Through the three domestically released Atelier Iris games, as well as the countless other iterations that have never seen our shores (Atelier Judie & Marie are fine examples), much fun was to be had with these extremely niche titles. Perhaps one of the least discussed genres out there is the Alchemy-RPG. Intimidating at first, though extremely engaging to the right audience, NIS America’s back in ’08 with some rather pleasant news of fans of the original Atelier games.
Mana Khemia: The Alchemists of Al-Revis is the newest title from the series, though the name change alone is but a hinting at how it diverges in from the traditions of its older PS2 counterparts. It’s (follow me here) a campus sim style RPG, where the player engages in role-playing with fellow classmates and teachers. The main character Vayne, whom heavily resembles Luke from Namco’s Tales of the Abyss is the newest student evidently out to prove himself, where he’ll meet both human and not so human alchemists alike.
The premise of a sim-style RPG revolving around school entails as much as it would immediately suggest. Academic quests unravel progressively and are assigned by teachers. Failing your missions is as bad as failing an actual exam (since it is in part an exam, actually) and hilarity ensues with the player character staying after class. Even better, the game produces varying results of success, depending on who you pair up with in class. So depending on the task at hand, either the intuitive or bookworm students might be of more aid than others would.
Avatar-crafting is the newest feature in the series, introduced in Mana Khemia, permitting player’s to take micromanagement even further, by crafting skills and stats to the player character rather than the habitual dungeon fights and level grinding. Evidently, this can give the most ridiculous or purist creations, depending how far you’re willing to make your character. Whether you want to craft a barbarian which specializes in magic, or a healer which also wields heavy artillery is entirely up to you.
Item-crafting, a staple of the series and not such a new feature, also makes its triumphant return, which is basically the ends meat of why alchemy games are so much fun.
And judging from each subsequent NIS America game, it seems like the battle system is getting faster and faster to please both traditional RPG purists as well as fans who hate slow paced battles by adding the Burst Attack system. Burst attacking follows as triggering a hailstorm of combos whenever the enemy is knocked down, much like Persona 3 did.
The art style has also changed, for the better at that, with an art design that looks like it’s a cross between Tales of … art (excluding Inomata designs) with a grittier tone, Mana Khemia looks like the first interesting title from NIS this early on in mid March 2008. The screens and art so far do it justice. Hopefully, it’ll pass the lab exam and soar out with some straight alchemizing A’s.