When most people think of school, yawn-inducing lectures, nightmares about tests, and unpleasant memories of homework come to mind. But what if your lectures were all field trips to exotic locations, your tests battles against unnatural creatures, and your homework alchemic fusions? Wouldn't that be more exciting?
For Vayne Aurelius, a freshman at the Al-Revis Academy of Alchemy, such a world is his reality. The young amnesiac lived in solitude with his Mana (a companion spirit of sort), Sulpher, until he was unexpectedly visited by a professor at the academy who invited him to study the ways of alchemy. After he arrives on campus and completes orientation, he makes quick friends with his classmate Jess. The two of them set out to explore the school together, but along the way, they're roped into an alchemy workshop group with the beast-girl Nikki by the wonderfully insane upperclassman Flay, who speaks in an exaggerated, superhero-like tone. He also refers to his workshop as "The Flay Cave" and conveniently leaves you to do his work because he's got other things to do.
Mana Khemia is, as publisher Nippon Ichi describes, an academic RPG. Besides all the usual RPG-style combat, there's a huge school campus simulation portion to experience. As such, it more resembles a game like Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 than one of the Atelier Iris games of which Mana Khemia seems to be a successor. Every week, you will enroll in a class of your choice, and that class will give you an assignment to complete.
The two classes we experienced were Basic Synthesis and Combat Basics. Basic Synthesis had us hunt down and find three items to mix together using alchemy. Combat Basics sent us out of the academy to fight a Platinum Puni boss and taught us how to upgrade items in the Athanor Room. Some classes are required, but all will award you a letter grade depending on your degree of success and the length of time that it takes you to complete a class. If you don't do well in your classes, you'll have to take more difficult makeup courses to continue your studies, but if you pass with no hiccups, you'll have more free time to pursue your own projects.
As the title and setting suggest, alchemy plays a huge role in Mana Khemia. Throughout the game, you'll find or purchase ingredients that you blend together with a bit of magic in your workshop cauldron to create new items. But making items isn't entirely free-form because you have to first find the recipe before you can get started on it. Once you've assembled everything you need and are ready to begin, you can choose to either enlist the help of a party member who will add his or her own unique talents to the mix or pick positive (or negative) effects from a spinning roulette wheel. Either way, you've just created a new item!
When exploring locations outside the academy for items or assignments, it's only inevitable that you'll encounter monsters. On the map, they appear as amorphous blobs that roam around randomly, and combat begins either on contact with them or when you initiate it with an attack. Battles are turn-based affairs that feature a timeline with enemy and ally turns mapped out. Attacks and item uses are performed instantly, but spells or special attacks are scheduled in the future. In Mana Khemia, you don't actually earn experience points from combat that you use to gain levels but, rather, ability points that you spend upgrading your character's stats by purchasing enhancements on the various items you craft.
Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis is scheduled to come out later this month on March 31. Check back later on for our review of this unique school sim-slash-RPG.