Oho! Well you certainly do not see me talking about a game every day. In fact, I’ll admit… Personally I’m not entirely sure what is so great about this game. Perhaps it is because I am a student (a study oriented one at that!), but something about Mana Khemia just captivates me. Sure it’s an old game and I am slow to pick it up, but truth be told it was actually sitting around for months before I actually played it.
Since I had committed myself to other games such as Chrono Trigger and Disgaea, I would only really boot up Mana Khemia: Student Alliance to see the opening movie. While watching it, I would really enjoy listening to the original (untouched by NIS America) Japanese music track as clips of school students fought with science (excuse me! I mean alchemy). Indeed, if one looks at my “My Anime List” page, they would immediately notice that my favorite genre of anime is the school-life category. If I had to specify a second category, I would have to pick the type of anime that is set in a rich fantasy world where combat involved magic and swords. In short, Mana Khemia is basically a school-life anime in playable form.
See, you take control of the main character named Vayne who lives at a school for alchemists. Now the school has a typical layout that all British-based private schools have; the students are allowed to do whatever they want on campus as long as they attend their classes. While the story itself is of a linear path in which you attend classes and complete assignments, the game shows some dynamism on “Free Days.” When class is not in session, Vayne gets the chance to wander around campus and make himself familiar with the school’s happenings. In addition, Vayne can also attempt to bond with some of his partners in the workshop he is a part of in character quests.
Gameplay wise, Mana Khemia is an RPG. Yes, you walk around maps and engage battles with enemies, but not in the traditional sense. First of all, enemies don’t randomly pop out of nowhere– You actually see them walking around and can avoid them if you want (think Earthbound). Second, the way one powers up is not in the typical way of beating monsters, getting experience, and leveling up. When you defeat a monster, Vayne and his party gains AP (attack points). However, you cannot make use of these points if you do not have the capacity as an alchemist to utilize them. Using materials that you pick up by running around, cutting down grass, or by doing practically anything, you can synthesize items in your workshop. (Of course you need the recipe first!) Once you make certain required items, you get the mental capacity to increase certain character attributes, giving you an edge in battle. Thus, there are many branches and builds for characters in the game.
Honestly, I’m not really sure what grabs me about this game though! It’s pretty odd that a full-time student like me plays a game about school on my free time. (With grades and everything!). There is just something I find about the game and its presentation as charming. The characters and their daily lives at school… The whole thing seems really cute to me.
When I reflect on it, I tend to wish that school was more like this romanticized view depicted in Mana Khemia. I’m not talking about alchemy and such, but the spirit– the willingness to gain knowledge. I know that in the United States at least, the school system is utterly terrible. The schools practically revolve around those who do poorly and basically push and prod them until they pass onto the next grade, just to keep the district ratings up. I have always been a studious person, and I believe that at heart, I will always be as student.