Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy
Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Gust
Genre: Traditional RPG
Format: DVD-ROM
Release: US 08/25/09
Japan 05/29/08

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Gardening roulette! I guess that's a good idea for a minigame...
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Sweet, I got a B!
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"Intimate" strike, eh? I didn't know this was that kind of game.
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Your first choice in the game shapes the entire path forward. Forget "boy or girl," though. Just ask yourself, what color hair do you want?
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Patrick Gann
Hands-On Preview
Patrick Gann

Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy is on the heels of its release through NIS America at the end of this month. The fifth Atelier game to reach North America, Mana Khemia 2 is a direct sequel to Mana Khemia, taking place only a few years after the first. In that span of time, a lot of things happened.

In the opening FMV sequence, we see images of the floating island, where Al-Revis academy sits, being broken to pieces and falling to the land. And in the prologue, we learn that the school has indeed "fallen" (hence the game's subtitle). The new principal, Zeppel (a recurring character) is having a heck of a time keeping funding for the school, which somehow survived its descent to the surface. People aren't interested in the school or in alchemy. Through events explained in the prologue, it seems that alchemy as a program may be phased out of the academy entirely, in favor of more "practical" and "normal" education.

And here comes the real surprise- there is no single protagonist in Mana Khemia 2. When you start the game, you must choose to be a blue-haired boy named Raze, or a blonde girl named Ulrika. Neither one of them seems too interested in school or in alchemy, but they play off of each other in a very real way. Thus far in my experience with the game (now five hours in), it seems the two of them lead two separate parties, and they quickly learn to consider each other as rivals... though Raze seems uninterested in having an rivalry.

I quickly spotted some other recurring characters. Tony, one of the "bullies" from the first Mana Khemia, is now the chief alchemy professor, and homeroom teacher for Ulrika. Zeppel recruits Flay (yes, that Flay) as a teacher, and Raze ends up learning under Flay. Based on his appearance, it would seem Mana Khemia 2 is at least ten years past the original, but it could be even more time. I'm not quite sure how old Flay is supposed to be.

Some immediate differences I noticed between the first and second Mana Khemia: this new game dropped a fancy skill tree (similar to FFX Sphere Grid) in favor of a simple growth book. As you learn new alchemy recipes and synthesize new items, you spend AP earned in battle to gain new stats and abilities. However, the "adjacent tiles" rule doesn't apply, so there's no barrier involved with synthesizing new items "out of order." However, a new addition to the system that makes it harder is that each synthesis card has three traits/abilities to unlock with AP. The third one, however, is not accessible until you synthesize that item with a 100% ether level (which, generally, you can't do without some high quality items found later in the game). This definitely adds an element of complexity to the leveling system.

The leveling system also incorporates raw "experience points" that allow your characters to gain base levels that increase max HP and SP. In the first Mana Khemia, all stats (including HP and SP) were increased only through AP usage. Thus, one can grind out levels just to have a higher pool of HP and SP as necessary. And, early in the game, this gives you a huge advantage. I suspect this will not be the case by endgame, however.

The game plays out across three school years separated into semesters, and specific tasks separated by week. In five hours of play I completed the entire first year, which is because the entire first year serves as an elongated exposition with many tutorials to help guide you along the way. There are minigames for almost every "gathering" action, and none of them are anything like previous minigames from the Atelier series (including Mana Khemia). So far the game is shaping up to be a fair bit of fun and dissimilar enough from its predecessor to be a worthwhile play for fans of the first Mana Khemia.

I was shocked to find that the English voice acting set Ulrika as a southern girl, a "country bumpkin" (as the translated text says). Her Japanese vocal counterpart sounds in no way unsophisticated. Similarly, a lot of the English dub pushes characters into archetypes that I'm not sure they're meant for. Whether this will pan out remains to be seen. I only hope I come to enjoy them, rather than be irritated by them, by the time I've completed this game.

It's been a long wait for Gust fans, but their final PS2 entry will be here soon. Be sure to preorder it if interested, and check back in a few weeks for our full review.


© 2009 NIS America, Gust. All rights reserved.

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