Once you beat Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy once, you could quite feasibly leave it behind and feel like you’ve had a good experience. You’ll have enjoyed a 40-50 hour RPG, and you’ll have seen the story wrap up in a satisfactory manner.
It doesn’t have to end there, though. There’s a second protagonist to play through as, and while that protagonist passes through the same dungeons as the first over the course of the game, their core narrative is completely different and they have a whole other supporting cast — and, this being an Atelier game, they have their own unique items to craft, too.
For some people, being asked to play through a whole RPG again is a hard sell, though — even if said replay offers mostly new experiences. How can you convince people to keep playing after the credits have rolled for the first time? Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy provides a great example of how a good New Game Plus mode can keep players engaged in the long term without feeling like you’re retreading old ground.
The term “New Game Plus” is attributed to Square’s 1995 Super NES RPG Chrono Trigger, which can be replayed in order to explore its multiple endings. Rather than having to start over from scratch, however, the game’s New Game Plus option allows players to start a new game while carrying over all their character progression, equipment and unlocked techniques into their second playthrough, allowing for much quicker and easier progress through the story.
The concept actually existed prior to Chrono Trigger giving it a name, however; Nintendo was something of a pioneer in this regard. The Legend of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link includes a more difficult “second quest” much like its predecessor, for example, but instead of simply starting a new, harder version of the game, it actually allows players to carry across their character progression and spells from their first playthrough.
That “carrying over” aspect is why New Game Plus is most commonly seen in games that feature some form of progression system — usually, but not exclusively, role-playing games. The ability to carry material over from a first playthrough while going through the game again allows players to tackle challenges that might have been too difficult first time around, to explore alternative narrative paths without having to spend time powering up characters in order to progress — or simply to appreciate the delightfully enjoyable feeling of utter dominance that pitting endgame-equipped characters against beginners’ foes provides.
In Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy, the game’s alchemical component is the most time-consuming aspect, since each new chapter of the game provides a variety of new recipes for its protagonists to craft. And, as we’ve already seen, crafting those recipes is absolutely crucial to character progression, since the game lacks a conventional experience-and-levels system. The biggest way that its New Game Plus mode allows players to save time and enjoy the story is that everything you crafted in your first run through the game is recorded when you start your second. This means that the only things you need to craft in a second playthrough are the unique items the other playable cast has in its Grow Books, plus any items you need to pass the game’s classes or jobs, and any consumable items you might want to take with you.
One of the best things about this is the fact that the Ether Level you had each item at when you beat the first playthrough remains set when you begin your second run — and if you had any sense, you maxed out as many as possible at 100 — but the ingredients required reset back to their basic versions. (If you can’t remember what this means, refer back to when we explored Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy’s implementation of the series’ trademark alchemy mechanics!)
In practice, this means you can use the game’s Mass Production feature to create the “best” versions of every item using cheap, easy to acquire and readily available ingredients rather than having to use rarer but “better” ingredients, some of which are only available very late in the game. Though that said, the game does throw an occasional spanner in the works by some school assignments and jobs requiring you to craft an item with a specific trait from the mid-range of Ether levels. It’s good to be kept on your toes, after all.
All this provides a good balance between keeping the core concept of the game — and the series — intact in a second playthrough, but without simply having players redo all their hard work from the previous 40-50 hours. It’s actually quite thematically appropriate if you play female protagonist Ulrika’s route first followed by male lead Raze’s; canonically, Ulrika is there to study alchemy and thus you’d expect her to be making a lot of things, while Raze is there to study combat, and is shown only really engaging with the practice when he absolutely has to. With that in mind, it makes narrative sense for Raze to be doing less crafting — though that said, Raze is also rather more responsible than Ulrika is, so if you choose to play the game the other way around, Ulrika’s inherent laziness can also be used to justify this mechanical aspect from the perspective of characterisation!
Just carrying over the items you crafted doesn’t immediately buff your second playthrough’s party up to unfeasibly strong power levels, mind — the game’s Grow Book mechanic makes sure of that. As you’ll recall, crafting an item in Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy simply unlocks a “card” for it in the Grow Book for one or more of the playable characters. This, by itself, does nothing at all; in order to actually make use of the stat increases and abilities listed on the cards, you need to spend AP earned through combat. Alternatively, using the game’s “Role Share” system, you can assign any or all of the playable characters to “Search” an area between in-game weeks, which means they’ll passively earn AP and acquire a few items for you, depending on where you sent them.
In other words, you still need to fight some battles in order to earn the AP required to unlock the abilities on the Grow Book cards. Where the New Game Plus implementation of this differs somewhat is in the fact that because you start a second playthrough with most of the Grow Book already unlocked, you have a lot more choice right from the beginning as to how you invest those points, whereas in your first run you get a drip-feed of recipes that tends to mean progression is if not quite completely linear, then certainly a lot more directed.
With this new-found freedom of progression in mind, an eminently wise thing to do in your second run is to throw as many AP as possible acquired early in the game at increasing the characters’ main attack stat — physical or magic attack, depending on the individual.
By doing this, you can quickly turn them into veritable killing machines that can mow down enemies with ease, and their (relative) lack of defence doesn’t matter for two main reasons: firstly, you’ll be fighting weak foes early in the game, and secondly, the fact that you carry over all the armour you crafted in your first playthrough means that you can very easily make up for any weak spots a character might have. And by the time you need to think about increasing your characters’ base defensive stats, you’ll be earning more than enough AP to do so, because you already unlocked all the attack-increasing abilities!
Again, this implementation provides a great balance between making the gameplay of your second run through Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy continue to feel meaningful and worthwhile, but still providing some sort of reward for all the work you’ve previously done. Even though you can quickly buff up your characters to super-strong states, you still have to earn those AP and make some decisions as to whether you’re going to focus exclusively on increasing attack power or unlocking some useful skills along the way. You’re still engaging directly with the game’s progression mechanics, just in a bit of a different way to how you would have done first time around.
There are a couple of nice bonuses that unlock second time around, too. A new NPC who shows up in what previously appeared to be a completely useless room on campus (albeit one full of cats, so worth visiting at least once) allows you to set the battle music to any of the combat tracks from both Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy and Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis. And in the depths of the library, you’ll find a catgirl just waiting to relieve you of excess AP in exchange for the various “fruit” items that directly increase stats. If you complete all the Grow Books, you can most certainly keep grinding if you so desire!
And then, on top of all this, you have the fact that you’re not just playing through the same story again. You’re spending time with a whole other cast of characters and enjoying a whole new story — albeit with a few points of convergence with the “other side”. And, as we’ll discuss in more detail when we analyse Raze’s route in detail and compare it to Ulrika’s, Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy is clearly intended to be experienced and enjoyed as a complete work. It tells its overarching narrative from two very different perspectives and finally wraps things up conclusively once you’ve seen both angles.
For the most rewarding experience, it’s worth engaging with fully. And, based on my experiences, the game will have more than likely drawn you in to its wonderful world sufficiently by the end of your first playthrough to make you eminently open to seeing how things look from the other side.
While the overall “scale” of the narrative is much smaller than some of Gust’s other work — most notably the Atelier Iris and Ar Tonelico trilogies — in many ways it’s one of their most ambitious works from this era in terms of structure. And its excellent, well-thought out use of New Game Plus brings experiencing the whole thing in its entirety well within the grasp of even the most impatient players.
There’s never a point where you feel like you’re just “going through the motions” or skipping over things you’ve seen before. And it’s proof that not only is Gust staffed by excellent writers, there are plenty of wonderful game designers on staff, too.
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