Yet another review for a pretty old game. I cleared this game on February 1, but I was too busy with my university reports to sit down and consolidate my thoughts about the game. In case you guys are wondering, I started playing the game around the middle of January and have been playing it only while on my way to and back from the university. That would explain why I was able to clear the game, even though I said I was so busy.
Without further adieu, let’s get into the review!
Note that aside from points where I specified otherwise, my opinion is always completely objective and built up from an absolutely neutral point. While the title is called a ‘Review’, this article is nothing more than a personal opinion (or random rant) of someone who has played the game.
Pictures used in this post are from random Google Search. I thereby claim no ownership to any of them.
This review will contain spoilers to Mana Khemia – Student Alliance. Proceed at your own risk!
I decided to get into Mana Khemia after playing Cross Edge on PS3. Cross Edge is a crossover game on PS3, featuring characters from various game series. There were three characters from Mana Khemia 2 that cameo’d in Cross Edge. Needless to say, I like those three and decide to do some research about the game. I saw many players recommending me to start with the first Mana Khemia because there was some stuffs about the gameplay that was improved in 2, so I might not like the first game if I start with the second. In any case, I got the version for PSP and, gosh, I haven’t been enjoying a game’s battle system like this in a long time.
Exploration and Graphics
The game play is featured in a sprite format and it really reminded me of Ar Tonelico’s environment and art style. It was probably because they had the same artist or something.
You take control of Vayne and explore the Al-Revis Academy, taking your class, collecting materials for synthesis, and fighting monsters. While controlling Vayne, you can Jump with the O button to access places with different height or to avoid entering battle from touching the enemy sprite (denoted as red slimes). You can also ‘Slash’ stuffs with the  button. Slashing barrels, crates, and grasses leave items behind for you to collect. Slashing enemies allow you to start the battle with turn advantage over enemies. Getting touched by enemy’s sprite start the battle with enemies does vice versa. Enemies that are a lot weaker than you (denoted as blue slimes) can be defeated simply by slashing them on the map, and you won’t have to go into battle.
Dungeons feature ‘time’. As you explore the dungeons, the clock on top right of the screen keeps ticking. Once it gets dark into the night, enemies will become more aggressive. They hit harder in battle and move faster on the map, making it harder to avoid them. I am pretty sure that ‘weak enemies’ cannot be defeated by slashing on maps at night (you’ll just go into battle like how you normally do).
Story and Game’s Flow
If I have to compare, the closest description of this game’s flow is Persona 3 and 4’s gameplay.
This game has 12 chapters, each featuring a pre-determined amount of time periods called ‘weeks’. There are ‘Event’ week at the beginning and at the end of each chapter. The event week at the beginning of the chapter are normally the characters discussing about the current events within the schools, such as upcoming exams or festivals. The events at the end of the chapter usually contain boss fights.
After that, you proceed to ‘Class’ weeks, where you have to pick ‘Courses’ to study. At first, there are only required courses. But around mid-way into the game, you will start to have electives, instead of required courses. Each course has assignments and upon finishing them, you will be graded on how well you do the assignments. Assignments range from a subtle game tutorial and simple fetch quests to annoying ones like head to the end of the dungeon w/o encountering a single monster.
Completing assignments give you ‘Units’.
A = 4 Units
B = 3 Units
C = 2 Units
F = 0 Units
Each chapter requires that you attain a certain amount of units, otherwise you will be put into detention. Honestly speaking, I’ve never gotten into that situation before since I only score A’s. So I’m not really sure what you have to do during detention.
Anyway, the rest of each chapter is made up of ‘Free’ weeks, where you can spend time with your friend to strengthen your relationship (Social Links anyone?) or to do extra job for money and items (More about Character Quests and Extra Jobs below).
From what I read in the game’s tutorial, if you cannot obtain the required units on time, you will lose the free time to take make up courses. On the contrary, if you obtain all the required units before all the class weeks are over, you will get additional free time.
Supposed a certain chapter has 8 weeks. 2 weeks are events, so there are 6 weeks in the middle. The game assigned 4 weeks for class and you have to acquire 8 Units. If you get 2 A’s from the first two class, then the remaining class weeks will become your free time. This gives you a net of 4 Free Weeks.
The music in this game is really great. The BGM in the workshop and academy are soothing and relaxed. The dungeon theme sounds threatening, warning you of the impending danger. The battle music plainly rocks and one of it quickly became my new favorite battle theme. That’s right, this one:
It was used only in two battles, both of which are some of the best fights in the entire game.
The main protagonist of the story, voice by one of my most favorite voice actor, Liam O’ Brien. Vayne lives with his cat mana, Sulpher, on the mountains for as long as he could remember. To explain what a ‘Mana’ is, let’s just say they are a living energy taken physical form, similar to Cyber Elf of Rockman Zero series. In battle, Sulpher transforms and merges with Vayne, forming a claw gauntlet on Vayne’s right hand and a sword on his left. Vayne has several neat skills, both single and multiple targets, and one that gives him three turns in a row.
At the beginning of the story, Vayne was invited into the Al-Revis Academy to learn Alchemy. He is polite, kind, and tends to just agree with what everyone said. Because of that, he kept getting dragged into trouble by Flay.
Jessica Philomele (Jess)
Jess was Vayne’s first friend when he entered the academy. They are classmates and they sit next together. After the first class, they decide to take a look around the academy where they are recruited by Flay into the workshop.
When Jess was little, she fell into an illness without cure. A traveling alchemist was able to heal her sickness, but in turn, unintentionally shorten her life span. Jess came to accept that fate and lived her life in a YOLO way – synthesizing dangerous stuffs like bombs and dangerous medicines without a care in the world because “I’ll die some day anyway”. Background aside, I like how every character was afraid to try anything Jess made, lol.
Jess is the dedicated healer of the cast but that does not mean she can’t fight. She has an extremely high magic stats and she can perform On-the-spot synthesis to create powerful elemental bombs. Have I mentioned how her bag is basically a distant cousin of Doraemon’s belly pocket? Oh yes, her bag can eat her enemy and spit out candies for her. Yay. XD
Nicole Mimi Tithel (Nikki)
Vayne’s classmates and the member who was recruited into the workshop by Flay before Vayne. She is a beastmen (half human – half beast) and uses a huge hammer in battle. Since beastmen populations are decreasing, she became keen on finding a good husband to bear kids for her. Um…yeah…
Well, there’s no denying that she’s one of the strongest characters in the whole game, but personally, I prefer having Flay as the powerhouse of my team.
Pamela is my most favorite girl of this game. ❤
She’s cute, she’s funny, she loves teddy bear, and she is already dead.
Yes, you read it right. Pamela is a dwelling ghost that lives within the library of the Al-Revis Academy. She was kept hidden from the freshmen during the first semester. After that, she will appear to scare the newcomers. However, she doesn’t mean any harm. She is a kind playful ghost that loves teddy bear. After meeting with Vayne, she decides to join the workshop and moves away from the library.
Anyway, during battle, Pamela is proficient in using magic to aid the party in several ways. She has special skills that drain her HP to attack enemies, as well as spells that drain enemies’ HP to heal herself and the party. But most importantly, she is arguably the best tank of the game. Pamela joins the party with the ability ‘Immortal Body’, which is basically equivalent to constantly having an ‘Auto-Life’ spell from Final Fantasy on her. If her HP hits 0, she will automatically be revived after a few turns. This means that unless your whole party is wiped out at the same time, Pamela can never truly die in battle. Not to mention that later on, she gains the ability to become completely vulnerable to physical attacks and her special Switch Support ability allows her to nullify any attack in place of a party member.
Yup, Pamela is just that awesome. XD
*Obligatory “Defender of Justice is here!” plays*
Early into the game, this theme plays every time Flay appears to stir stuffs up.
The self-proclaimed leader of the workshop has his weird sense of intuition and thought that having Vayne in his workshop would definitely make things ‘interesting’. He spent the first few chapters of the story trying to convince the Mana of Gold to forge a pact with him, which is why he was not in your party until later. And when he joins your party, things get really fun. His attack rating is sky-high and he can deal damage as high as any characters in your current team. He gets lots of nifty skills like Raiden Charge which buffs his own attack power and imbues lightning elements to his attacks, or Screwdriver which deals LOADS of damage AND knocks enemies’ turn back.
Oh, we also completely ignore the fact that he is wayyyyy too old to be in this school. Why is he still here? Well, basically, he just cuts all classes and skips all exams.
…Lezard? Is that you…?
Oh. I guess not.
*Ahem* Anyway, every good protagonist needs a good rival. Roxis fits such position. He was jealous of Vayne because Vayne entered the academy without even trying while he struggles to protect his alchemist’s family honor. They did not like each other at first. But later on, both of them developed into a friendly rival relationship – at least that’s how Vayne sees it. I was really expecting Roxis to have a personality like Lezard due to his appearance, but it turns out that aside from badass-ism, he is nowhere close to Lezard (lol). In fact, there are times where he even became a comic relief thanks to the Mana of Light.
In battle, Roxis uses cards as his weapon. He has a couple of skills that deals directly with the Time Cards as well as many other Time Card skills. While the Time Card skills aren’t outstandingly powerful, they are extremely useful in building your Burst Gauge while fighting against enemies that can Knockback your turn. Moreover, Roxis also has skills that can ‘erase’ enemies’ Time Cards and give turn to his party members instantly. These two skills saved my hide a lot in many battles, and it also creates a lot of nifty combos.
Anna is the youngest member of the workshop. She is an alchemist and knows how to wield katana. That fits the definition of badass in my dictionary.
Anna is my second favorite girl of this game due to how powerful she is in battle. She has fairly high stats in attack, magic, and speed. This allows her to get her turn quickly as well as allow her to attack both with physical and magical attacks. Random mobs are taken out very easily with her help. Her Switch Support skills, while simple, are extremely useful – it allows her to get her turn instantly after switching with another party member.
Muppy is an alien who plans on taking over this school because his ship was broken and he cannot return to his home. He doesn’t really have any real significant impact on the story, but he is a good comic relief and the 4th wall breaker.
Battle-wise, I haven’t really used him much because I was too lazy to switch him around. However, looking at his ability, he seems like another viable candidate for tanking due to his Defense Support that allows him to take hits in place of all of his party members. Since I prefer Pamela, Muppy has no place in my team. Poor thing 😦
Oh, by the way, don’t let the cute and cuddly look fool you >_>
The battle in this game is Turn-Based. A total of 6 characters can participate in battle – 3 Vanguard members and 3 Reserve members. The Vanguard members are allowed to take action fight directly with enemies, while the Reserve members will wait at the back, restoring their SP.
The turns are governed by the Card Deck up on top. Once the character’s card is played on the active slot, that character gets the turn. Upon making an action, the character’s card will be place further into the deck and wait for it to cycle. The higher the speed, the faster that character’s card will come. There are certain skills that directly affect his bar, such as Roxis’s ‘Retraction’ that allows him to pick your members’ cards and let them have their turn instantly, or Flay’s ‘Screwdriver’ that knocks the enemy’s card back.
In each turn, the characters are given a set of command of actions to choose from, including normal attack, special skills, items, guard, escape, and switch with the reserved characters.
Cards, Time, and Battle Skill
Each character has a set of SP bar, limiting how much they can use their special skills. The characters’ SP bar can normally be replenished mid-battle in two ways: using items, or placing them in the Reserve. Most of the skills are straightforward. But there are two other kinds of unique skills in this game. One is the ‘Time Skill’. By using these skills, a ‘Time Card’ of that skill is placed on the Card Deck. Once that card gets its ‘turn’, the skill is activated. These are very useful in maintaining the Burst Mode (more about Burst Mode below).
Another type of skill is the ‘Double Up’ skill. These skills, when used, will activate the next time that character gets a turn. These skills are normally very useful. For instance, Vayne’s Overrealm skill is a Double Up skill that when activates, he gets three turns consecutively. When coupled with Roxis’s Retraction, Vayne can instantly get three turns without having to wait.
After attacking enemies, you can press the X button when the game prompts you to switch the attacking character with one of the Reserved Characters and let them perform a co-op attack. These Co-Op attacks have various effects depending on characters, ranging from Turn Card Knockbacks to Lowering Enemy’s defense.
Before being attacked, the game will prompt you to press the X button to switch and let another character take the hit instead. This is extremely useful if the targeted character is on the verge of dying. Characters that switched in also has various effects, ranging from completely nullifying attacks from the enemy to instantly getting a free turn.
Burst Mode and Finisher
The gauge at lower left of the screen is the Burst Mode gauge. Upon filling the gauge, your whole party enters ‘Burst Mode’, where your powers are nearly doubled. Each action done by your party members depletes the Burst Mode and once it’s completely gone, the burst mode ends. (Attacks from Time Cards also help fill the Burst Gauge and do not deplete your Burst Gauge when it activates.)
Upon entering Burst Mode, special conditions are informed to the players. By performing those conditions, the ‘Finisher Bar’ behind the Burst Gauge will fill up. Once it is full, the character can unleash their Finishing Burst – their super move. The condition to fill the bar is determined by the character who filled the Burst Gauge and ranges from easy ones like using certain elements on the enemy to annoying ones like activate skills that are purely luck based.
Finish Bursts are extremely powerful and can end a boss fight instantly when used with buffs on your characters and debuffs on your enemies. However, using the bursts will instantly end Burst Mode, so it is best to save it and use it just before the Burst Mode ends.
Customization and Other Features
The game’s core system is tied to the synthesis system. Fortunately, it is pretty straightforward. You pick up a Recipe Card and collect the items in the recipe, then you synthesize them in your workshop. The best part is, there are normally many combination of ingredients you can use for one recipe. Because of this, you can use the really rare ingredients to get great effects on that item, then mass produce it with crappy ingredients to get the same result.
The character’s growth system is tied into the Synthesis System as well. Upon synthesizing an item, a slot in the character’s ‘Grow Book’ is unlocked. Each slot has nodes that you can unlock by distributing APs you gain from battles to them. The system is very similar to Final Fantasy X’s Sphere Grid, except your growth is controlled by the availability of item recipes. Obviously, early on you cannot fuse the high-leveled items, and hence you cannot develop your Grow Book too far.
During your Free Time, you can perform Character Quests to deepen Vayne’s relationship with that character.
…Sounds like Social Links to me.
Anyway, Character Quests are extremely important because it affects the ending of the game. If you did not complete any Character Quests, you will get a bad ending.
Unlike Persona’s Social Links, you cannot complete all Character Quests, because when you complete one, the rest are locked. However, if you aced all subjects and get all the Free Times available in the game like I did, you can create a save file that allows you to complete any party member’s quest and replay from that save to get all the ending in a single run. On my very first run, I got Jess’s ending and I didn’t even know that I did it, lol.
Extra Jobs are available only during free times. Completing these jobs net you money upon completing them. The job ranges from creating an item for someone to defeating optional bosses. I’ve fought some of the optional bosses in one of these jobs and they are one of the hardest fights in main game.
Doing Extra Jobs do not make the Game’s Week move on, so take all the time you need.
A minor feature, but I thought I’d mention this since it’s pretty funny, lol.
The Gossip Shop is available a little way into the story. Once a rumor is spread, you gain various unique benefits, such as giving you more rewards from completing jobs, higher drop rates, and even higher stats in battle. New rumors are unlocked when certain conditions are met, such as completing a number of jobs or defeating a powerful enemy.
Obviously, the game is not perfect. There are a couple of stuffs that bugged the heck out of me while playing. All of them are pretty minor, but I thought I should mention it anyway.
- As much as I don’t mind sprite-based graphics, the hit boxes of the sprites are extremely wonky. For instance, some of the jumps that looked as if I could make it failed and I was ambushed by the enemy. This happened several times while I was trying to rush through old dungeons to farm items. Not to mentioned that there are so many ‘invisible walls’ the screwed up my jump timing when trying to avoid encounters so many times.
- While I like the idea of destroying weak enemies by slashing them in the field, it was ruined by how random the enemies’ sprites move. Some times the blue slimes simply won’t cooperate and would just run away dodging my slash, and on the other times, they just came rushing at me, triggering battle. If the developers intend to let the players skip weak random encounters, then they should have made the weak enemies stay still, at least during the daytime.
- I really wouldn’t mind a ‘Synthesis Troubleshoot Wizard’ like Ar Tonelico’s synthesis system – You are instantly prompt to synthesize the items you are missing from the recipe without have to scroll around. It really would have saved a lot of time and make it less tedious. Oh, I totally wouldn’t mind being able to fuse everything in the same place instead of having to run back and forth between the Athanor and the Workshop.
- The story wasn’t bad, but the pacing was a little too slow. The game took too long to build up the story and boom everything in your face in the last two chapters. They really could have given us a little more hint before the conclusion.
- More event illustration or anime cutscenes is never a bad thing. So far, I’ve only gotten Jessica’s ending event illustration.
- I’m pretty sure the PS2 version is fine, but in this PSP version, the characters’ portraits look blurred as heck. It was like the portraits’ resolution wasn’t properly redone to fit PSP’s resolution.
- OMFG. DAT goddamn lag. The game lags so bad in this version. I’m not sure how the PS2 version is, but if it ran smoothly, then everything would have been more visually impressive.
After completing this game, there is only one thing I can say, “How the heck have I missed this game all this time?”
Mana Khemia is definitely one of the best games I’ve played and I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish, even during when most of the core mechanics are still locked.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being ‘awesome’, this game gets a solid 8.5 from me.
Seriously, this game is awesome. Unlike other RPGs where I hurry to finish it on my first run for the story, I actually took my time in doing all the extra jobs, character quests, and synthesizing every single item possible in that chapter. There are not many games that I did that. Even for Star Ocean 3, I off-tracked only to grind Sophia’s level on my first run and rushed the rest of the game.
I wouldn’t really say the game is totally ground breaking amazing, but it is a very fun turn-based RPGs. If you are fans of turn-based RPGs, you have to try this game.
And that’s it for my review. Hope you guys enjoyed reading that, and I’ll see you again next time. As for now, I’ll continue to look for Mana Khemia 2 in my local stores.