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Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy - PS2 - Preview

RPG lovers may be sad that the golden years are over, but those with a PS2 can count on one thing: that every year NIS America will export at least one of its popular Japanese role-playing games. They’ve been doing it since the early days of the console, and with millions of PS2s on the market, why not keep up this great tradition?

The latest title to come from NIS’ massive RPG library is Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy. The name says it all – by now you’ve either played the series and love it or are in the group of people scratching their heads and wondering, “What’s this Mana Khemia people keep talking about?”

 

In simple terms, Mana Khemia is about a school that gifted souls attend to learn about alchemy. A deeper, more complex explanation is that this school involves the same quality of anime-style characters, super-fast retro combat and engaging musical score you’ve come to expect from the NIS family.

This sequel takes you back to the school with Raze, a cocky 16-year-old boy, and Ulrika, a bratty 15-year-old girl. Their paths first cross when Raze trips over a small round object that belongs to Ulrika. They blame each other for the minor mishap, leading to the same goofy dialogue you’d expect from teens on daytime television. Like it or loathe it, the whole scenario feels like a distraction from what caused the accident – a mysterious object that seems to hold great importance to the entire Mana Khemia 2 story.

After navigating through the intro, learning a bit about the characters and paying close attention to the music, which is initially lighthearted but feels like it’s building to something deeper, the game drops you into your first battle. Fans of the original will no doubt recognize the turn-based setup, the attack choices, graphic style (2D semi-deformed characters, bright and explosive colors, monsters that range from cutesy to grotesque), and overall feel of the combat.

 

Newcomers – assuming there are any (I’d recommend starting with the first Mana Khemia before diving into the sequel. Fall of Alchemy isn’t due till the end of the month, so you have time to prepare) – will be impressed by how true the game is to its Japanese heritage, mirroring the gameplay and artistic presentation of dozens of other SNES, PSone and PS2 RPGs. No, modern gamers, Mana Khemia wasn’t a series that was developed for you. But for those looking for the old and refined, and a step down memory lane, Mana Khemia 2 could be another gem.

Mechanically, the game’s battles stay true to the original. The presentation has changed though, replacing the turn layout (which used a row of cards to show whose turn was next) with a more attractive sphere that accomplishes the same thing. Likewise, attacks and other moves (skills, item selection, etc.) are selected from a very simple and very square window – nothing out of the ordinary, but it’s quick and effective. After going through a few hundred or a few thousand battles, the simple format should prove to be the better one.

Before each battle, players will have the chance to gain the upper hand by pressing one of the face buttons (square, X, triangle or circle). You’ll know which one to press by the icon that appears on the screen. Do it quickly and you’ll get to strike first – fail and the enemy scores the first attack. In either case, returning Mana Khemia players will surely notice that the game is initially more brutal than the first. It’s not so difficult that players will be held back (an RPG novice might; no one else will be effected), but it definitely stands out as one of the changes from the first game to the sequel. If this carries over to the end of Mana Khemia 2, it could prove to be one of the more challenging RPGs of the year.

 

Due for release on August 25, Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy looks to continue the tradition of great retro-inspired RPG gaming on PlayStation 2.

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