Developed by Gust and published in the US by NIS America, Mana Khemia is a nice diversion. If you like the Atelier Iris series and Ar Tornelico, you'll like Mana Khemia. Call me boring or a pathetic fan girl, but I think this is a good thing. There are times when I'm looking for something comfortable and familiar. Playing a game like that is like snuggling under the covers on a chilly Sunday morning and just being lazy. So if you're looking for something different, amazing, and revolutionary, this isn't the right choice. But if you're into snuggling with hot chocolate, I definitely recommend checking it out.
You begin the game as Vayne, a young man with a cat companion named Sulpher. A teacher from the alchemy school invites him to be a student and so he begins his studies. On his first day of school, he befriends a super-cute, pink-haired girl, a spunky cat-girl, and a brash loser of an upperclassman. Each chapter is broken down into events and classes. In order to progress the story, you have to pass your alchemy classes. These classes might teach you combat, alchemy, or judging whether or not to run from battle. I am in the second chapter and so far, there are hints that there is something special about Vayne, but nothing concrete. There also isn't some great evil threatening the world yet, either.Mana Khemia
The battles are turn based, although when you get to take your turn next is determined by your actions. There is attack, defend, run away, item, and skill/magic. Instead of experience points leading to increasing levels, your points can be allocated to an alchemy grid, similar to the sphere grid in Final Fantasy X. The primary difference, however, is that in order to allocate your points, you must synthesize items, armor, or weapons using alchemy and have them either in your inventory or equipped. If you haven't synthesized them yourself, you can't learn the skills associated with them. As such, leveling up your character is directly determined by how far you've progressed in the story and what items you've picked up along the way. In addition to that, as you progress through a dungeon, time passes. When it becomes night time, the enemies get a LOT more difficult. Unless you've got a lot of skills on the grid unlocked, the night enemies are too challenging, so you have to leave, come back, and start the dungeon over. So forget grinding. It doesn't get you anywhere. Enemies are visible on screen as you traverse the dungeon, so you can avoid them, if you're careful. This definitely helps with the time passing issue.
The alchemy system is the basis of the game since you have to synthesize items in order to “level” your characters. Experimentation is easy and you can receive support from other characters in your party. I haven't messed around with it that much yet, so I'm not entirely sure how the different characters can affect your outcomes. The synthesized items have qualities like “muddy” or “powdery.” I haven't figured out how they affect the game yet, though. I haven't found my Heal Jars to work differently based on whether they're muddy or powdery.
The graphics are what we've come to expect from Gust. The enemies are the same, as are the mana. I love Punis. And the pretty boys. There is a Japanese voice option, thank God. The English makes me cringe. (I'm one of those Japanese voice acting purists, though…) The story so far is fluffy, but I'm guessing that it will get interesting later. I'm definitely enjoying this game, but it's not breaking down any barriers. It's more of what I like about Gust's games and that's good enough for me.