Hot on the heels of Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero?
(one of the most exciting 2D platformers in years), NIS America is back with their next exciting portable adventure game. Unfortunately, Mana Khemia: Student Alliance is definitely not worth getting excited about. This is a shoddily thrown together port of a so-so adventure game with annoying characters, ugly graphics and a serious amount of technical problems. Outside of a few interesting ideas, Mana Khemia proves to be nothing more than just another mediocre PSP role-playing game.
Mana Khemia starts out strong enough; it involves a Harry Potter-style plot where you, an incredibly old sounding teenager, transfer to a new school that will hopefully teach you to harness your inner magical abilities. After meeting with his new friends and the quirky faculty, our hero is off to collect items, combine recipes and, most importantly of all, settle in to his brand new surroundings.
Thanks to the game's ambiguous box art and lengthy introduction, it took me the better part of an hour to even figure out what kind of game this was. Having not played the original game (2008's Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis), I wasn't sure what I was getting myself in for. Was this a puzzle game? Would it be a role-playing strategy game? What would it be? Unfortunately I quickly discovered that this was, like most Japanese adventure games that make it to these shores, a traditional turn-based role-playing game.
With very few exceptions, if you've played a classic Final Fantasy game, then you will feel right at home with Mana Khemia. Where the game sets itself apart is when you are allowed to mix and match complex ingredients to create all sorts of spells and items. The whole game revolves around finding, winning and buying different ingredients and then combining them to create bigger and better weapons. As I played through the early moments of this game I really felt like there were a lot of good ideas here and I couldn't wait to explore them further.
But the game didn't want me to do that. For whatever reason, I felt like the game was fighting me every step of the way. For one thing, the game requires you to go out on these ill-conceived missions that aren't always real clear or detailed. Worse yet, it doesn't take long before these repetitive quests start to feel more like busywork. You're constantly asked to go back and forth from school gathering items, which never feels especially important or epic. The game's turn-based combat is about as generic as they come, and any hint at originality is stamped down almost immediately when you realize that it will involve a lot of pointless work for you. Before long I found that the very thing I was supposed to be excited about - the game's crafting system - was making me hate the entire experience.
But as repetitious as the core gameplay is, it's nothing compared to the game stopping load times. If ever there was a poster child for how to not use load screens, Mana Khemia would be it. I'm pretty sure that if you add up my time playing this game, I spent much more time watching load screens than I did actually playing the game (or reading the poorly written dialog). You start the game up. Loading screen. You go to look at your map. Loading screen. You go to the Faculty Lounge. Loading screen. You now walk to the door of the faculty lounge. Loading screen. You talk to the teach and ... well, you get the idea. Just to give you an idea, to go from the Faculty Lounge to the outskirts (where you can fight and hunt) you will have to endure four different load screens.
And we're not talking about short load screens, either. Many of these load screens are twenty or more seconds long. A loading screen every once and awhile would be fine, obviously the game needs to load every so often. But the places they put these lengthy load screens seems to break the flow of the story. Worse yet, they turn an already slow game into one of the most boring experiences I have ever had with the PSP.
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