difficulty:
Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis is more complicated than it is difficult. Most of the classes are fairly easy, though some of the requirements aren't as clear as they probably could be. They're never so muddled that you won't have a clue, but I failed one or two assignments mainly because I wasn't completely sure what to do. Again, this isn't a major issue and the fact that make-up assignments are usually more difficult is a great motivator for doing the job right the first time.

Combat is pretty straightforward and works well. However, like most major mechanics in the game, it confuses depth for difficulty. Basic attacks are easy to pull off and will get you through most of the game. At the same time, it won't get you through every battle, which requires a decent bit of strategy. Most of this comes from the Support system, which essentially lets you bounce party members all around the field and take part in different attack and defense set ups. The system isn't overly difficult, but it takes a long time to learn.

A big plus to combat is that you can see all enemies on the field rather than facing the dreaded random battles. Enemies are color-coded, which gives you a good idea about how difficult the fight will be. You can also influence your chances in battle by slashing enemies before they see you, which will give you a drop on them once battle occurs.


Game Mechanics:
Although the story doesn't leave much room for exploration, the alchemy system helps to give Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis a nice boost in depth. Alchemy plays a role in nearly every aspect of gameplay. Nearly all of your items must be created as well as any skills your character would typically learn just by leveling up. Synthesis requires that you first obtain a recipe, which can be purchased, earned by completing tasks or even through party members, and then finding the necessary components. The system is pretty easy to figure out on a technical level, though it isn't the easiest or most engaging of processes.

The biggest issue facing alchemy is finding the right components. Basic items will usually require easier to obtain elements, but many of the more complicated (and more interesting) items have ridiculous requirements. It can take a few hours and a lot of backtracking through areas to obtain elements or, in some cases, the items required to create elements. It is understandable that something like this would be required for big ticket items, but some of the more basic skills require creating complicated items just to unlock the skill. It's a great system, but it simply goes a little too far in some cases.

Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis is a good RPG, but mostly for the crowd that favors the complexities of things like stat management over elements like story and action.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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