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Ar tonelico: Melody of Elemia
Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Gust
Genre: Traditional RPG
Format: DVD-ROM
Release: US 03/31/08
Japan 06/21/07

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Nothing tastier than salt made with alchemy!
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Pamela wields a giant possessed teddy bear.
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The grow book: not a textbook on puberty.
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Does this count as "over-the-top" combat?
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Patrick Gann
Hands-On Preview
Patrick Gann

Project "A9" (that is, the ninth game in the Atelier series) shows that Gust can continue to adapt and evolve, even while using their classic gameplay and graphic styles. After five separate Atelier games that Americans have never seen (Marie, Elie, Lilie, Judie, and Viorate) and three Atelier games that Americans have seen (the three "Atelier Iris" titles), "Mana Khemia" puts a whole new spin on Gust's flagship series.

Though it's a traditional RPG with turn-based combat, it's also a school-sim and an item synthesis game wrapped into one. The hero, Vayne Aurelius, alongside his Mana-endowed cat Sulpher, are shown at the beginning of the game receiving an invitation to the imperial alchemy school of Al-Revis, which awaits them on a floating island. Upon entering, they make fast friends with Jess, Nikki, and upper-classmate Flay, so that the four of them can obtain their own workshop on campus. These four are later, and throughout the game, joined by further characters, including series returner Pamela Ibis, a teddy-bear-wielding ghost with a penchant for manipulating boys.

The typical cast of JRPG characters work within a less typical JRPG scenario: school. Of course, this school is special. As an alchemy school, one gets the impression that this is some Japanese Harry Potter knock-off. Your sidekick is a talking black cat, and you spend much of your time working in front of a smoking cauldron. But the humorous dialogue keeps the charm levels high, so regardless of your opinion on Harry Potter, fans of classic 2D JRPGs will enjoy this game.

After five hours of play, we still aren't quite sure what the big "plot" is for this game. Thus far, it's just been a matter of passing classes, doing character event quests, and synthesizing items. No "looming threat" presents itself against the world, or even the school. Though, we're assuming that will change before the end.

The gameplay really stands out, even from the beginning. The game is broken into chapters, allowing you to focus on a few weeks of school at a time. Not all of the game's features are thrown at you in one sitting, which is good, considering there is a lot to do. A streamlined version of the "job quest" system from Atelier Iris 3 makes its way into the game, and there's a day/night system which can limit the time you have off campus during certain events. A skill chart, similar to the Atelier Iris 2 chart but with a lot more complexity (almost like the FFXII license board), is used for all character growth. There is no such thing as "leveling up" in this game. Each square on the skill tree is opened by synthesizing an item corresponding to that character. Then, AP (which you earn in battle) is used to "purchase" skills, spells, traits, and even gains in basic statistics like HP or defense. In other words, a strong emphasis is put on item synthesis, and the only way to get ahead is to make new items!

So far, we've found that this emphasis on item synthesis is rightfully done, considering how much fun it is to mix and match ingredients, discover recipes for new items, and even make variants of items with different ether qualities (this is necessary for certain quests throughout the game). We won't say anything solid yet, but from the beginning, we suspect that Mana Khemia has item synthesis down better than any previous Atelier title.

Combat has also been given an overhaul in a number of ways. A new front line / back line support system has been added so that the characters "waiting in the wings" can do combination attacks or defense on the field. In turn, the difficulty of combat has been raised so that enemies aren't mere pushovers. However, battles do tend to go faster than in previous Atelier titles, so the emphasis is on good decision-making and strategy instead of attack, heal, rinse and repeat.

Mana Khemia is set to release at the end of this month, and we would be lying if we said we weren't excited about it. Check back in a few weeks for our full review of Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis.


© 2008 NIS America, Gust.
All Rights Reserved.

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