|System: PS2||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Gust||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: NIS America||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Aug. 26, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Tony Capri
If there's one thing the PS2 is likely to be remembered as - outside of being one of the biggest hardware successes in gaming history - it's for being the seminal platform for RPGs. That legacy continues on as NIS (Nippon Ichi Software) brings us the sequel to Mana Khemia. Prepare yourself for an overload of JRPG sensibilities in this adorable yet complex, little adventure.
Mana Khemia 2 takes place roughly 15 years after the events of the first game, and you'll choose to play as either Raze or Ulrika from the outset. Their stories run parallel, but the unique perspectives of each character promise substantial replay value for folks who find themselves smitten with the game.
The story revolves around the confines of the Al-Revis Academy, and much of the actual gameplay is weaved into classes and jobs you'll take on as a student of the school. Rather than travel in real time about the world map, however, you'll navigate main portions of the world via menu selections, á la Final Fantasy Tactics. It's a system that works great for this particular title, since combat and customization are the game's deeper focus.
If you're looking for a lot of bang for your buck, you're sure to get it here. Mana Khemia 2 offers plenty to do and see, but getting over the game's initial opening will take some mental stamina. There's much to digest in terms of the battle system and character enhancements, so prepare to sift through a good deal of text when first setting out on this adventure.
That being said, the game has really good pacing, though you will be forced to tread over old ground quite a bit. Gameplay nuggets are doled out in wonderfully delicious rations, and the systems on offer here are mostly gems.
Though the dialogue and story progression are well written, they aren't necessarily Mana Khemia 2's main focus. The developers, pulling from a myriad of clichés, sew a yarn seemingly custom made to poke fun at traditional JRPG conventions. The game can be cute and entertaining if you appreciate its sense of humor, though some folks might simply find its collection of characters irritatingly whiny.
The story, however, is mere window dressing for a host of very interesting and enjoyable gameplay components. Most of the areas you'll travel to off campus are set up like typical RPG dungeons. Upon entering one of these areas, you'll travel in real time using the analog stick. You can also jump, and borrowing from the likes of Tales of Symphonia, monster indicators roam about each level.
There are actually tons of different mechanics in Mana Khemia 2 that seem to be influenced by past RPGs such as Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. For example, when running into monster indicators on the field, a symbol will pop up onscreen cuing you to push a particular face button on the controller. Push the correct button in time, and you'll land the first attack in battle; pick the wrong one or not respond in time, and the enemy gets first dibs. It's a minor thing to be sure, but it's a subtle addition that helps keep you actively involved throughout the entire game.
The battle system, though, really goes above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to sprucing up turn-based combat. The battle menu isn't complex - all the standard options are available - but you'll find that, though you'll often have plenty of time to think through your strategy, you'll always be fully engaged during each encounter.