A bad case of Khemia.
Like its title, Mana Khemia: Student Alliance is full of common role-playing game tropes: there are mana, students, and even a couple alliances. But there’s also Khemia. When you ask yourself, "WTF is a Khemia?", you’re answering your own question, because Khemia is that which makes you ask "WTF?"
This game is full of Khemia.
[image1]But before we answer all the little "wtfs", let’s get to the big ones. Mana Khemia: Student Alliance is a port of a PS2 game called Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis, which was developed by Gust, who also make the Atelier Iris series. Phew! To translate that into English: Mana Khemia: Student Alliance is an RPG with a quirky plot, lots of sexual innuendo, and an emphasis on item collection. Since it’s a port to the PSP, it also features numerous lengthy loading screens, weird pauses, and strange two-player monster battles. If you’re a fan of the Atelier Iris series and you want to play this game, you should play it as Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis on the PS2, because that version runs better. The PSP version’s co-op battles are not worth the loading times and gameplay hiccups.
The story follows a young boy named Vayne Aurelius who lives in a park with his talking cat Sulpher. One day, a man finds Vayne at the park and invites him to alchemy school. When Vayne and his cat arrive at the campus, they immediately befriend a bossy pink-haired girl, a horny beast girl, and a macho guy with a penis-shaped sword. The group is slowly entangled in a wacky plot. You can probably guess most of the details and twists, but you will be taken completely off guard by the crazy sexual innuendo. In fact, it goes beyond innuendo when you and the pink-haired girl walk into the nurse’s office for the first time, and the nurse asks, "Were you going to do something naughty to her in here?" Both of your characters reply, "Naughty? What?" And then the nurse says "I used to be innocent, once." That’s good Khemia.
The bad Khemia rears its head when you try to run quests. Since you’re at an alchemy school, the quests are actually classes. However, you don’t get your quests from your teachers – you get them from the front office. Then, when you complete a quest you turn it in at the faculty lounge. Or back at the front office. Yeah, that’s Khemia.
The quests are usually assignments in which you have to craft an item by gathering its ingredients from a nearby dungeon, forest, or floating crystal maze. There are lots of ways to gather these ingredients. Some ingredients drop from monsters, some dangle from trees, others have to be dug up, and some are protected by bosses. For the most part, if you work your way through a dungeon killing enemies and gather ingredients as you go, you’ll get what you need to complete the assignment. But what if you run out of mana points and health potions before you get to the boss, and your party members are hurt? That’s no problem, you can just teleport back to school. However, that’s where the convenience ends and the Khemia begins.
[image2]When you get back to school you’ll go to the store to buy some health potions, only to discover that the ‘store’ doesn’t actually sell ‘things’, it sells ingredients. Even worse, one of the first ingredients it tries to sell you is "Dirt" for ten bucks. We call Khemia on that. We also call Khemia on the fact that you have to grind for everything. Want health potions? You can’t just pick up a six pack at the store. You have to go to the forest, hack through some bushes, kill a bunch of monsters, then take the items you collected back to your shop to brew the suckers yourself.
Crafting involves an incomprehensible mini-game with a spinning wheel of elements, rotating X’s that have to align, and playing cards with your friends’ faces on them which, when played during the alchemical process, apply a statistical buff to the thing you are making… out of dirt. It’s random; it’s inelegant; it’s Khemia.
Leveling up doesn’t make sense, either. Each character has a map called a Grow Book. The points on this map are items you can craft. When you craft one of these items, its point on the map is activated and the three status boosts associated with that point can be purchased by spending experience points on them. So basically, every time you make a major new piece of gear for one of your characters, they gain some random attributes. It’s easy to figure out how all this stuff works, but only one word can explain why you gain strength when you unlock the "male uniform" point in your Grow Book map: Khemia.
The nice thing about this system is that you almost always have enough experience points to buy whatever random stat boost comes with a piece of gear. That, in turn, means that you only have to fight monsters when you’re hunting for a specific ingredient. And since there are no random encounters, you can avoid a lot of combat without hurting your party’s development. The combat revolves around using attacks, skills, and items to defeat enemies, and includes a few wrinkles. You only have three active fighters at a time, but other members of your party can quickly be swapped in or simply used for one turn to make this attack or that ability better.
[image3]The combat also looks good, because all the characters and enemies are clearly drawn. Even better, the special attacks manage to look cool without taking too long to complete. Unfortunately, the out of combat graphics look terrible. The 3D textures are blurry and smeared, and the game takes forever to load whenever you move from one place to another. Mana Khemia also stalls randomly. You’ll hit the triangle button to open your items list, and the game will balk for three seconds before finally doing what you asked. Yes, this is a sloppy port. Also, even though a lot of the lines are voiced over, you’ll probably turn the volume completely down after a few minutes; the music is too annoying to listen to for long.
The main difference between the PSP port and its PS2 relative, aside from the terrible loading, is the inclusion of co-op monster battles. If you and a friend both have copies of the game, you can get together in a fight against a monster. Some monsters drop items and ingredients that you can’t get otherwise, so if both you and a buddy get deep into Mana Khemia, you will want to team up and take these monsters out. Then again, that’s a pretty big if.
Because if you really want to play this game, you should play the PS2 version and so should your friend. It has all the same crazy sexual innuendo, weird mechanics, and general Khemia without all the lengthy loading screens and random hiccups. And that is WTF is up with Mana Khemia: Student Alliance.