After becoming a fan of the Atelier series since I played Rorona way back when it was released now I’ve decided to go back to some earlier titles. I always though a portable version of these games would be great so I could try out my alchemy skills anywhere and when I saw Mana Khemia: Student Alliance on the Playstation Store I decided to give it a go.
First and foremost, Mana Khemia: Student Alliance is a port of a Playstation 2 game, Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis. This port has been infamous over the years for being bad. It was made for the PSP but while it is the same game as its PS2 counterpart the graphics in this version are muddy and blurry. Also it has some pretty long load times which fortunately for whatever miracle of modern technology do not happen when you play it on the PS Vita.
I’ve tried out the game on both the Vita and PSP. While the graphics are worse eventually you can get used to them and the battle graphics are still just as good as the PS2. However, if you only have a PSP I will right of the bat recommend you skip this version until you can get it for a Vita or the original game for the PS2. That is because, like I said, the long loadings issues are not present when playing on the Vita but are on the PSP.
But enough of those technical differences and versions, let’s get to the game because this is a very good game.
You play as Vayne. A young boy who lives in a small house in the woods with his cat after his father passed away. Then the principal of a school for alchemist goes to you and invites you to enroll in the academy. There you will meet and befriend many characters, most of which I liked a lot. To my personal taste just two were a little boring but even so they managed to make me care for them from time to time or crack a smile.
As far as plot goes, it starts pretty slow. So while the very beginning may not be much inviting I can assure that as events start happening and you get more familiarized with your companions the game gets better and better and much more engaging.
Around halfway through the story starts getting really good and much more interesting.
Another interesting point is the combat which I won’t go into too much detail but while it will seem repetitive at the beginning with only three party members, when you get more you can strategize with their skills, the order in which they attack and not only that but you gain so many skills it allows you to really play as you want.
Complementing the combat what I found to be a great feature in this game is the way you level up. Too put it simply, you don’t gain levels simply by killing enemies, doing so gets you AP points. These points are used to unlock abilities in your grow chart, which will have many things like stats, skills and passive abilities but to unlock those you have to synthesize. So, since you are an alchemist you will be synthesizing a lot of items and the more items you create the better your characters become.
I found this to be a great way to level in this game because it encourages you to make items and since you made them you might as well try them and some give you unique skills you only get when the item is equipped so even with endgame gear one set may have many different characteristics another’s person would have.
Finally the audio. In the original version of the game on the PS2 I believe there is dual audio, however in this one on the PSP/Vita there is only English. While the dub is decent there are way to many silent moments. Which is a shame because I bet that with the Japanese audio track the game must be fully voiced. It doesn’t hurt the game but is something to consider.
The music in my opinion has its ups and downs. While some tracks are lovely there are others that feel repetitive if listened too much. Still I think the music is a high point even if a bit repetitive.
In the end Mana Khemia: Student Alliance is a game I recommend to any fan of Gust games and also JRPG fans. The alchemy is not as engaging as recent Atelier games but it’s good and the combat is great, also with good characters and a surprisingly good plot near the end.