NIS America, publisher behind such classics as Disgaea and Phantom Brave, seem to be one of the few developers who still think that the Playstation 2 is a viable system to have its own exclusives.
At the end of last month they released this sequel to Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis, Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy. Taking place in the same series as the Atelier Iris games, MK2 is actually the 10th game in the series. It falls into the same situation that Final Fantasy had way back in the pre-Playstation days. Although the game known as Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana is marketed as the first game in the series here in the States, it’s actually the sixth. Atelier Iris 2 and 3 are actually Atelier Iris 7 and 8.
Anyways, this tenth game in the series takes place a few years after the first Mana Khemia– which is the 9th Atelier Iris (yes, I know, this is totally confusing). In the years that passed since the first game, the school has fallen on hard times as alchemy has become less important in life, so they open their doors to other students and in order to make a profit and stay open. You choose one of two paths: the cool, apathetic, weapon using guy or the sweet, overzealous, magic girl. Each story is unique to the character you pick in the sense that you are viewing one large story from two different viewpoints.
Depending on who you pick at the beginning determines who will join your team and who your rival will be. Each team has its own cliché characters: the loli, the shota, the big boobed, energetic chick, and the “I’m too cool for school” guy. You name it, it’s there. Luckily, the characters are fleshed out enough that you can still enjoy them. And if you don’t like the character, don’t fret, you can just ignore their part of the story. The game gives you the option of advance character specific stories during the free time periods in the game.
As with every Atelier Iris game, Alchemy is a big factor. Like a typical RPG, the player must level grind in dungeons to gather raw materials to fuse, forging new weapons, armor, and other items. Unfortunately, the mini-game to fuse these elements is confusing and has a steeper learning curve. The game never really explains why one ingredient should be used over another, making the entire guess-and-test process more tedious than it needs to be.
The grow book, is MK2’s equivalent to stat growth. Using AP you gain from battle you can unlock bonuses to your stats, extra attacks in battle, new magical skills, and so forth. It’s an interesting mechanic that I’d like to see return in future games.
Much like every NIS game, MK2 sports some amazing 2D graphics and beautiful looking sprites. The only negative aspects of the visuals are contained within the game’s environments. Because each dungeon will be visited repeated to gather supplies, repetition does set it fairly quickly; this is more of a game design flaw than a graphical hiccup, however.
Every good RPG has a stellar soundtrack. MK2, while not mind blowing, is decent enough to transition the player through the game. The voice acting is in the same boat; it won’t win any award but it is pleasurable enough.
This title is pretty much just a straight forward JRPG. Fans of the genre will enjoy their time with this title while others might want to look elsewhere.