Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis Review

Alchemy is a popular subject in the realm of fiction, and in particular, videogames. The developers of the Atelier Iris series, Gust, have dabbled in alchemy for some time now, and in Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis they further explore the theme, bringing it to the forefront and deeply incorporating it into just about every aspect of the game.

In Mana Khemia, players take control of a group of students at the Al-Revis Alchemy Academy, who are working to better their craft. The main character (and resident orphan), Vayne, is also searching for answers to the questions of his past. They all must work together to complete class assignments and make it through each school semester.

The semesters all play out very similarly. You begin by watching a story segment, then go to sign up for the first week’s class, attend the class, and complete an assignment. One or two more are class weeks just like the first, but with different assignments. These usually consist of killing a monster, collecting an item, or synthesizing one of your own, and are always focused on a particular aspect of gameplay.

You then have a free week or two, assuming you earned good enough grades on your assignments. Free time can be spent completing jobs for people around campus, synthesizing items, venturing off campus to gather ingredients and fight with baddies, or just skipping it all by resting at the dorm. You can also do special side quests related to your party members if you take the opportunity to chat with them. If you fail to score high enough during the semester’s courses, you will lose your free time and be forced to take more difficult and time-consuming make-up classes. That sucks for you.

A major drawback to the school setting is that it makes the game lack any real sense of adventure. The academy acts as a central hub, with other areas radiating out from it, and gameplay will always return to these areas instead of consistently continuing forward. Being locked into a schedule of events makes the game experience feel very routine after a while. The game’s story also suffers the same fate, and is restricted in the amount of expansion it can undergo.

As I mentioned earlier, alchemy plays a major role in Mana Khemia, meaning that there is an incredible amount of item synthesis in this game. The multitude of ingredients the player obtains (either by purchasing them on campus or gathering them off campus) can be combined in many different ways to form new items, which can then be used to create even more advanced ones. This alchemy system appears to be an effort to provide depth and individuality, but somehow it seems that depth has been confused with complexity and tedium – both of which Mana Khemia provides.

A task as simple as character growth (leveling) may require that a player first engage in enough combat to earn the requisite AP to advance, then synthesize the proper item to unlock nodes in the “grow chart,” and then distribute the AP to receive upgrades. That sounds simple enough, but in order to synthesize those required items, the player will have to acquire its recipe, attempt to synthesize it, discover that some necessary ingredients are missing, then either search for those or gather other ingredients to create them, and finally produce the item for the grow chart. In case you couldn’t tell from that description, this can take many trips back and forth between areas, and can waste a lot of time engaging in what can only be labeled “gameplay” using the most liberal definitions of the word.

With so much item synthesis going on, it makes sense that there are a variety of ways to alter the final product. It is possible to substitute ingredients to add new properties, or even create brand new recipes on the fly. You can also enlist the help of the other party members to add effects to your creations. When you complete the initial synthesis of an item, a party member will occasionally suggest a new recipe. In the end, however, the whole synthesis procedure feels like just the same old routine.

One part of the game that works quite nicely is the combat system. First of all, enemies are always visible as players navigate each area, and you can decide whether or not to engage in combat. A preemptive strike can be achieved by slashing at the monster, while bumping into it inadvertently will result in a loss of initiative. The color and relative size of these representative monsters indicate how difficult the combat will be. Very weak foes can be defeated instantly by launching a preemptive strike.

Combat is resolved via typical turn-based, menu-based action, plus Mana Khemia’s “support” system. During any attack, the player can press the square button to perform a tag-team attack with one of the party members waiting in the wings (assuming the entire party is larger than the default 3). Similarly, a supporting party member can be called upon to defend against any opponent’s attack. After the support action, the assisting character remains a part of the front line while the original combatant goes to recharge in the support ranks. Using the support row effectively can become quite a strategic affair in tougher battles. Finally, the game’s “burst system” is essentially a gauge that the player fills during combat in order to unleash more powerful attacks upon the enemy.

Overall, Mana Khemia is the type of game that will appeal to a niche audience; fans of the Atelier Iris series will feel right at home from the moment they pick up the controller and die-hard jrpg fans will get into the game’s complex alchemy system. For the rest, the game’s weak storyline and lack of truly captivating gameplay elements will both act as deterrents. Synthesizing items feels cumbersome, and much of the game can make a player feel like a robot on a treadmill. If Mana Khemia is for you, then you probably already know it.


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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