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
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.