Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy review

Many stories have explored the prospect of a giant meteor crashing into our planet. It’s a hard topic to ignore when scientists frequently remind us of the real-world close calls (you know the story: a meteor missed Earth by, oh, just a few million miles) and the impending doom of other space junk.

But what about the legend of a floating school that came crashing down to our land – have you heard the tale of that one yet? If not, don’t fret: chances are Michael Bay hasn’t heard of it either. Fortunately, the writers of Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy aren’t waiting for scientists to confirm the school’s existence. They went ahead and wrote the story anyway.

Starring two young whiners – ahem, fighters – who will no doubt play a major role in saving the world, Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy focuses on two characters: Raze and Ulrika. If you expect to start the game with both of them, chances are you’re used to the standard RPG formula. Fall of Alchemy has taken another route, giving the player just one of the two characters at the start of the game. This doesn’t alter the experience as much as you’ll expect; Mana Khemia is Mana Khemia, regardless of who you choose to play as. However, if you get into the story (not likely, but we’ll get to that later), the separated character format definitely adds something to the replay value.

Fall of Alchemy may be telling a new story with new characters, but not much has changed in the time between Mana Khemia iterations. The graphics are obviously the same, so there’s no point in rehashing a discussion on such an overly rehashed element. In slightly more positive news, players will notice that the battles are still playable after all these years of enduring them. But other than the types of spells and attacks (and the expansion of multi-character assaults), you’re going to have a hard time finding something new to do.

Once again, Fall of Alchemy takes place in a series of linear environments. The map system remains the same as before, which isn’t the worst thing ever, but one has to wonder why the developers didn’t go back to the drawing board and produce a more intuitive navigation tool.

Item synthesis has returned, and though its functionality is no more creative than it was before, players will now have an alchemy wheel mini-game to worry about. Whereas item ingredients used to be the primary concern, the wheel – which consists of several colored orbs – adds another element to think about before you’re finished synthesizing.

Likewise, the character growth system has been given a boost with the implementation of the Grow Book, which allows you to synthesize items and assign growth points to evolve your characters manually. If this sounds like something you’ve seen in other RPGs, that’s because you have.

If returning and upgraded gameplay features are of little interest to you, Fall of Alchemy’s Bazaar system should be right up your alley: it allows you to open your own item shop. This isn’t merely a money-making scheme or some excuse for the game to drag out its quest – the homegrown shop has a reason for being, and it’s a big one. In addition to selling off items you’ve made yourself, players who open a shop and sell rare items (to non-playable characters, for those of you who needed clarification) will discover that other merchants want to sell them as well. When they do, this means you’ll be able to acquire them at a later date, even if you don’t have the right ingredients to make the item yourself.

Unless you enjoy the cutesy, oddly voiced and weakly acted content that most anime has to offer, you probably won’t enjoy Fall of Alchemy’s story. The dialogue is alright but the voice acting is atrocious, and it’s not easy to care for characters you wish would shut up.

Fall of Alchemy’s music is the complete opposite. Building its strength from high-quality and highly compelling orchestrations, the score is nearly everything an RPG fan could hope for. There are moments of depth, minutes of emotion, hints of shock and surprise (the music is far more effective than the story is at connecting the player to the characters), and many long stretches of lighthearted bliss.

If, by some chance, you do enjoy the story, then the divided character quests should be to your liking. They add replay value by allowing you to see Raze and Ulrika from different perspectives.

As far as the turn-based battles are concerned, Fall of Alchemy is a slight leap ahead that will enthrall any diehard fan of the series. Musically, this is another big win for NIS, an RPG publisher that’s known for delivering top-notch soundtracks. The rest of the game, however, is the same old thing. If you’ve been with the Mana Khemia series as long as I have (since the days of Atelier Iris), Fall of Alchemy might be the last sequel/spin-off you’ll want to play before giving this franchise a rest.