Mana Khemia: Student Alliance

Failing Grade

Mana Khemia: Student Alliance is a decent game... on the PS2. On the PSP, it's an absolute trainwreck.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: March 16, 2009
This is going to be a short review. I've often felt that the effort that goes into a review should match the product you're reviewing, but the temptation to just rail on a truly bad game is often too much for some writers (myself included) to resist. It's infinitely easier to fill a review with a thousand words of pure vitriol and hate than it is to just detail why a game is bad and leave it at that. But with the PSP port of Mania Khemia, it's really quite simple: the game is utterly ruined by the conversion process to the PSP.

Were this a first-generation release (and, as Gust's first PSP game, I suppose it is in a way), it would be a little more understandable, but the issues it sports have seemingly long been overcome by other developers on the system. Chiefly among these is just that the game doesn't feel optimized for the platform. It's as if they took the code from the PS2 game, copied it to a UMD and called it a day. The result is a game that almost exclusively relies on the molasses-slow seek and load times of the UMD drive. Even on the newer PSP-3000, which I used to review the game and which has a built-in cache to buffer content from the UMD ahead of time, the game is a hitching, pausing, sluggish turd of a product.

I do realize there's more to porting a PS2 game to the PSP than just re-burning the contents to the small disc, but that's certainly what it feels like, effort-wise. With the exception of a new, smaller and far less eye-pleasing font, a few new playable characters and some new items to craft, there's not a whole lot of rudimentary changes to the game itself. An option to install around 250MB of common content (which is then theoretically plucked from the Memory Stick instead of the UMD drive), dubbed Jump Start, seemingly does absolutely nothing. I watched the MS access indicator light like a hawk and nine times out of ten, the grinding chug of the UMD drive was the only thing indicating there was loading going on.

And thus, the biggest issue with the game is made glaringly apparent everytime you do anything that's not already on the screen. Pull up a menu? Load. Talk to someone? Load. Enter a battle? Tons of loading. Pull off a move within that battle you just loaded up? Load. Enemy does the same thing? Load. Even just jumping, an action mapped to the circle button and used extensively in the field, sometimes causes a hitch. It's utterly unacceptable, plain and simple, and spells the agonizingly slow death of any fun the original game had.

I'm not going to harp on the game anymore. It's a disaster, and should be played by absolutely no one. If you want to play the original PS2 game, by all means, do so. It's a simple, cute little alchemy-driven RPG that's not quite up to the level of some of Gust's other games, but certainly decent its own right. The PSP version is something you give to people you absolutely despise, like mortal enemies or those convicted of war crimes. On second thought, not even they deserve the kind of torture this game brings.
The Verdict

Developers, let this be a lesson: a hastily-slapped-together port will not fly. Do NOT follow in Gust and NIS America's footsteps. It tarnishes your name and, in the case of a port like this, actually hurts the original just by association.


A terrible framerate populates even the smallest of rooms, and while the battle sprites are actually quite nice, the fact that you'll have to wait a few seconds just to see them is a major detriment.


It might just be that the bar has been raised -- even by NIS America's own titles -- but the voice acting this time around just didn't do it for me. The music was also a little lacking compared to Gust's other compositions (particularly the Ar Tonelicos).


The constant hitching can actually cause some actions to not register, and the bits of waiting that are required after finishing a conversation can be infuriating.


Thanks to the huge focus on crafting, used for everything from leveling up your characters to crafting materials other items, and the constant running back and forth needed to do so, the loading screens kill any fun crafting could have had.