Editor’s Note: This review is based on the PlayStation Network version of this title. For the review on the UMD version, check out this review.
Earlier this year, I reviewed Mana Khemia: Student Alliance for the PSP when it was first released as a UMD. It was a horrid port, filled with shoddy graphics, sound errors, and more load times than just about any other game I’d played on the PSP. The game was pretty much un-playable, and I even mentioned in my review that it would probably do well for a release on PSN. I got my wish with the release of the PSP go and the major update to the PSN store seen that day. So was I right? Did a PSN release drastically improve the loading times by removing the UMD from the equation? Hell yes it did, but the port still features inferior graphics and sound when compared to the PS2 version. It’s a charming game with a bad port, but it’s not the absolutely abysmal port it was on UMD. At half the price point – $15 – it’s worth picking up as a download if you’re a Gust fan.
We’ve reviewed this game at RPGFan several times, and I’ll just touch on the basics of the game. You play as a young alchemist-to-be named Vayne, players take their time at Al-Revis Academy, crafting items through an alchemy system, taking classes, and battling monsters. The game is very cutesy, has a worthwhile story, and the battle and class systems are very engaging. In short, it’s a good Gust RPG, one that I much prefer to the more standard Atelier titles. Check out Patrick’s review of the PS2 version of the title for more information on the game’s basic systems, as the rest of this review will focus on the changes from PS2 to UMD to PSN – and the lack thereof.
Graphically, the game is identical to its original port to the PSP, which means it keeps the sharp sprites from the PlayStation 2 version of the title. Elsewhere, however, just about everything that’s in 3D looks muddy with very visible seams between the polygons. That much has stayed the same from the UMD version, but absolutely gone are most of the load times from that version. I could happily jump around, enter save points, and accomplish anything that required the game to load an animation without a pause, unlike the previous PSP release of the title. That is the main difference that makes this game go from abysmal to tolerable; there’s no waiting for each and every thing in the game to load. That doesn’t mean everything has magically gone right, though, as there’s still just plain slowdown in the game, which is unacceptable with 2D sprites and environments as dull as these. With the textures toned down so much, there shouldn’t be slowdown from a system as powerful as the PSP, but it ends up being a minor gripe compared to the problems of the UMD version of the title.
Sound is another aspect that’s improved, but it’s also taken a hit in some other ways. There are no long waits for sounds to appear, and they’re in sync with the animations, finally, but sometimes they’re cut off. Sometimes, the game plays the beginning of a sound, but it cuts off before the file is supposed to finish. It’s a minor gripe, and really, it just puts the sound in the same place that it was with the UMD title – flawed, but it can be ignored. It’s not a game-breaking problem, but it’s still a little bit on the annoying side.
All of the other changes in the UMD version of the title stay the same: good controls, a good story, adequate dialogue, and some of that NIS charm. The game itself is very fun, it’s just the port that’s inferior. The changes to the PSN version are all directly related to the loading in the game, but when that was the major issue with the UMD release of the title, there’s not nearly as much to complain about with the download version.
All-in-all, the PSN release of this title isn’t earth-shattering, but it does move the game from being an absolutely unplayable mess to simply being ugly. Fans of Gust titles will want to pick up the PSN release of the title, and the game is more than playable for the average RPG fan. Just don’t expect perfection (or anything close to it) out of it, but it’s a thousand times better than the mess that was on UMD. So if you’re beaten Shin Megami Tensei: Persona and you’re hankering for something to play on your PSP, try the PSN download of Mana Khemia, as it’s actually playable now.