I forgot so much, it was like playing for the first time again. I remembered some key story beats, a couple endings, and the music. For all these years, I had the game as vaguely cute in my head, but nothing special. Frankly, my position hasn't changed much.
The last time I played it was in 2010, so I'll explain a little personal context before I get deep into it. I was 18 at the time I did not replay with the expectation that my trash childhood taste would get overridden. I was an adult, this title was not nostalgic to me. I expected my initial feelings to be mostly validated, and they were. However, being much more familiar with the Atelier series gives me a different lens to view it through now.
Let's start with the overall flow of the game. Each chapter starts with a little story flashback, you'll get a cutscene sort setting the scene for the weeks ahead, and then you're made to do classwork. Getting good grades means you can skip some classes, leading to more free time.
Free time is where the bulk of activity really happens. You'll be doing character events, taking jobs for money and recipes, crafting items, exploring areas more thoroughly, and filling out your grow book. This takes a pretty significant chunk of time, and you're highly incentivized to go through the process. After you're all done, you can move on to the main story event of the chapter. Rinse and repeat.
The Grow Book
To be honest, this is the entire reason I even replayed the game. My too vague memories of this very mechanic. You see, Mana Khemia doesn't have levels. Anywhere.
Your combat progression is tied to creating items. Certain items will unlock more stats and skills in the grow book, making you stronger. And you get to use or equip the items, so that's a secondary power increase as well. It's really nice idea to force players to make items.
You still have to earn the points to unlock the upgrades, however, and there are two methods. One is combat -- you get AP rather than EXP -- and the second is having your characters on a specific schedule setting that will raise their AP every week. The schedule is fairly good at getting you to where you need to be, so you don't need to fight all that much outside of story bosses unless you want 100% completion.
The concept is deeply interesting and Gust needs to experiment with itmore, but it's not a perfect system. It is very linear -- the grow book is presented as a sort of skill tree, but there are no interesting decisions to be made. You pick the offensive stat that goes with the character's strengths, and the rest is simple. You just pick stats and skills as you get the points and items to do so. The act of making all the items is also not that enjoyable. So let's talk about that!
I hate the alchemy wheel. It's one part of why synthesis is very tedious, and Gust should feel bad for including it. Let's set the scene. You're making a new item for the first time. You select the ingredients you want, and suddenly you see an elemental wheel spinning. To make the
quality ether level go up, you need to stop the wheel when the element matches your ingredienet. If you hit the element correctly, your ether value goes up by 10. If you hit the one to the left of it, the value goes down. The other elements are neutral. It is not difficult to select desired elements at the wheel, but it is time consuming. There are some synths in the game where you will actually need to make the value go down, but generally maxing will work well enough. However, the game is not transparent about at what levels you get which effects. If there are interesting synthesis choices to make, the game makes it difficult to know they exist. It's also unclear what the effects even do, in some cases.
Every time you stop the wheel on an element, there is a secondary animation to follow this up. The process of synthesis is full of excessive animations to mash through. It's worse if you use a character skill (which have bonuses like increasing/decreasing ether level, turning the wheel to fire, or random synth). To bring up another game, the most beautiful thing about Atelier Shallie is the low amount of animations and every other game could stand to learn from it. Synthesis is lightning fast. Mana Khemia forces a lot of inputs through animations. It's absurd, and if you mash too much you'll select the wrong thing at the wheel.
My complaints about this are somewhat mitigated by the mass synthesis option. After you make an item once, if you reuse the same materials, you can select mass synthesis, skip all the crap, and get the same exact item again and again. There are also some helpful items you can buy in shops, but not nearly enough to make the game feel good. Also, equipment does not use the wheel at all.
For those of you familiar with later games, this game has a sort of combined trait/effect system, called ether effects. Whether they're more akin to traits or effects depends on whether you're making equipment (traits) or usables/materials (effects). For equipment, you transfer whatever happens to be on your ingredients to the final result. Each piece of equipment has a slot for skills, and two slots for stat increases. The effects of usables/materials depends on the ether level of the final item. Also, quite unlike recent games, you cannot have multiple variations of the same item -- if you remake the item with different effects, you affect ALL copies of the item, including those at the shops.
Shops themselves are okay at what items they sell, but I dearly wish they sold more. I also found myself thinking, while opening a variety of chests, that they could stand to put hard to make items in the chests rather than using Cole as filler. Why? (Well for one thing I'm rich from doing quests!)
Synthesis dependencies are an absolute nightmare, especially when you go deep into equipment. You know what chest would have made me happy, Gust? An Alloy Claw. A Jade Tablet. A Symbol of Uroborus. Speaking of, let's talk about what it takes to create a Symbol of Uroborus. Synth lists tend to have multiple options (many of them not good), but bear with me. It calls for four items. A Dragon Bone and three items you have to create, all of them being equipment. I tended to choose the path of least resistance, so it was Asclepius, Ice Ring, and Giant's Ring for me. You can bet these have their own dependencies, and you can't get everything from the store. Why am I making a Symbol of Uroborus? Because I want to make something that calls for a Dragonscale Garb (highly annoying armor!), the Symbol (commonly used and annoying accessory!), and Liquid Metal (synthesis material, not the worst). Late-game equipment is full of insane multi step, annoying to get intermediary items, and I could list a dozen similar examples.
This also somewhat ties into one of the ways you can get new recipes. Normally you either select a different ingredient in the list and the idea just magically comes to you or you get a recipe book, but there's one more way. And that's events. Some equipment has multiple events (which are helpfully labeled next to the item at least), so that means making the same item multiple times. Thanks.
Finally, it's irritating to have to run from the Atelier (usable/materials) to the Athanor (equipment). They are a hallway away and I was constantly running back and forth (and to the shops!) for necessary materials. I know quality of life was just a dream in the PS2 era, but they really needed to think this through more.
Now this, this is good. Combat is generally rather satisfying, though there is a lack of balance. What do I mean by that? Pamela. I mean Pamela.
If you played Shallie, this game should more or less be familiar to you because this is what Shallie
ripped off improved. They had a really clear progression in combat, got to Rorona, threw it away, and it took several games to fix that problem. ...I digress.
Like most games in the series, it's a standard turn based system. Iris 3's burst system returns with some new additions. You bonk enemies (especially weaknesses), gauge goes up, burst happens. During burst, you do more damage. However, to fill your special gauge, you're given little subgoals. Some of these are easy; the game might ask you to exploit a weakness or build chain. Some are stupid. The game has asked me to use ice moves against ice resistant enemies before. Honestly not a huge deal, just not my favorite aspect.
You can use six characters during combat. Three in the front, three in the back. The people in the back can use support attacks or defend your allies. My nags here are that I wish I had a bit more time to think on defense and I can't see the health of my allies in the back. Through the grow book, you can unlock better variants of support attack/defense. Muppy's defense is pretty solid, for instance, as it protects the whole party. You're also incentivized to use these supports a lot because it ensures you can act sooner.
If you use three support attacks during burst, including Vayne, you can use a Variable Strike, which is a fun team attack.
Each character has pretty distinct combat identities. Vayne is the guy with the analyze skill, which lets you see the enemy's HP. He's a mostly normal physical attacker outside of that, honestly, but his Variable Strike makes him a fun inclusion no matter what. Also, his upgraded defense support nullifies physical attacks, so pretty solid. His most fun skill is the one that creates a timecard that enables him to take twice as many turns for a limited time. I just tend to switch out so often I don't utilize it much.
Philo is a magic attacker and healer, but one of her gimmicks is that she can turn enemies to candy. This is, thankfully, largely irrelevant, but you do need to use it a couple times to complete the grow book. Her healing itself is good, but so slow you're mostly dead by the time it comes around. By late-game, you'll likely be relying on other healing methods and have benched Philo entirely. Her magic attacks are... meh, but the game isn't so hard you'll be punished for using her. She also has a during combat synthesis set of attacks/heals that consume items.
Nike is a physical attacker, but if she kills enemies with a certain attack she can turn them into items that she needs to use certain skills. So you kill bears, and you get a bear type or attack to use. These often come with desirable secondary effects. This system honestly disincentivizes using her, because it's annoying to give her final strikes like that, and some attacks take quite a few of the necessary items. Her other skills often take two turns, so she's pretty easy to ditch.
Roxis has excellent utility in destroying enemy time cards, and sometimes making you immune to ailments. Aside from that, he launches tons and tons of timecards, which are always useful for extra damage between turns.
Muppy is probably most useful for his defense support, which protects the party against AoE attacks. He has a funny gimmick where he hurts the enemy upon death, and a number of fire skills. I liked to put knockback utility on him and switched him to the back as quickly as possible. He also has some utility I honestly didn't play much with -- he can turn monsters into punis, for instance.
Gunnar and Anna are both pretty offensively oriented. Gunnar is just slow and strong. He has a couple skills that place timecards down, which are always useful, as well as a skill that lowers defense, and a couple that inflict knockback (after charging). Anna is fast and strong; she can gain the ability to act again, and one of her attacks makes her unable to be targeted while it's in effect, so it has some defensive uses.
The star of the show is Pamela. That girl is insane. First, you can pick up immunity to physical damage in the grow book. Second, a lot of her abilities drain her HP. Third, she has an ability that does more damage the less HP she has. Fourth, she will auto revive when she dies. Very balanced character! And on TOP of this, she has excellent utility with a skill that drains enemy HP -- to restore the entire party. How is this girl so insanely good? Philo's healing takes so long you're dead by the time it appears. Pamela's might wind up weaker depending on damage, but at least you can rely on it. Also, there are a number of bosses with inconvenient resistances (such as physical attack). You can literally Pamela those away. Like dang, save something for everyone else!
They're not all equal, they're not all amazing, but I really did appreciate the variety of ideas attempted. I would have appreciated more difficulty, however.
There is no grand overworld; all areas are available from a menu. Some areas, as you go deeper into them, will give you the ability to pick a deeper area from the menu. I'd like shortcuts to every screen, especially for a couple of the rarer materials, but it's not my biggest gripe. There is pretty decent map at all times to help you know where to go, with semi helpful gathering marks on it, and your objective is always a little red icon.
Within areas, you need to cut grass, break items, and do a number of other things to gather materials. Vayne has a good swing range; it's important to make this mechanic feel good for lawn mowing and it does. Later games actually have trouble with the same concept, making you bonk one thing at a time. The game introduces a number of other gathering tools; the primary gripe is that fruit gathering boomerang is slow and not satisfying to use. The most engaging of all the gather tools is, of course, the fishing rod.
However, I have to explain how bad nighttime is. The incentive to fight is already not the strongest; you don't need tons and tons of AP to clear the game, so it's largely down to when you feel like it and when you need monster materials. If you're significantly stronger than an enemy, it will turn blue and you can bonk it to defeat without fighting. This part is satisfying enough. After spending a number of real time minutes exploring an area, day will switch to night. This changes monster behavior. Though sometimes annoying (the areas are all so narrow), it's generally easy to dodge monsters if you wish, and mistakes are no big deal. At night, they get the zoomies to make them very difficult to avoid, get stronger, and become much harder to run away from. They're deeply annoying, so the best strat is to literally wait in a safe spot until dawn. I've done the wait of shame multiple times, and it really does take several minutes each time. Horrible mechanic.
Final nag: the ability to warp back to the Atelier is slighly buried in your item menu.
There are twelve chapters in the game, each starting with a little flashback that explains a little piece of the history of
Theophrastus Aureolus Theofratus Aurelius, the greatest alchemist ever. He is already dead, and Vayne, his amnesiac son, is living alone with his cat Mana, Sulfur Sulpher. Vayne is found by a teacher of the very exclusive Al-Revis alchemy academy and is invited to be a student there.
This is sort of a setting side note, but you have to be able to see Mana -- which appear in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and rule over a variety of elements and things -- to do alchemy in the first place (or at least be taught it at the school), but you don't have to be contracted with one. Contracting supposedly gives a number of perks; in this game they are mostly shown as skills in combat. I say supposedly because it's not that clear what the mana are necessary for during the pot stirring. One event shows a mana giving synth advice, I guess.
Were it not for the flashbacks every chapter, you'd forget the game had a plot at all until fairly late. There's a little here and there that happens through the game, but it takes until the final third or so to really start. I would thus not call this a particularly story focused game, but I will say the story is actually good.
However, a few things frustrated me. There is a certain fact that becomes abundantly obvious to the audience that the cast does their utmost to not know about until they are literally forced to acknowledge it. This fact does defy the 'rules' of how they understand the world, but it's seriously obvious, especially when Anna gets 99% of the way there and doesn't find a third brain cell to assign to this problem. Second, the game over-relies on having characters make cryptic statements just out of earshot of the protagonists. Finally, the story structure makes a number of important conversations get dragged out over a long time. Every chapter starts with an event, then you do classes and character events, and finally you get to finish whatever ideas the plot brought up at the beginning of the chapter. Early, this doesn't matter. Later, conversations that should happen immediately get dragged out, conveniently interrupted, and so on.
The majority of the game focuses on good school times and friendship. You've got all the good stuff. A tournament, a little jokey trivia contest, festivals, classwork, and hanging with friends. If you like anime moments like these, Mana Khemia has a lot to offer.
I need to make this clear: how much you like the game hinges upon how much you like Gunnar. This is really not an exaggeration. He's always in the middle of events, stirring up shit either for his amusement or to resolve problems. He's your arrogant, dumb, failure of a senpai, with a sharp intiution for fun (by his standards). Every member of the Atelier joined because Gunnar thought it'd be fun, including Roxis, who went there kicking and screaming and was (understandably!) a miserable bitch for a long time after joining. Gunnar is constantly having Vayne do his dirty work for him, playing it off as if he's the boss and not just a incapable dumbass.
He's also the character that really encapsulates the style of humor Mana Khemia leans on. Characters tend to be dumb and/or jerks depending on what is necessary for the scene. Gunnar is sort of both at all times.
...Do I like Gunnar? No, not really. I don't hate him, but I don't like him. Mana Khemia is not very funny. It tries so damn hard. And it fails too often.
So you'd think, with how I called Roxis a miserable bitch, that he'd be my least favorite. I actually think he's boring with an underbaked story. He's more charming in his last event, but it's too late to redeem him. Less time hating Vayne and learning the meaning of friendship, please! If you want him to be useful in battle and alchemy you need to do his events, which center around how much a mana likes to torment him. His skills rely on it.
The true horror of Mana Khemia is Anna. She could have been the little girl that murdered people with words. She has a couple funny moments like that. Sadly, she's a delusional moron. Too many scenes she's heavily involved in comes down to her deluding herself into the wrong idea and ignoring all the common sense around her. It's not funny. It's not endearing. It's awful, and she couldn't keep her delusions contained to her own events, opting to ruin one of Pamela's as well.
The rest of the cast is alright. I'd say Nike is the standout. She's looking for a husband and that causes some drama with her classmates, but honestly? Hell yeah, flirt with all the single boys you can and get you that husband. Become the idol of the school through singing. I also feel like her jerk level is at an appropriate level when it's used to be funny.
Philo merits more discussion in the spoiler section, but I found her emotions rather hard to believe. She's cute and sweet, but has a poor grasp on common sense. I do like her bag and the associated lore though. That thing can have anything inside.
Muppy, an alien, is such a joke character the opening doesn't include him. He feels like he was tacked on after everything else was more or less decided. He's the biggest asshole of the cast; he's more than willing to use force to get what he wants. His character events, of which he has one fewer than everyone else, can get pretty extreme. I still managed to find him funny sometimes.
Pamela is quite the brat. She's a super veteran of the school, being a ghost that's unable to leave, so she knows many generations of alchemists there. But she's not skilled at it herself. Rather, she's the one that runs the library (poorly). She's always using crocodile tears to get what she wants (probably cute things). She's funny when she expresses she wants things to die to see if she gets a ghost friend. I'm ultimately of the opinion her cuteness does not balance out her brattiness.
Finally, there's Vayne himself. He's a mopey guy at the beginning, but as the school years go on he adjusts to his happier new life. But all throughout, he's the guy that has to fix everything. He's a super pushover. And this actually, in the context of the plot, is kind of brilliant.
By now you may have noticed, I have refused to use several dub names. I don't think I'm an obnoxious purist, but I reject what NISA has done to this game. There was no reason to change Philo to Jess. There was no reason to change Gunnar to Flay. There was no reason to change, checks notes, Teiteiru Mimi Nike Mere to Nicole Mimi Tithel. Muupe to Muppy is fine. I won't be obnoxious about the extended cast, just the mains. Anglicized names are not cool.
An obvious criticism I have of the entire NISA period was their utter refusal to use the word 'Atelier' to refer to an Atelier. Workshop, workshop, workshop, and this one quadruples down on another made up fluff term for the place -- Flay Cave. Make no mistake, he calls it Gunnar's Atelier, and not 100% of the time.
My Japanese is not that stellar, but my ears can catch some things. I did hear attempts to punch up some dull lines. I'm convinced they wanted Gunnar's VA to go ham. The game has a jokey sort of character, this is not necessarily the wrong thing to do. I don't think they were always correct in how they went about it. Gunnar is a good example; there are ways to make him arrogant without calling the Atelier his Flay Cave all the time.
This era of NISA is not one I remember fondly, but it's not for this game specifically. (It's Ar tonelico 2. It's always Ar tonelico 2.)
The Real Talk: Spoilers
This section is basically gonna be the play by play of the game's events with some commentary.
After his arrival at school, Vayne is in his own little world, talking to Sulpher. Philo keeps trying to get his attention, and we note immediately that Sulpher is no ordinary mana, as he cannot speak to people not named Vayne.
Shortly after this, the two school bullies, second years named Tony and Renee, try to force him into their Atelier group. Gunnar, another second year, is enough of a muscle-head to get the 'peons of evil' to leave. Well, he's enough to get Tony to leave; Renee doesn't want to participate. Vayne and Philo then get absorbed into Gunnar's Atelier, without really asking their opinion first.
The most sensible character, the Vice Principal (henceforth VP), is not happy about this because Gunnar has already flunked a grade. So she gives an assignment to make a cloth, forcing Gunnar's Atelier prove itself. You also see that another first year, Nike, has been claimed in this Atelier, but she appears to be more willing. Philo claims to be good at alchemy, Gunnar insists on not doing a normal synth, so what winds up happening is we watch Vayne be dumpy and negative, Philo be overly positive and ambitious, Nike going with the flow, and Gunnar encouraging bad decisions. Philo lets it slip that her synths usually don't go that well, but she did get it done this time.
While I appreciated the ability to skip tutorials, the game's first chapter is still a massive tutorial. The assignment from VP is just one of those things. During the combat/exploration tutorial, the teacher mentions that you have to be able to fight to prevent misuse of alchemy. They allude to the dark parts of alchemy every now and then, this is the earliest mention.
In the midst of other cutscenes, Tony and Renee report their failure to their boss. The game refuses to give you too much info this early, so the boss just says nothing, is not shown at all, and tries to be menacing with silence. I'm not too wild about this, as well as Mana Khemia's tendency to have characters leave the room sometimes and say cryptic things about Vayne. Though if you're observant, you can tell who the boss is by just exploring school.
We move into the next chapter; the standard flashback is just the meeting of Theofratus and Sulpher as a kitten. It isn't really hiding that Sulpher is a normal cat that hard from the audience, it's the cast that's clueless. It makes sense, as Vayne is doing alchemy like a normal person contracted to a mana. But he isn't, clearly. We quickly see more signs that he isn't normal, and it does get a bit frustrating as the audience to have the cast so far behind in info.
A transfer student appears, and Gunnar decides he has to join the Atelier. Oopsie, the bully gang got Roxis to join them first. As Gunnar is a forceful idiot, he and Roxis got off to a bad start. Somehow calling Roxis a snotty bastard is a positive thing, in this situation. We are shown that Roxis has some weird interest in Vayne at this point, but no further details. He just hates Vayne immediately.
So we get to the final of the term; the assignment is to make an item. For a better grade, they need a flower from a specific tree. The bullies and Roxis are one step ahead, but just being faster isn't good enough. Tony has Roxis stall Vayne (boss fight) while he gets the flower... and burns the fucking tree so nobody else can have it. It's not really clear to me why Roxis stayed with the bully gang here; he was fine with some harassment but not burning the damn tree down because he does have standards. He framed his own involvement as having to obey his senpai. I feel like he just wanted to be a dick to Vayne.
Anyway Vayne is very sad about the tree and you see his magic powers appear at this point. The next day everyone is excited because the tree is back, unharmed.
Chapter 3 involves Pamela, the resident ghost girl who hides herself from first years until summer break. Gunnar wanted to have Pamela scare his first year crew, but another incident prevents her from doing so. She did manage to scare the shit outta Roxis as she waited though. Pamela randomly takes interest in Vayne and joins the party, using her friendship with the Principal, who she has known since his youth, to secure her spot in the Atelier. Did I ever mention this isn't a very plot focused game? There's a lot of school hijinks in this chapter, traditional tests of courage and the like. Gunnar likes forcing his underlings into that sort of thing.
I do however have a bit of a problem with the premise of the game, as they talk about it at this point. They're at the school for summer break because they aren't allowed to leave until they graduate. This is a setting that still has expulsion, so I'd like to know how they reconcile those two ideas; I don't think that means literally forcing them to live at the academy forever...? The reason they are not allowed to leave is because it's illegal to practice alchemy without a license, and because they don't want... alchemy... to spread...? Oh also, I neglected to mention this before, but the school is floating so being trapped is the easiest part of all this to accept.
There is some dark lore in the game about the history of alchemy. But I don't understand how they would prevent its spread when all the alchemists leave when they graduate. It's ridiculous. It may not be sanctioned by the government but they can sure spread alchemy however they want!
The Chapter 4 flashback tells us about a woman in Theofratus' life, as well as how other people would try to prevent them from communicating if they did it through letter. Yeah, chapter 3's flashback wasn't especially relevant so I skipped it. The woman is very important, but the flashbacks are short and not that detailed.
The chapter itself centers on a little tournament and school festival. There's a specific appeal to these parts, but as the humor was largely a miss for me, I don't really think of these fun anime high school times as all that special. This is the chapter where everyone in the party realizes Vayne always lived alone with Sulpher, so they try to show him a good time.
Per usual, Gunnar must do something 'amusing' and drags Vayne into the tournament with him. He spices things up by making a bet with the bully squad -- if Gunnar wins, he gets Roxis in his Atelier, and if the bullies win, Gunnar will do what they want. Tony always takes bait, Roxis wants to prove himself better than Vayne, so it happens. We don't get to see most of the tournament because Renee kidnaps Philo. Gunnar gets the referee to help him in the tournament (I was supposed to find that funny) while Vayne runs off to beat the shit outta Renee. While I do have my praise for the villain, I don't understand why the bullies go along with everything she wants, and I don't understand why she had to order this. Renee makes it clear that she's following orders and has to make it look like she's trying when she's not into it, but, like, you know there are other options than listening to the villain right? The bullies are rather happy to be assholes for the most part, of course.
Philo rescued, Vayne makes it back in time to join Gunnar in beating up Tony and Roxis in the finals. Roxis again gets mad when he realizes why Vayne wasn't present for most of the tournament, and he very begrudgingly joins Gunnar's Atelier per their agreement.
Entering Chapter 5, the flashback tells us of an epidemic in a village. More importantly, Vayne moves into his second year and we get to see the new first years. Chiefly among them, Anna gets into a bit of a scuffle with her classmates almost immediately and Gunnar is like, yeah, that my new victim. Big mistake, idiot.
Gunnar isn't the best with trifling concepts such as consent, so he just kidnaps the poor girl and it takes her quite a bit to settle down. She is more or less cool with it and immediately lays into Gunnar's lack of leadership because the place is filthy. Nobody defends him. And so, Anna achieves a nigh impossible feat of getting Gunnar to run the fuck away. This is Anna's peak.
Now that every non-joke character is assembled, Philo asks everyone why they're studying alchemy. Vayne says that his dad was an alchemist but can't even remember his name. Sulpher has to be the one to provide that info, and holy wow it's THE Theofratus?! Pamela knew him as a student but not well enough to say much, so they ask teachers what they know about him.
Zeppel doesn't provide too much info. He doesn't even have proof Theofratus and Vayne are related, he just invited Vayne to the academy because he believed it to be true. Also, they were classmates but Theofratus was super duper above his level. Anna murders the poor man by pointing out he is old enough to have kids Vayne's age. The next relevant teacher is Isolde, who only appears in some lectures before this point. She doubts Vayne and Theofratus are related, but she was closer to him and agrees to talk. Yeah, she's the woman in his life from the flashbacks. He had a lot of enemies because other alchemists were mad jelly of his talent. Then she baits the party into going to a place off limits to students, guarded by a beast that only Theofratus has beaten. The scenery is nice, he said! Gunnar is eager to take the bait.
Roxis tries to introduce himself after everyone else leaves but gets shooed away. This is a hint at who the bully boss is; the other hint at this point is that some bully cutscenes take place in her office. After he leaves, she makes a cryptic statement about how maybe she won't prove anything but it's worth trying. You already stink, you didn't need the extra fishy boost from that.
Vayne follows his father's footsteps and encounters the beast. First fight, you can't win and only do one damage. As with the tree, Vayne has his superpowers weaken the boss miraculously. Interesting to note, neither Theofratus nor Vayne ever bothered killing this beast, it just gets beat down.
Did you think that was too much plot? You're in luck, Chapter 6 is here. The standard flashback mentions Theofratus is struggling to save a child. This child is Philo. It's pretty obvious in her events but the game will spell it out near the end as well. She did not come out of this unharmed.
Aside from that, this is a chapter that comes up with a glorified excuse to meet Muppy. All the Ateliers are doing independent research, so Gunnar decides to excavate a ruin. Tony is spying on them because he has no life, so you get down to where the excavation happens and they find an 'egg'. Bully squad pops out to harass, bully squad gets beaten down. For some reason Renee finds Tony's asshole qualities cute. These two are baffling. Back at the Atelier, Gunnar literally kick-starts the egg to awaken Muppy.
He hasn't been awake in 2000 Space Years! But all the cast can hear out of him is his constant moo-ing. Muppy isn't pleased that the people who found him aren't a rescue party. If you weren't taking him as enough of a joke character yet, he says interacting with aliens brings capital punishment, so he's better off killing all these people down the line. He uses his fancy tech to translate, and pretends to be simple for the time being, deciding that alchemy (which he basically googled) can help him repair his spaceship. Nike is the only one not buying his shit. He manages to pass himself off as a foreign exchange student with birth defects. Gunnar is more than happy to get the Principal to approve of Muppy attending the school and thus joining the Atelier. That weak man gives in pretty easily. More than a bit ridiculous, but this part is largely a good memory for me and I'm happy to still find it funny.
Chapter 7 is the next festival, centering on a 'trivia' contest. Ha-ha, it's not trivia at all, it's bringing random stuff to an elderly judge who isn't fully mentally there. My favorite part of this chapter is where Vayne and Philo look each other dead in the eye and talk about how they need partners for the event. I ignored that vibe and picked best girl Nike. Tony tries to go after the judge after losing in one of the rounds, but the judge kicks his ass. Ha. Ha. After winning, Nike gets frustrated that Vayne isn't looking happy enough. Mopey boy is doing his best. Next chapter.
Oh joy, we're at the end of the year again, and Gunnar will be graduating soon! Vayne is mopey as usual, and Sulpher is 'pale'... How the heck is a furry black cat pale?
One class is somewhat plot relevant, as it mentions to never repeat the history of war, and how a wind mana was sacrificed. Vayne has the magic ability to read it; the rest of the cast can't.
Middle of the term, Sulpher claims to be feeling better, but asks how many years it's been since he met Vayne. Four or so. Then he wonders how long ago he met Theofratus. Yeah, Sulpher the cat is OLD. At the end of the term, Sulpher collapses. Now we hear about how it isn't possible for mana to die. Death or not, the cast asks Zeppel for help, and he suggests going to a dangerous spot to get an ingredient for an item.
While the party is off doing that, Isolde pops in and offers to take care of the cat. She mentions Sulpher is a lot lighter than before and summons her bully squad. And... makes them help?
If it wasn't frustratingly obvious that Sulpher is a cat at this point, Anna does the unthinkable and rubs two brain cells together to work out the similarities to the death of her own cat. That line of thought is quickly dropped. There are monsters around the necessary ingredient, tons of them, and this is where the bullies actually come to the rescue. This is supposed to be their final redeeming moment, as they're set to graduate, but I'm unimpressed. By the time the party gets back, Isolde has gotten Sulpher healthier by using an IV. Nobody questions how catlike this is, but she says he's on borrowed time and leaves. Sulpher pretends to not know what's going on, which is sort of frustrating as someone that is supposed to be Vayne's ally. It's clear that Isolde cares about Sulpher, at least.
Chapter 9 starts off with the senior class at the auditorium. Best detail is Gunnar kicking Tony in the ass as the senior class leaves. Did you think the one time flunkee would be satisfied with flunking just once? Nope, Gunnar did not take a single test and is a senior one more year! Also the senior class is told they need to attend career counseling. This is the part of the game where I got lots of character related events that interfered with my ability to walk through the school.
We get a scene of Isolde and the bullies just as they're leaving. She thanks them and apologizes, her students thank her back. Shit people all around, this relationship does not really make sense, especially for Renee who did not constantly need faculty approval to be an asshole.
For his counseling session, Vayne says he wants to be an alchemist. Like literally everyone else at the school. My boy lived alone with a cat and barely interacted with people, of course he doesn't know what vocation he wants! Zeppel is mad unhelpful, he could at least suggest some career paths. Isolde later asks Zeppel what Vayne's career choice was, taking interest in that it's generic and saying something cryptic about wishes.
When talking to Philo (she just wants to make medicine, who cares about careers!), Vayne talks about his non-answer as well. A voice pops in his head, talking about wishes and desires, and having enough power for something.
The Principal appears, having been used by Isolde as a messenger. They're told to go to some ruins to learn of true alchemy. Principal makes a cryptic statement right after he leaves, worrying if what Isolde said is true. Calm down with these behind-their-back moments. At the ruins, there are a bunch of giant crystals around... with mana inside them. Isolde gives a lecture. Mana are pure power that govern various phenomena (elements, etc.). And long ago, alchemists did not regard them as friends, but as research subjects to extract power from. Separated from the vessel, the power burned everything around it to ash, so the experiments were canceled, the mana imprisoned in crystals, and the evidence hidden.
Isolde, an alchemist herself -- who totally fucked the greatest alchemist who ever lived -- says this is the what an alchemist truly is, and Vayne should rethink his career choices. As she leaves, she asks Vayne if he can hear the voices of the trapped mana. Sulpher, neglecting to mention his feline problem, says the story has nothing to do with him. Vayne chooses now to be able to hear the voices of the suffering mana (was it his desire or could he hear it anyway?) and their desire for revenge. His superpowers free one from a crystal for a boss fight. Vayne is very mopey about killing an abused mana. Notably Isolde is nowhere to be seen, so the whole party is pissed at her. She was watching from a distance, the nasty bitch.
The flashback of Chapter 10 has Theofratus saying he won't die until his research is done, and when it's done his wish will be fulfilled.
Cut to Isolde asking if Theofratus was able to accomplish his goals, and further saying he's irresponsible for leaving 'him' behind like that. We learn she's about to test Vayne one more time.
Vayne is still depressed about the screaming mana. He asks Sulpher how it came out, but conveniently Sulpher is now too sick and manages to not answer anything. Also he says his cough can't be fixed, so he has Vayne run off to do school things. Later in the chapter Sulpher collapses, and Vayne approaches Isolde despite his misgivings. Isolde knows what's up and says he's dying of old age. Nobody really buys what she's selling, but she is right. Sulpher knows Vayne is mopey so he's doing his best to hang on, but that's no reason to lie to him now.
The Principal talks to Isolde after and says she was too harsh. He basically knows part of what she's thinking, as well as how what she's doing supposedly benefits the rest of the school, but they don't reveal it to us yet.
The party, still not understanding that the cat is obviously a cat, decides to take Sulpher to a place where the energy of dead dragons is lingering around, hoping Sulpher will just suck it in or something. I know cats are not known for their intelligence (I have five, I am an expert), but why are you still going along with this Sulpher? He claims they're overreacting and doesn't explain anything.
At the dragon energy place, Sulpher doesn't change and Isolde comes out to say "I told you so", and tries to get Sulpher to explain. He stays quiet, which is such a cat way to respond. Isolde then becomes a boss fight herself, turbo bitch, and Sulpher willingly fights despite his condition. One hell of a boss theme though, Nefertiti is one of the GOATs.
The party wins, but Isolde accomplished her goal. She feels bad for the cat only. Sulpher doesn't have the time to question her motives that deeply; he apologizes to Vayne and simply dies. Isolde just made his end come a little sooner. Bitch. She comments that 15 years is the lifespan of a cat. Vayne, as any cat person would be, is very sad about losing his cat, so the funny voice in his head reappears and tells him to just wish strongly. Now we see Vayne's incredibly enviable power bringing Sulpher back to life. Isolde completely expected this to happen, but she still has massive bitch points. She was, however, surprised by how much power Vayne had. Sulpher is a much younger cat now.
The Chapter 11 flashback basically depicts Vayne's birth, and how he is to fulfill an unstated wish. This is the missing key to Isolde's shitty behavior.
I do think it's funny that Pamela was hoping Sulpher would be a ghost friend. Anyway, the party wants to know what's up with Vayne, because they all saw his wish fulfillment power this time. Roxis is the one really pressing the issue, but Gunnar has everyone lay off for the time being, can't have too much serious talk this early in the chapter! As someone who doesn't even like the humor of the game much, I'd rather see more wacky fun chapters than a forcefully dragged out story and multiple events not knowing a cat is a cat.
After weeks of classes and free time, they note graduation is fast approaching. Gunnar is asked whether he'll graduate this time. His weakness, Anna, made him a schedule so he's on track. Roxis finally forces the conversation, but it doesn't get that far; Isolde has Vayne meet her in a sketchy place. Alone. Vayne agrees, if she tells him what she knows. The party doesn't let him go alone. After this scene, the Principal and Isolde talk. She makes it clear that Vayne is dangerous, Principal thinks it's just a possibility (he's a hypocrite and you'll see why soon) and presses her on having ulterior motives... which she readily admits to, though she does not state what those motives are. Principal is a weak man and does not stop her.
The party gets down to the sketchy place to find Isolde waiting; she's not upset the whole crew is with him. She explains Theofratus' history a little. He died six years ago, was the greatest ever, and people were mad jelly. Things we more or less know, here. He was a cool dude that helped people with alchemy, but one day he messed up. Bad. He tried to cure a little girl of her illness, and drastically shortened her lifespan in the process. This is Philo, but she doesn't tell the party this is her story. He was tormented by the gratitude he received, so he went to live alone and his heart twisted. In following his (unstated) dark desire, he created an artificial mana -- Vayne. To thoroughly prove her point, Isolde takes Nike (whose events I finished) and murders her on the spot. She does not spend much time dead, as Vayne wishes her back to life. But, dang, I wanna strangle Isolde.
Isolde, rightfully, points out that Vayne's power could just as easily be used destructively. She thought she could take care of things in more peaceful way -- to have the contract master, Sulpher, pass away. It didn't work, so she feels the need to kill Vayne before his powers mature. Finally, the relationship Isolde had with Theofratus is spelled out, as she goes on about how she won't let anyone degrade his glorious name further. She comes out of this battle significantly injured, so the students rush to get her help. Isolde says she knows Theofratus wouldn't have wanted this, but she was sad she was left behind and wanted to do something for him.
Vayne ends the chapter by brooding over his mana status, wondering if he should be allowed to live among people. There's not much of a break at the start of the next chapter, the cast is explaining the situation to the Principal. Isolde is fine, but the social damage is more or less done. That weak man is afraid of Vayne and runs away (hypocrite!), and more or less says Vayne will be punished...
The party disperses, and Sulpher says he didn't realize Isolde, Theofratus' lover, was that attached to him. Kitty just doesn't get human relationships. Vayne asks if it's better if he left, and Sulpher is all 'do what you want, just take me with you'. Vayne attempts to stroll about school as usual, but everyone is avoiding him. He passes by staff area and overhears a faculty argument over him. A number of staff want him expelled, because that totally solves the problem, and Principal is willing to go along with this because he's responsible for the rest of the students (loser!). The Vice Principal absolutely roasts them all for this; students should be expelled over actions and not over what they might do. You tell 'em, VP. Vayne leaves, and the voice in his head -- the Other Vayne -- finally introduces himself properly as the power within him. He came to answer why Isolde wanted to kill him -- and he points out that Vayne literally just forgot. Theofratus was so great an alchemist that he needed a wish fulfillment mana to get his near immortal body to die. Vayne doesn't take this well.
Philo then steals Vayne and shows him what's going on outside. There's some weird structure formed around campus. Even Pamela couldn't pass the walls. Vayne already knows what happened; his wish powers are acting up. Everyone at school (correctly) blames Vayne for this incident, so Vayne goes to the entrance and volunteers to go inside. Zeppel and the Principal are both weak men that are thrilled to have this volunteer, VP roasts them as the only good member of the staff. She's not super plot present, but she does the right thing when it matters.
Inside the very final dungeon-y looking dungeon, Vayne admits to the party everything there is his creation. You're forced down memory lane, fighting three story bosses again. At the very end is Other Vayne.
Vayne says he didn't wish for this, but it's obvious his wish granting power is super honest. Vayne wanted to disappear -- with his friends, to be together forever. After hearing all this, Vayne accepts what's happening and tells his buddies to get out of there, but since he has absolute wish power they aren't leaving that easily. Roxis points out the obvious solution of just changing the wish, but Vayne doesn't know how to do that. So he immediately gives up and expresses a desire to not have to think anymore. Other Vayne is happy to oblige, and starts to grant the disappearing wish too. This is how you wind up fighting a boss battle against the protagonist of the game. It's a cool moment.
Vayne snaps out of it, but still wants his friends to get out and he insists on self punishment, which Other Vayne is happy to help with. This is where my all-events-completed Nike steps in, and she forces Vayne to make a promise to visit her village and be her husband. It's honestly a pretty charming moment where she establishes that he does, in fact, want to be her husband. Kinda! This gets Vayne to directly reject his own wish power, but as the power no longer is tied to a mana it's out of control. Now for the real final boss fight, and dang Stigmata is a great song to go out on. Sulpher says this is the last time he can help; what this means becomes clear after the fight.
After the fight, Other Vayne tells 'em to leave quickly because the final dungeon ain't gonna be there much longer. Vayne just monologues a bit after this, saying the school wasn't damaged much and was repaired quickly, and his powers are thoroughly gone.
The most tragic side effect of this is that Sulpher just meows like a normal cat now. Vayne claims they understand each other, but I know better. You'll be wondering how much you understand the rest of Sulpher's life, boy. Vayne is graduating, and has one last chat with Isolde. Now this is a conversation I can't really appreciate, but let's break it down. She points out that Vayne is possibly not human, so he's an interesting research subject to lots of losers out there. Vayne is good with facing such attention. The conversation moves on to how she'll never forgive Vayne for killing Theofratus. And Vayne... thanks her? She doesn't get why, and I don't either! Boy, have a spine and call her the ultra bitch that she is! Vayne simply asks to hear more about his dad next time they meet. Ugh. And that's basically it, aside from whatever character ending you get.
I mostly enjoyed the effect that Isolde had. She was an effective villain with a solid motivation to bully a student. Not gonna claim to like her relationship with her two bully lackeys, but I can appreciate a vindictive asshole that's mad you killed her lover. Even putting her revenge plot aside, she is clearly not a good person, and I can respect that.
Vayne being a depressive pushover also makes a lot of sense in the context of what he is -- a mana created just to fill a death wish. He has trouble totally shaking his depression (understandably), but his wacky friends sure do put him in a lot of fun situations to try and make up for his past. His amnesia also makes sense -- whether a wish or not. He was newly born and immediately made to do something awful. I might call Nike the best, because she's mad charming, but Vayne is a good character in his own right. Sulpher, though, could have spared the plot some time by just confessing to a couple things. His motivations aren't entirely clear, and Vayne was bound to learn he had a pet eventually.
I more or less think of the story in a positive light, so let's talk about the rest of the writing. I've more or less made it clear that I don't think much of the humor. There are funny moments, absolutely. But the overall style of humor simply did not work for me. The school moments were not special to me, and I tended to blaze through them in the summary. Mana Khemia is mid. Painfully so. It's wacky and does its best to be fun, but I can't say it totally succeeds.
So for a lesser nitpick, when you create items sometimes you can get little cutscenes about them, which lead to new recipes. I feel like most of these were a waste of time, but there was a hilarious moment where Roxis expressed a desire to control Vayne with a collar.
There were also lots of little scenes that were associated with character events. By far the most amusing of these was the lore around Philo's bag. She's known to have all sorts of impossible things in that bag, so in one scene she's shown grabbing Muppy from it. Dude was just minding his own business when a hand appeared from the void. This connects to another scene, where Muppy talks about his missing uncle. His spaceship, which specialized in short distance warps, was made of a clothy material... More lore like this, please.
For a game that really wants you to love its cast, most of the characters have zero impact in the story. Gunnar is the only one whose impact is truly felt, ever. I'll let that slide, and just get straight into the rest of what needs to be talked about -- the character stories and endings. Each character has five events (except Muppy, with four) and an ending. You can only see one final event for any of the characters, as that changes some plot events. Yes, there is a bad end for not friendshipping hard enough. Considering you gotta do the final dungeon all over again to see it all yourself, I used YouTube to view the endings and did not bother with all the main story variations.
We'll start with our "leading lady", Philo. Literally have the figure of her included with the limited edition on my desk, as my wife dragged it out to
haunt motivate me. First event left me thinking Philo is an asshole. For real. She's synthing away and her mana tells her it's about to explode. And it does, because Philo is a disaster. Vayne is spooked and sees everything covered in smoke. Philo needs to destroy the evidence because, apparently, she'll get in trouble if she's caught, and Vayne helps. Some tools need replacing, so Philo goes to some random Atelier and steals what she needs. She steals from Tony and Renee, but you won't know this at the time. So, deserved, but Philo is still an ass. Fun fact: Philo fails synthesis four out of ten times.
Second event has a similar theme, Philo exploded and needs to cover up the evidence. Vayne sensibly suggests apologizing, but common sense is too much for this girl. The mana gets Philo to talk about why she's so terrible; apparently Philo was synthesizing without a license, which is super duper illegal, but got invited to the academy to make the problem go away rather than being sent to jail. Damn girl. But she's addicted to hard synths (and making weird medicines). After they clean it all up, Vice Principal shows up to hound them about explosions. The two kiddos think they got away with it, but the VP said Philo's hand had soot on it. VP is pretty nice. Vayne now insists on being included in Philo's dumb synths.
Which happens in the third event. The synth even goes well, but Philo picks now to cough and collapse. Her mana isn't surprised. At the infirmary, we learn Philo was sick as a child, and the cure reduced her lifespan pretty significantly. Vayne offers to make medicine, Philo just says it's useless and changes the subject. She cheers her way through any attempted questions, which doesn't sit right with Vayne.
Fourth event has them gathering. Vayne asks Philo about her illness, so she gives some further details, mainly that she was always told she'd die soon, which really shaped her rather accepting, overly cheery attitude toward death in general. This is the part where she really loses me; the way she just straight up cannot relate to normal ideas on death. Vayne also cannot explain why he's unhappy about all this, and Philo gets upset herself and collapses while she is angry and alone. Vayne finds her, she wakes up at the infirmary and apologizes, but still doesn't totally get the more standard view.
Her final event is something I can conclusively call the dumbest event in the game. There's a lot that's infuriating about this. We start out seeing Vayne spacing out a lot, too busy thinking about Philo. He agrees the secret is too much for him to handle by himself, so he spills it to everyone else. They get angry at him for not sharing what honestly was not his to share earlier, with Gunnar saying he'll punish Vayne later. This is seriously not on Vayne you shitty children. Gunnar concocts a stupid plan to get Philo to understand what it's like to experience the death of a friend -- make it seem like Vayne is dead for a bit. Philo cries it out until he wakes up. She's rightfully mad when she realizes what happened and takes off. Now the shitty children are mad at Gunnar for coming up with this bad taste plan, but he at least correctly says they went along with it. Idiots, all of you, what a shameful waste of a cutscene. Can't you come up with some other contrived way for Vayne to appear dead? Ugh. Vayne is sent to track down Philo and make it all better. Vayne apologizes, and explains why they did that. Philo now understands she was a dumb butt about death, something I never could fully buy anyway, and is totes cool with Vayne again. Vayne promises her a cure -- everyone else will help too. Her ending shows her bedridden five years later, but still kicking thanks to everyone's efforts. She chokes down a potion by Anna and Roxis and goes to sleep.
Next up, best girl, Nike. Despite that, I don't actually the situations in her events that much, I just like her that much personally. Her story leads off with a teensy bit of beastman racism that doesn't go anywhere in the long run. Short of it is, Nike is a SLUT (girlboss) who flirts with boys. She made a few mistakes and flirted with some taken ones, so the girls around school are mad. Gunnar happily explains that the low population of beastmen makes them want to procreate pretty badly. Nike happily says she wants to get a hubby and have babies. Vayne is shocked, and Gunnar lightly tells him off for it, saying to respect her values. Queen.
Important to note here, you need to see a scene where Nike is singing around school (with an actual vocal song), and she gets a fair amount of fans from doing this. This isn't an official character event, but it's probably required. Next, we see Gunnar fighting off a bunch of Nike simps; people she already dumped. Nike is massively enjoying her popularity with men and doesn't feel very guilty about causing this problem. So to cut it short, they create a super potent anti-love potion, which works so well the simps have to get beaten down. Nike learned zero lessons and feels like she can flirt all she wants with the help of this potion.
So the next event, her simp squad is very jealous of the men in Nike's Atelier, so they resort to attacking Vayne, Roxis, and Gunnar. They eventually meet up with Nike and she understands what's happening... and plays dumb until she's threatened with Philo's medicine. I swear this queen is charming, okay? She's a level of butthole I can appreciate. Nike claims she's not interested in her Atelier buds.
The simps eventually realize, yes, Nike is not getting closer to the boys, but they learn that she's been looking for a husband so they get to proposing. Gunnar and Roxis don't want to do shit to help, having had to deal with the simps, and I can't say I blame them. Pamela suggests picking some dude, serious or not, so the rest will accept it and go away. Vayne's a bit slow to pick up what's being put down, but Nike just immediately claims him as the hubby and our pushover protagonist is now roped into an obnoxious pretend lovers bit in public. Nike seals the deal by singing a song only for Vayne. So the incel simp squad reappears and fights Vayne, though Nike starts swooning when she realizes Vayne would fight for her. The two get surrounded, and Nike, my minor asshole, acts like it isn't her problem, but one of the fans decides to do the yandere thing so she gets protected. They get away from the fans and Nike says she wouldn't mind Vayne being her hubby. He didn't hear.
By her final event, there are lots of mixed feelings for Nike all around. Both the girls and her simp squad are unhappy she found a favorite. The girls say some meanie things to Nike and she runs away crying. After talking with the Atelier, she decides to apologize in song form. Very few people come to the event, but Gunnar forces them all to listen by taking over the broadcasting room, which causes people to go to the concert. Happy ending. After the concert, Nike talks to Vayne about her hometown being super nice, and how she's looking forward to seeing her dad. And Vayne wants to go! Which is really exciting to Nike, she even says he can stay forever. Vayne's a little less committal but at this point he made a promise to go and he's gonna keep it! The ending shows us the aftermath -- FOUR BABIES. They claim to not have much time to themselves, having woken all the children, but it looks like they have enough to me!
Sighs heavily. I genuinely do not enjoy Gunnar's events.
So the first hoo-ha-ing totally not hilarious event centers on a fake lost 'child' at school. There are lots of bad paid actors for this event, and Gunnar insists Vayne handle the situation rather than get a teacher. The first paid actor is too helpful, and Vayne catches on, but he goes through the motions. Somehow this story leads into defeating a 'criminal'. It's supposed to be funny that the criminal and hostage got their roles mixed up. Yeah, I'm not into this. This was supposed to be a thrilling punishment of evildoers, but Vayne isn't impressed.
Second event, everyone is talking about some 'Defender of Justice' smacking down delinquents and Vayne is super out of the loop. You can guess who spread this rumor. Nike suspects Gunnar is spreading the rumor because he's the Defender himself, so she suggests stalking him. They eventually almost catch him in the act, but he manages to dodge them at every turn, setting up traps and everything. When Vayne is alone with him, Vayne makes it clear he knows he's Gunnar. Gunnar was upset there wasn't a Defender sort of person, so he became one himself, and then strong-arms Vayne into becoming his sidekick.
So we next see them practicing embarrassing voice lines, and they hear a scream as they're wrapping up. But before rushing off, they gotta have a transformation sequence! Some scrub's bag was stolen by a monster! Better get it back, and practice those hero lines against it. I don't know how to explain to you how soul draining it is to watch. Some of the lines come off rather villainy, so that's spicy. Pamela appears after this, and we learn the bag was supposed to be a gift for her. She says she doesn't want stolen goods. She also has no idea who Vayne and Gunnar are, but they seem familiar. After all this, Gunnar is convinced Vayne's heart is burning with justice. Vayne is in denial, but it is.
Fourth, Gunnar and Vayne are beating up some thugs who say they'll change their ways. Gunnar is bored, as less evil is likely to happen when they're around. He craves something strong. Suddenly, there are three screams around. These are trivial problems that Gunnar and Vayne agree to solve; one person can't finish their homework, one person doesn't have the money for lunch, Pamela's library is dirty (and she totally manipulates them into cleaning). They're not happy about this. Vayne mentions how heroes tend to disappear after defeating the evil syndicate, and Gunnar gets excited at this term.
Vayne is now super bored of his peaceful life, and that gets changed when he gets a letter -- Gunnar was taken by the
evil syndicate Evil Secret Order (Hiring Names)! Vayne rushes to his aid, fighting multiple groups of mooks along the way, and scaring the last off with is 'aura'. He makes it to the final boss, worn down. Surprise! Gunnar is the one behind everything! You win the battle itself easily, but Gunnar unleashes his true power and knocks Vayne out. So after Vayne wakes up, Gunnar tells him that because peace is too boring, he'll make sure a hero is always needed by being the villain himself. Vayne had better stop him, or else he'll seriously take over the world. Then he disappears like a villain. Vayne's pretty excited. The ending is the continuation of this -- Vayne the Alchemy Man makes it to his climatic 'final' battle with Gunnar, who supposedly rules half the world.
Pamela is a huge butt and you really just gotta be into her brattiness to like her. I don't hate it, but I similarly don't think she has the charm to pull it off.
The Atelier is soooooo not cute! Maybe Pamela will just go back to the (honestly ugly) library, as her hopes for the place were ruined. Gunnar assigns Vayne to the task, and Pamela immediately stops fake crying and gets to the point, demanding a doll and a cake. Vayne gets roped into decorating, yep.
So for Pamela's next non-problem, she's squeals that a monster took over the library and everyone is happy about it. Can't have that. Staff around the library insist they saw no monster, but they see it sneaking around and follow it. The monster says it'll never give the library back, so our asshole ghost has Vayne fight it. After winning the battle, Pamela tells it to leave and suddenly the library staff come out to defend it. Everyone is terrified at the prospect of Pamela ruling the library again, as she left it disorganized and never cleaned. Pamela runs away after being called out, the dang brat, leaving Vayne to clean up her mess with the monster.
Anna is such a bad character she manages to ruin the third of Pamela's events. Which is something, I don't really enjoy these much. We start off by having Pamela be so bored she yawns, sending a tear or two down her face. Anna's delusion goes into overdrive. So next we see Pamela, she's screaming that Anna is trying to kill her for good. Anna appears, insisting that she will ease Pamela's sorrow. The party defends Pamela, and Anna will not stop in the face of common sense and literally all her friends standing against her. Neither will she properly explain herself. This girl is a monster, so she wins all the fights against her friends and it comes down to just Vayne and Pamela. Suddenly they manage to talk a bit. Anna thought Pamela was mourning her fate as a ghost and wished to pass. Pamela has no fucking idea what Anna is on about. Even as this misunderstanding gets corrected, Anna stands firm on her point and suddenly this is supposed to be heartwarming. Basically, she claims that Pamela is already hundreds of years old and all of her friends will one day leave her -- so Anna still offers death as an option. Pamela is touched. I'm exhausted.
We see Pamela taking alchemy seriously for once. We don't know what she's cooking, but male students all over do -- medicines, and she's sent 20 people to the infirmary. They can't resist that damn smile. The party cures her next victim, and hunts her down -- only for her to offer Roxis a medicine as well. He faces the smile head on and drinks the medicine like everyone else, lying to her that the medicine helped him a lot as he dies. Even my unpleasable ass laughed here. Pamela doesn't stick around long enough to see his death, so Vayne finally catches her at the library before her next victim and he tells her the truth. It takes her a bit to accept it because of all the happy faces, but she becomes devastated.
Later, we see Vayne ditching class when Pamela falls from the sky, landing hard on her butt. She stubbornly refuses to say what she's up to, and Gunnar insists on finding out. They ask Zeppel, who says she's probably trying to escape the school. She again evades attempts to question her, so they continue hunting her around school. At one point she literally screams that they're pervs. Gunnar just so happens to have glue that works on ghosts, so they lure her into a trap and she finally settles down. What a stupid wild goose chase. She finally says she wants to graduate with her buds -- Pamela, that is cute, why did you do everything in your power to make it uncute? The Principal says, well, we ain't never seen no ghosts outside the school, maybe the barrier here is making your existence possible? And she runs away crying. Vayne comforts her, but not before hearing her describe herself as both beautiful and sad. To the point he doubts she's sad. Vayne says he'll free her. She changes her tune immediately, causing him to ask if she was fake crying again. She doesn't answer but that answer is always yes. The ending shows Vayne going around as a doctor, when Pamela appears and scares some children. She ruined their ability to stay at yet another village long term, and she's not one bit guilty. Yeah, not quite cute enough describes Pamela pretty well.
We have arrived at the miserable bitch of the cast, and you'll see why that's the only appropriate term to describe him. As he joined rather unwillingly, he is not meshing with the members well. Gunnar assigns Vayne to the task. Vayne stalks Roxis through the Millennium Tree, where you see him asking the Mana of Light to contract with him. Again. Apparently Roxis is not very fuckable, too slender and so not their type. Roxis sees Vayne, gets angy, and leaves, so the mana talks to Vayne. It becomes clear the mana just likes to get handsome boys to produce looks of agony. Vayne asks the mana to pretty please contract with Roxis, it'll make him so happy. It sends Vayne off on a sidequest to get some items, saying it'll consider a contract after receiving them. Vayne fetches them, and Roxis reappears at this point and is really mad Vayne is looking down on him. The mana then tells Vayne to butt out; the fetch quest was basically just a punishment and a way to mess with him.
So now Roxis is super duper pissy at Vayne. Now the whole party is stalking Roxis' journey to the mana. The party talks to the mana, Vayne talks to Roxis. Gunnar points out that the mana can mess with Roxis anytime if they're contracted, which gives the mana an idea. Meanwhile, Vayne catches up to Roxis and apologizes. Roxis wants to know what for, and Vayne rather lamely says for making Roxis mad. Vayne isn't sure what he did wrong, so Roxis is sure to tell him that he hates everything about him, like being born to a talented alchemist and getting into the school so easily. Vayne points out that Roxis is also from a famous family -- but it's a family that hasn't produced a notable alchemist in over a century, and now its scion can't even contract a mana. Roxis has mad jealousy issues. Anyway Pamela summons the two of them back to the mana. The condition for a pact is one that makes Roxis suffer immensely -- he has to be frendsies with Vayne. No fighting whatsoever. Roxis takes a solid hour thinking about this before agreeing. Hooray, Roxis is usable in battle!
Now there's a problem. Gunnar is bored. He makes Vayne and Roxis do a coop synth, as the next mechanic Roxis hasn't unlocked yet. Everyone else rubs in how they can do it no problem, but Roxis doesn't wanna until his mana threatens to leave. It doesn't go well, with Roxis yelling that Vayne is dragging him down. Gunnar now goes into overdrive, bullshitting about a legendary book in some ruins that will help with this. Mana of Light eggs this on, so Roxis is forced to contain his joy and go with Vayne to collect this book. When they get there, it's literally a first year text talking about the incredibly obvious basics -- they just gotta cooperate! Roxis for no real reason finally accepts he's an idiot, and their next synth is successful. This salty man is not worth the trouble.
For our next incident, Gunnar announces to most of the Atelier that Roxis is in love with Pamela. And everyone agrees that he's probably only nice to Pamela. Side note, Anna absolutely roasts Pamela here, and it's one of her best moments. The Atelier is very supportive, so Vayne is made to talk to Roxis, a walkie talkie in hand so Gunnar can give instructions. Vayne gaslights Roxis about what the 'sound' is, but the mana is very happy to lend a hand to something funny. As I am the one choosing the dialog options here, I cut straight to the chase and get Vayne to directly ask Roxis about love, which makes him choke. Roxis is very angy, as 10000 students apply each year and you should focus on your goddamn studies! Vayne gets lectured.
Roxis' last event does a lot to raise him from miserable bitch status, but the journey here is still just underbaked. He spends too much time angry at Vayne and not connecting with him. Anyway, his mana asks him if he'll be sorry to part from his friends -- and he doesn't deny it, as he's supposedly having fun now. But he'll have one regret if he graduates with things as is -- and he challenges Vayne to a duel to fix it. Gunnar is all over the preparations. First task is to create a Cure Jar, and the three judges claim this round is a tie. Roxis' is more effective, but Vayne's actually tastes good. Lame excuse, let Roxis win. Vayne gets a moment alone and asks Roxis why he wants to do this. In his view, he already lost twice to Vayne and always really wanted to beat him -- the son of Theofratus who didn't have to take any exams to get into the school. He knows he's just bitter, but he also dearly wants to test his skill. So the fight happens, and Vayne whoops his ass. I mean, er, barely wins. Gameplay and story segregation, amirite. Roxis is very happy with his results, and says he'll get Vayne next time. Vayne gives him the nuh-uh treatment, and they basically agree that Roxis will follow Vayne forever for this rivalry. The ending shows Roxis winning, the third in a row. Vayne claims he still very much has the lead on overall wins, but as loser will help Roxis with his research. And get a rematch after. I wish we could have seen more of this Roxis, he's much more charming when he's laughing and competitive.
I've made no secret of how much I despise Anna. I will point out, when she comes to school she is 13 (I think), making her several years younger than the rest of the cast. Though if she didn't say so herself, I would not have realized.
She starts off as a nag about all the messiness, and everyone tells her she's going overboard. Rather than accept these words at face value, this dumbass deludes herself into thinking her senpai are hazing her, so she suddenly tells them to not get any closer or she'll cut them. After a moment to wtf at this girl, a chase begins. Roxis gives up pretty easily, he's no team player, Nike is unconscious, Pamela's 10 simps got thrashed, things really aren't going well. They corner her on the roof, and Anna says she'd rather bite her tongue and die rather than be tortured. Vayne starts to calm her down, but she tests him by... swinging her sword at his neck?! He didn't dodge, must be honest! She apologizes and runs off in shame.
Vayne wakes up early enough to see Anna training. She manages to delude herself into worry about this gloomy boy, worrying he won't graduate. She has to save him! So she drags him out to train, but he points out he can't take her full power, so she agrees to just fight monsters with him. After some fights, Vayne is rather impressed at her work ethic. Apparently she intends to inherit her dad's dojo, but she wanted to try out a path besides just swinging her sword to be sure of what she wanted. More monster killing after this. Anna is suddenly impressed Vayne doesn't train every day; he must have special talent. She likes the fantasy of training him into the ultimate swordsman -- specifically the part where he calls her master. She gets him to agree to occasional training.
As part of this, Vayne and Anna go to a dangerous area alone. Vayne wants to turn back, Anna insists on facing danger to get stronger, they fall in a hole and get stuck. Initially they decide to wait for help, but Anna's delusions take control. She's alone with a man. Now she wants to seek a way out immediately. Vayne opens a crack in the wall, and Anna charges ahead, because, uh, she'll never get married otherwise. Anna then wants to climb a wall, but Vayne gets Sulpher to do it. Anna finally calms the fuck down and realizes Vayne is dependable. She insists she'll repay this debt as their friends rush to their aid.
Despite all these delusions, Anna is supposed to be somewhat smart. But the next part opens to the VP leaving a message for her -- her grades aren't up to snuff. The whole Atelier is surprised, her work is good. Anna shows up and is not surprised about the problem, but it becomes clear what the issue is -- in keeping up with her senpai, she managed to skip all the basic steps. She didn't even understand the importance of them. Gunnar insists they fix the problem they created, so they set out to create a difficult item and quiz Anna at every step. They do a pretty good job, actually. VP doesn't really believe her senpai are helping, but agrees to give Anna a make up exam, which she passes. VP hesitantly praises all the senpai for getting Anna up to speed. Anna brings up that she was considering quitting because of this issue. Oops. I wish more events could be like this one, honestly.
After another training session, Anna asks Vayne for a duel. He easily wins. Vayne is bewildered, but Anna can't accept that her sword skills rusted and she goes to the mountains to train alone. A week later, the party nags Vayne to fix this problem. He claims he's tried, but he keeps seeing falling rocks and daggers when she approaches. They just shame him again and he ventures into the mountains one more time, because it's totally his job alone to fix crazy. Eventually Anna appears behind him, having relearned to hide her presence. Vayne points out her grades are slipping, and that her purpose in coming to school was that she was insecure about only swinging swords. But, no, he must be tricking her! They fight it out, and Vayne's attacks no longer work. Before she deals the final blow, a monster comes up behind her. She doesn't believe Vayne's warnings about it, and it easily takes her down. Vayne takes care of it from here. When she wakes up, she realizes that pursuing the sword wasn't really fun but it did come naturally. Alchemy was, conversely, thrilling. But she still can't decide. Vayne does a 'why not both'. She's not totally convinced because she has to be a master of everything, but she puts it off until graduation. She challenges Vayne to a duel after she graduates. We see that duel in her ending. Vayne took it as a sword duel, and is very shocked when she whips out the bombs and the deadly venom on her sword. She chose both. Vayne tries to ask if all this violates her sense of chivalry or bushido or whatever, which is pretty funny, but she's Anna and will not listen to any common sense.
Unlike all the other characters, Muppy has four events instead of five. He was just tossed in to be a joke. His ending has always been one of my fondest Mana Khemia memories, and honestly his character theme is as well. He also by far has the silliest lore.
Muppy's events start off with him cackling about taking over the school. He has Vayne show him around, as the one that looks easiest to manipulate, which prompts Philo and Nike to join. The Athanor is of particular interest due to generating massive amounts of energy. Nike is the only one that catches on to how evil he looks. As the Athanor is super hot, Muppy starts to shrink and he has to run out of the room. To cut the rest short, Philo touches the ball on his head despite his cries not to, activating his self defense mechanism. Boom. VP shows up, refuses to believe Muppy blew himself up, and the three are made to clean the cafeteria.
Afterward, Gunnar suggests that Philo's fascination with Muppy is actually love. Muppy suddenly turns purple, says his stomach hurts, and retreats to his pod, wondering to himself if it's 'that season' already. During class, Philo is beside herself with worry, and for some reason we briefly see Muppy outside the window briefly. And then we see a bunch of him duplicating all over the place. The original at the Atelier gives the full explanation: every 20 space years he has 256 baby Muppies. But feel free to exterminate them all, they're just empty
balloons shells with no knowledge that you can literally pop. It's rather amusing to go around popping them. The VP is not thrilled; items were broken, food was stolen, bathroom was clogged. The Atelier is made to resolve it all and Muppy acts like it isn't his problem.
Now we're in the dumber of Muppy's events. We start with a flash forward, eight hours after the incident. Zeppel is telling Muppy to surrender and let go of the hostages. Muppy didn't want it to come to this, but continues his takeover. Back to the present. Muppy overhears a staff meeting about his expulsion. This causes him to go full evil. We then see the VP barging into the Atelier, talking about how Muppy took hostages in the Principal's office. They struggle to believe it until they're told Philo is one of them. They try a variety of tactics to approach Muppy. Gunnar and Nike try brute force, but the door refuses to break. Anna and Roxis try food, but Muppy melts if he consumes salt. Pamela is too scared to challenge Muppy directly, thinking she might be killed for good. Muppy is then seen apologizing to Philo, saying he can't afford to lose alchemy. The Principal asks him why -- Muppy claims to want to see his mother and home again. The Principal deeply relates to being away from home, and the expulsion is overturned. Muppy cries, the Principal hugs him, and Muppy calls him father. Oh god.
In his final event, we learn how truthful some of Muppy's random claims actually are. Due to the last event, he changed his tune and is very helpful and cooperative around the Atelier. At long last, he received a message from one of his people, so he goes off alone to finally talk to one of his people face to face. Vayne did follow Muppy, but can't translate the mu-ing they do to communicate. The game translates for us though! Turns out the one that came for him is his brother, and the reason Muppy wasn't rescued sooner is because there were revolts back home. When it's time to go back Muppy refuses, and we're treated to a few happy (and new to us) flashbacks of his time in the Atelier, such as Gunnar saving him from monsters. Little bro agrees these are great memories and gives Muppy more time, but realizes there are no witnesses here, so he can be king if Muppy dies. He's next seen terrorizing the school. Muppy understands this is an attempt on his life and explains to the Atelier that his brother is trying to kill him. His evil persona fully slips out for them all to see. Little bro cries after the Atelier whoops him, claiming Muppy is bullying him. Apparently he is 6 years old and asshole starts early in this royal family. Muppy, having minimally learned human value, claims this is a correction. Bro's spaceship is also broken down, so he has to wait as Muppy repairs his ship. The ending shows Muppy getting introduced as 'his royal majesty'. He wants to reward Vayne with anything he wants for helping repair his spaceship. General? Minister? Secretary? Not good enough? Well, the position of queen is open! Vayne is more than a little shocked, but I'm sure he'll settle into his new life nicely. This joke end is still one of my fondest Mana Khemia moments, though I'm not that big on Muppy as a character or his events.
I was never among those that highly regarded Mana Khemia, and my view of it actually fell a little bit after replaying. It's no longer the vaguely cute game in my head. The humor is an astounding miss after miss with the very occasional chuckle -- I don't remember being this grumbly when I was 18. Though the story itself was surprisingly good! The biggest difference between now and then, I think, is that my patience for the alchemy wheel is completely gone now. Back then, I really just didn't care about alchemy at all. I wasn't invested into the idea of Atelier as a series -- Rorona, the shoddy original PS3 version -- was the one that got me on that path. It might be a worse game in many respects but it won in my heart.
I really enjoyed the combat, but my highest praise will forever go to the music. I'll admit, this music era is very nostalgic for me, but you can't tell me these tracks aren't fire. I very much appreciate the unique stat/skill progression they were trying with the grow book, but am ultimately disappointed there were zero interesting choices to make within it. I want more experiments in a similar vein.
Next up is, indeed, Mana Khemia 2. I won't lie, I'm kind of scared based on my very fuzzy memories of it. I did not like Ulrika's side back. I'll give it the best shot it has and start with
Roze Raze instead.
The Philo figure that comes with the game has an understandable, if somewhat broken German passage on it -- repeated four times, including the cover of the book. Machine translated to English.
The course is designed to be so practical. Even if knowledge and technology are conveyed in class, we only see a few successes if real, personal experiences do not nourish the spirit of research.
Vayne has this portrait in his bedroom. It's a cute reference to the original Gust-chan design.