When first starting Mana Khemia ~Alchemists of Al-Revis~, players will notice that the game looks, feels, and plays very similar to the Atelier series, which is also developed by Gust. Players will find themselves placed in the shoes of Vayne, a teenager that finds himself talking to a befriended cat, named Sulphur. Little does he know that his little feline friend is a mana and that the two of them will require each other to take down such evils as finding tangerines and creating cloth through alchemy. Players will eventually find themselves enrolled at Al-Revis Academy, school of alchemists, where they will need to find items, create new items, and defeat certain monsters to keep their grades up.
When it comes to the school days, the game is broken up into chapters and then by weeks. Each chapter contains at least one school assignment and an event, but usually contains more of each, along with free time. If players are able to reach grade requirements for the next event early, they will earn free time. During this time, players may talk to the other characters in the game to learn more about what happens when they're not all together. What ensues can sometimes end with learning new things about party members, gaining new items, or even large explosions that need to be concealed from the school administrators.
"Players will want to analyze their enemies first and then attack the weaknesses for massive damage."
When it comes to building up characters to take on tougher enemies, players will not find a character level anywhere here. In the menu, players will find a Grow Book, which is similar in style to the Sphere board that was found in Final Fantasy X. As players go through the game creating new alchemic items, new slots in the grow book become socketed with them. In each item, there are different skills that players can use AP earned from battle to use. There are also different stats such as HP, Magic, attack, speed, and so on that use AP to be equipped to different characters. Each has their own specific Grow Book and players must continually try to create interesting new items to add to the books in order to strengthen the characters.
School assignments range in difficulty, but they're usually not too hard to make the player fail at them. Based on how well they perform, players will get a letter grade from A-F, just like in a normal school grading system. Each grade is assigned a number of tokens that players will receive. If the player is able to reach the token requirement, they will be allowed to take part in the next event which is normally the final part of a chapter.
One of the disappointing things in the game is that there isn't a normal world map system, but rather a point and click system where players choose a location from a map to visit. There are quite a few locations to visit around Al-Revis, but not quite as many outside locations. Players only need to venture out there when the story prompts them to either find an item or to battle an enemy. Players can always go to these places during their free time, but doing so might cause them to miss some backstory for the different characters.
The battle system is pretty straightforward in that there are options to attack, use skills and items, defend, and even run away during non-boss or story encounters. Players will notice, however, that there is a gauge in the lower corner of the screen labeled as Burst. When that gauge fills, players enter burst mode and their power increases. Players will want to analyze their enemies first and then attack the weaknesses for massive damage. There is also a Finish Burst gauge inside of the mode that will allow players an even more powerful attack. Keep in mind not to stay out too late at night, as enemies not only get faster in the field, but they also become much more powerful and harder to defeat.
Enemies on the field look like little blobs moving around in random patterns, but all enemies are seen on the field. If the blob is bigger than normal ones, the battles will be much tougher, the battle music will be different, but the rewards will be much better. Players can always avoid enemies if they so choose, but enemies are also the main way to get alchemyrecipe items to create new equipment.
The music in the game is actually quite catchy and players might find themselves humming along when they least expect it. If they can't get enough of it, players can look in the main screen of the game to find an Extras screen, which on top of different artwork includes much, if not all, of the game's music tracks for listening at any time. Sound effects in the game are all fairly decent in that they sound the way they should.
Graphically this game is sadly on crutches, as many people will notice that it resembles a PSOne game more than most other PlayStation 2 titles. Much of the game's art is very detailed and beautiful, though they aren't noticed as much since players have to pay attention to the paths laid out in front of them. Cutscenes, for the most part, are just static character portraits with voice overs, though the portraits sometimes change depending on the situation and at other times the scenes aren't voiced at all, which is sad considering the higher quality of acting found in the game.
Though many people will find the Mana Khemia disappointing, in the end it's about whether the game is enjoyable, which seems to be the case. Not only is the story fairly interesting and funny at times, but the gameplay at least gives players a challenge, unlike many games out there. In any case, this is just one man's opinion. Stay tuned to RPGamer for the full review coming a bit closer to the game's scheduled March 31 release.