Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis
Beat it exactly one week before MK2’s release. Let’s go.
Gameplay: 6/10 Do you remember Atelier Iris 3? Well, the controls are exactly the same. Jump button, slashing button, dungeons that you run through multiple times to get into deeper areas that gets annoying FAST.
Instead of a quest based system, there’s a class based system…which is about the same thing. You take a class, you get the assignment, you do it, and time marches on. In Free Time (if you got enoug units), you can take Jobs — fetch quests or beat-up-monster quests — which is the best way to get money in the game. And you’ll need a lot of money to do alchemy.
Alchemy hasn’t changed much either. Expect to do a lot of running back and forth between your workshop and the athanor (equipment making place) to get all the items. You get recipes from the field and boss fights, but can also do derivation to make new items (like using a different type of stone to get a different colored steel). The difference from AI3 is with the element wheel that determines the level and added effects of the item. It’s easy to get down, though, even though you don’t always want the level at 100. Character’s stats are completely determined by alchemy by way of the Grow Book — think of the Sphere Grid from FFX and you’ve got the same idea.
The battle system is 95% identical to Atelier Iris 3, save for the Finishing Bursts, Variable Strikes, and attack/defense support from the backline characters. Enemies are also on screen in the same types of blobs as AI3, and yes, I still avoided them too often.
Story: 6/10 Vayne and his mana, Sulpher, get to go to Al-Revis Academy for alchemy, and they meet lots of weird people there as they go through their three years of school. That’s about it until you get about 35 hours in and learn that Vayne isn’t really normal. The story is VERY slow moving, and there’s no real bigbad until the very end of the game. They hide the plot points from you, trying to add mystery, but it ended up annoying me more than anything. JUST TELL ME ALREADY, ISOLDE.
Characters: 8/10 Unlike AI3, there’s a lot of characters with their own personality quirks. Jess is a girl that blows up things with a sad past, Nikki is a hyperactive catgirl who wants lots of babies, Flay thinks he’s a superhero and he also flunks all his classes, Roxis is the random rival, Anna is the loli with a crazy imagination, Pamela is a ghost, and Muppy is an alien. The NPCs don’t get much backstory except for Isolde, so there’s no problem like AI3 had with that. During free time you can also do character quests — completing one person’s is necessary for the good ending, but if you get As in every class, you’ll have enough free time to have every ending available at endgame. These character quests add more personality to the characters, though there’s sometimes a bit of an AT1 problem where things that happen in the character quests are never mentioned in the main story.
Voices were good all around. Hello Liam O’Brien doing someone who isn’t evil and bishy, for once. Stephanie Sheh returns as Nikki, and she’s not annoying and crazy high pitched! Anna’s voice, whoever it was, is a bit too low for a 12-year-old…not like Anna really LOOKS 12 anyway.
Graphics: 7.5/10 2D Gust RPG, blah blah blah. I knocked off a half-point because it reuses a lot of stuff from AI3 :B
Music: 8/10 Lots of catchy songs and good battle themes. Each character even has their own theme!
Localization: 7/10 As a pre-AT2 NISA localization, it’s good. There’s a few awkward lines (Orgasmic bomb property?), and sometimes the text boxes get one word looking lonely on a line. I don’t remember many spelling/grammar errors. The worst part is that only 60% or so of the game is voiced in English. The character quests aren’t voiced at all, and many of the shopkeepers don’t have voices. At least important story scenes kept their voices.
Overall Rating: 7/10
Recommendation: If you like Gust’s RPGs, but want something a bit different. This is still more on the side of a typical JRPG, but the fact that alchemy/item crafting determines your stats pushes it more towards what an older Atelier game is probably like. It’s also the longest out of the four Atelier games currently released in the US (though MK2 is out next week and is longer…)