Sony's PSP just hasn't enjoyed the same level of comfort in the US at is does in Japan, where it receives more notoriety, larger shelf space in stores, and a much larger library of games. Fans of Japanese style games have been importing for some time, but what about those text-heavy role playing games that demand a higher understanding of the language? Thankfully, companies such as NISA, Atlus, and Aksys have been carrying the torch for fans. Recently, Aksys released Mimana Iyar Chronicle: pretty standard fare for the JRPG genre that features a very action-oriented system and solid level of exploration. Genre enthusiasts will want to check it out, though an overambitious encounter rate puts a crimp in the otherwise fast-paced adventure (more on that below).
As lead Crais Sewell--your typical gruff, indebted anti-hero--you take on a bodyguard gig that leads to some treacherous areas as you search for gems with a young girl who is financing the expedition. Mimana doesn't hide its similarity to other entries in the genre, keeping things simple and to the point at the beginning. In fact, the game will quickly test whether you are paying attention. You can wander off course quite easily and die, so its important to level early, stay on course, and save often (thankfully you can save anywhere from the menu). Mimana's strength is in its straight delivery--there is no lengthy introduction to the game, and there is really no limit to where you can go. Just follow the path and move the story, though the story itself is rife with all the trappings and cliches of the JRPG genre.
As mentioned earlier, there are stalling points along the way, most noticeably the rather high random encounter rate. You will be attacked often; a similar problem I had with Crimson Gem Saga also on the PSP. In Crimson, there was a particular pair of shoes that let you run away from most unwanted encounters. Unfortunately, there isn't such an easy solution in Mimana. Even the best battle system will get old if repeated too often. When combined with the more traditional random approach, it becomes even harder to justify. Additionally, the loading screen for entering battles takes too long. When a battle is triggered, the game does this generic fade out screen that then dissolves into the actual battle screen. While I admit this criticism is extremely nit-picky, it's important to expedite the process for a game that has such a high encounter rate, especially one that is already being played off the memory card for maximum load times. There's a short loading screen at the end of battle as well.
The battle system is real-time, and features some interesting technical elements, but shows its lack of depth after the first handful of battles. You are in direct control of Crais and can set parameters for how your party attacks. Crais has access to combos that if timed correctly will cause him to change color and produce critical attacks. Orbs acquired throughout the game provide access to learnable magic spells that can be assigned to the directionals. As stated above, battles can be really hard and frequent, so those who enjoy playing RPGs for the story may want to give Mimana some distance. The overall adventure features a good mix of dungeon and land exploration that unfolds with decent anime quality voiced dialogue, though the overall dungeon design, story progression, and pacing offer nothing new to the genre.
It may seem like I'm being overly harsh with Mimana. Keep in mind that this is a particularly busy genre that has seen some really innovative ideas, and conversely some really bad decisions. The PSP is the perfect avenue for a more traditional JRPG, which is able to offer better cutscenes and voiced dialogue over its competitor the Nintendo DS. That isn't the problem here. The fundamental idea behind Mimana, at least to my eyes, is a fast-paced adventure that hits the ground running; a pace in endangered somewhat by an aggressive encounter system. Overall, Mimana comes in at a very healthy average for the genre, being nice and short (under 10 hours for normal playthrough), and will serve as a comfortable pit stop until the next big adventure.