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It’s interesting how seeing the same events unfold from a different perspective can provide an alternative spin on things.
This is most certainly the case with Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy. Because although male protagonist Raze lives through the exact same bizarrely eventful school year as his counterpart Ulrika, the company he keeps and the context in which he experiences those events makes for a markedly different playthrough.
So, if you were wondering if you should indulge in the game’s excellent New Game Plus mode in order to experience the second protagonist’s story after clearing the first, the answer is a definitive “yes”. Let’s take a closer look at Raze’s route — and the “Extra” scenario that unlocks after you beat both playthroughs.
Raze is introduced to us as someone who had something of an unconventional upbringing. Orphaned at a young age and raised through his early years by his grandfather Eugene, he’s certainly experienced adversity. But when his grandfather became unable to take care of him any longer, he was left in the care of the Valendorfs, a rich family whose patriarch was a friend of Eugene’s. And from there, it can be argued that the young Raze began to enjoy a life of privilege and plenty.
Raze wasn’t adopted into the family or anything; technically, he became a live-in servant to Lily, the daughter of the house. But rather than being treated as some sort of lower-status, second-class citizen, there only to provide for the resident ojou-sama’s every need, it seems he was very much given a life where he didn’t particularly want for anything.
At least part of this was due to the fact that Lily has been carrying a towering inferno of a torch for him for as long as both of them can remember, but as the narrative proceeds, it becomes clear that the Valendorf family are fundamentally decent people rather than being your common-or-garden “rich people bad” outfit seen in many other pieces of popular media. Lily’s father makes significant donations to Al-Revis academy in order to keep the alchemy department afloat, for example, and Lily herself, while obviously somewhat spoiled, proves herself over the course of the story as a whole to be a hard-working, dedicated young woman who is willing to get her hands dirty when the situation requires it.
This is quite a contrast to what we see in the early hours of Ulrika’s route. While Ulrika’s friend Chloe comes from wealth, Ulrika herself doesn’t — she is depicted as having scrimped and saved every penny in order to attend Al-Revis Academy in the hopes of learning the truth behind her supposed “Mana egg” — and, as we’ve previously discussed, much of that narrative path through the game sees its ensemble cast clawing its way out of the “darkness” the circumstances of their respective lives have left them in, and developing some close personal connections as a result.
Raze, meanwhile, starts in a position of privilege — well and truly in the “light”, if you will — though he makes it clear early on that his attendance at the Academy is somewhat reluctant; Lily enrolled him in the school’s Combat classes without his knowledge, purely so she could bring him along with her. Lily doesn’t have to struggle to find members for her workshop as Ulrika does, because her father’s status means that she was able to just reserve the “best” workshop for herself; she also quickly hires a second Mana named Yun to assist her despite already having her maid Mana Whim. Consequently, no member of Raze’s ensemble cast ever really has to struggle with their school life — and as such, from their perspective, we don’t really witness the struggles the school as a whole is experiencing in the same way as we do in Ulrika’s route.
This is quite interesting, as it means for a significant proportion of Raze’s narrative he can pretty much just get on with his school responsibilities rather than worrying about anything external, whereas Ulrika is constantly getting distracted by the happenings surrounding her Mana egg and its contents — and the mysterious people who seem very concerned with said contents.
That doesn’t last forever, mind; as time goes on, it becomes clear that there’s a certain amount of resentment in Raze’s heart, and it’s something to do with his grandfather Eugene — and, more significantly, the small, mute Mana that was once his companion. During one of his expeditions for a school assignment, Raze is approached by a man named Reicher, who seems to know an awful lot about Raze, his seething resentment, and his desire to get stronger.
After being fully aware that Raze witnessed him displaying a seemingly inhuman level of strength and agility against a horde of monsters, Reicher explains the source of his power as being a strange ring. And he just happens to have a spare, which he graciously provides to Raze. Our hero, curious as to how such a ring might be able to produce a huge, powerful glowing sword, rather foolishly puts this on, only to discover that he is unable to take it off again afterwards.
The significance of this does not become apparent until a little later. Over time, Raze becomes convinced that the ring is affecting his mind and clouding his judgement, particularly any time he comes into contact with Uryu, the Mana which hatched from Ulrika’s Mana egg. As we learn in the latter hours of Ulrika’s narrative, it’s actually Uryu’s untrained, uncontained power as the Soul Mana that is causing Raze’s irrationality, but he doesn’t recognise this at first. And this leads to all manner of conflicting feelings.
It takes him a while to admit it to himself, but Raze has convinced himself that he hates Mana. The source of this hatred and resentment is a single incident in his childhood: his grandfather returning home without his Mana, and not explaining the reasoning behind it other than that it had “gone away”. It was this incident that meant Eugene was unable to take care of Raze any longer; this incident that caused Raze to end up as Lily’s servant; this incident that, indirectly, meant Raze would end up at Al-Revis Academy in the first place.
And Reicher knows all this, because he is the one who caused Eugene’s Mana to “go away”. As we learn in the latter hours of Ulrika’s route, the Light Mana, seeking to bring all Mana back from the human world so they could remain completely segregated from thereon, selected a human representative to “hunt” Mana and “cut” them with a magic sword of light, thereby forcibly returning them to their own world. Eugene, as someone who was once the strongest swordsman in the land, was the Light Mana’s first choice for this role, but Eugene refused; Reicher ended up taking on the role, and one of the first Mana he cut was Eugene’s.
For whatever reason, Eugene never revealed the truth of what happened to the young Raze, which led Raze to believe that the Mana had “betrayed” his grandfather and weakened him. From that point on, Raze developed an inherent distrust of Mana — or, more specifically, that Mana — that would continue to bubble away beneath his surface-level emotions.
Interestingly, though, Raze’s apparent hatred of Mana doesn’t extend to his interactions with either Whim or Yun. And there’s a reasonable explanation for this: it’s because, to all intents and purposes, they appear to be “human”, albeit with unique powers. As such, he feels able to interact with them as peers, as equals; conversely, his grandfather’s tiny, mute Mana was something strange, something alien, something he didn’t understand.
The reason Raze developed such an attachment to this strange Mana — and why he felt so betrayed when it “went away” — was because he was making a real effort to learn how to communicate with it. The circumstances under which Eugene made a contract with the Mana are never made entirely clear, but the pair of them always appeared to just have an implicit understanding without any need for direct communication, and Eugene never seemed to make a big deal about it. Raze was fascinated by this — how could it have come about, and how did that relationship persist when no apparent direct communication was taking place?
Eugene also never referred to the Mana by name, and called it an “it”, which helped to solidify the idea of the Mana as an “other” in Raze’s life. It would also go some distance to explaining the disparity between his attitude towards his grandfather’s Mana and the way he interacts with Yun and Whim; Yun and Whim are both human-like Mana with names and obvious genders, which makes them inherently more relatable as peers.
The fact that Raze was so hurt by the disappearance of his grandfather’s Mana was because it occurred at a time where he was just starting to feel like he was starting to understand how the Mana communicated. He was starting to feel like the Mana was saying things “in his head” — not necessarily in the same way as direct speech or telepathic communication, but certainly allowing him to feel certain things that helped him to understand what the Mana was trying to put across; an empathetic form of communication, if anything. To suddenly have that exciting new avenue of connection with a completely alien-seeming sort of being cut off would doubtless be surprising and upsetting — and given that the young Raze had no understanding of why this was suddenly cut off, it’s a little unsurprising that he would blame the being he didn’t quite understand.
Since Reicher was the one who cut Eugene’s Mana — and who had seemingly been stalking Eugene and Raze, which may have been part of the decision to send Raze to the Valendorf household — he knows full well that he will be able to manipulate Raze to assist him with his Mana-hunting duties.
That said, over time it becomes increasingly apparent that Reicher doesn’t really care all that much about his supposed “mission” from the Light Mana; all he really cares about is getting more powerful, and competing against stronger and stronger opponents. Given that his Mana-hunting ring confers great strength and power upon him, he figured that giving Raze a similar ring would eventually provide him with a truly worthy opponent.
However, what Reicher doesn’t count on is the fact that Raze is not, and has never been, someone to pursue power for its own sake. While he is fascinated by the power the ring provides when it initially manifests itself, he expresses no desire to make use of said power for his own benefit. Instead, he continues in his role as Lily’s servant, making use of his power to protect and support her as their school year unfolds — and as Vice-Principal Flay Gunnar continues to provide the Combat students with increasingly unreasonable, dangerous assignments with which to truly test themselves.
Over the years, Raze has become something of a selfless individual. Despite often coming across as taciturn, moody and mysterious, his actions speak louder than words. He willingly assists Lily with her alchemy assignments, develops his own skills in alchemy, and at various points over the character-centric arcs, helps each of the members of the ensemble cast out with various things they are dealing with.
One of the most interesting in this regard is the case of Puniyo, a young girl who has been raised by Punis, and believes herself to be a Puni. Despite the fact that Puniyo is only able to communicate using the word “Puni” — ably translated by one of her “brothers”, who speaks the human language — she quickly becomes beloved by the group, and everyone, including Raze, is keen to take care of her.
If you’ve previously played Ulrika’s route there’s an interesting little in-joke here; early in the narrative, Ulrika’s friends convince her that people of low intelligence are often afflicted with a condition known as “Congenital Puni Aphasic Disorder”, which means they are unable to understand what Punis are saying. Indeed, for the duration of Ulrika’s narrative, we as the audience, viewing things from Ulrika’s perspective, are unable to understand any of what the Punis are saying; in Raze’s route, meanwhile, we can understand them right from the outset. It’s not until quite late in Puniyo’s personal story that we learn that Puniyo’s “brothers” have actually been speaking the human language all along, and any instance of Ulrika happening to just hear them saying “Puni” was an unfortunate coincidence as she overheard them speaking among themselves.
Puniyo’s case is interesting because it’s another example of Raze and the group having the opportunity to interact with obvious “others” — and through that we can see that there’s a lot of tolerance and love going on there, even when things get difficult. This, once again, is an interesting contrast in how people from privileged backgrounds are typically represented in popular media — they tend to be shown as uncaring about the world at large at best, outright racist at worst, so it’s refreshing to see a group with the resources to do something productive and helpful actually doing something productive and helpful.
Puniyo and her three “brothers” are continually harassed by a group of Puni nationalists who believe that consorting with humans is the worst possible sin a Puni can commit. Over the course of Puniyo’s personal narrative, they gradually show themselves to take increasingly unconscionable measures to ensure that Puniyo and her “brothers” will never be accepted by Puni society at large, but find themselves continually beaten back by Puniyo’s friends, including Raze.
It’s actually Raze who plays the most significant role in overcoming this enormous challenge in Puniyo’s life; he takes her place in the final “Passage of Punis” challenge the antagonistic Punis place before her and her “brothers”, even going so far as to only speak the word “Puni” instead of using the human language. He remains committed to the cause even as their opponents become increasingly irrational and unfair — and eventually, Puniyo and the rest of her friends come along to show their enemies what for once and for all.
Puniyo’s whole story is an interesting inversion of the usual tale of tolerance. Here, it’s not humans who have to learn to be tolerant of “others”, but the “others” who have to learn tolerance for humans. Given that Punis are a running joke in the Atelier series, constantly depicted as the weakest, most useless monsters in existence, it’s perhaps understandable how they might harbour some resentment towards those who perpetuate such stereotypes. But Raze’s cast in Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy shows that it’s not every human who feels this way; indeed, any time the Punis are seen on Al-Revis’ campus with Puniyo, they are tolerated and even welcomed rather than ridiculed or treated negatively.
This all ties in with the traditional idea of “Light” typically being associated with “righteousness”. By inadvertently accepting the Mana-hunting ring early in the game, Raze unintentionally allies himself with the Light Mana, and indeed many of the incidents the group find themselves involved with over the course of the main narrative as a whole appear to represent a fairly conventional understanding of righteousness and justice. It’s not until the latter hours of the game that Reicher’s increasingly delusional nature shows that all is not quite what it seems — and if you’ve previously experienced Ulrika’s narrative prior to playing through Raze’s, you’ll already know that things aren’t quite as simple as “light=good, dark=bad”.
Interestingly, neither Raze nor Ulrika’s tales quite come to a completely satisfactory resolution — and indeed Raze specifically comments on this following his own final battle against Reicher. Both protagonists know that the Light Mana is to blame for everything the pair of them have had to put up with over the course of their respective narratives — when they were both just trying to get through an already turbulent, challenging school year — and as such, both of them know that the Light Mana probably needs a stern talking-to.
So that’s what the Extra scenario, which unlocks after both Raze and Ulrika’s playthroughs are complete, is all about. Flay, having observed everything that has been going on over the course of the two stories, decides that he doesn’t want any of his students leaving Al-Revis Academy with any regrets and so, via means unexplained — and much to Principal Zeppel’s consternation — manages to construct a pathway to the Mana World so that Raze, Ulrika and all of their friends can go and give the Light Mana what for.
The Extra scenario mostly unfolds as a huge, complex dungeon with some of the most challenging encounters in the game, but a key moment occurs when Ulrika, Raze and company meet up with the Dark Mana — he who originally gave Ulrika the Mana egg, remember. The Dark Mana has always been on the side of humans and Mana coexisting, so doesn’t mind criticising his Light counterpart, as well as revealing the uncomfortable truth behind his irrational behaviour — most of what transpires over the course of Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy is a result of the Light Mana being a poor loser.
Yes, the Light Mana previously came into contact with a human, and lost, leaving him with intense resentment towards humanity as a whole. That human was, in fact, one Flay Gunnar, which goes some distance to explaining how he is able to open a portal to the Mana World in his office — and why he is so keen to see his students to and once again give the Light Mana a good slap around the face.
The hilarious thing about the conclusion to the Extra scenario is that while the Light Mana is built up to be an incredibly powerful foe — and indeed he does present a tough battle for the party to overcome — he is also quite correctly shown to be a petty, spiteful individual who isn’t worthy of anyone’s respect, despite his seemingly divine nature. And indeed, just prior to the final battle actually unfolding, there’s a good ten minutes of the party absolutely roasting the Light Mana for all his misbehaviour, intolerance and irrational behaviour; these are all things that the cast have been through and overcome, and so they all know how unproductive they are in the long run.
It’s a delight to see, and yet another inversion of the conventional formula of RPGs; while in most RPGs, the final battle against a god-like entity is depicted as humanity’s last stand under desperate circumstances, in Mana Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy, it really is just a fine example of a bunch of kids who have learned a hell of a lot about themselves and each other thanks to the adversity they have faced, and how they all unite to stand up against what is essentially a big bully with no real reason for being a dick to everyone.
“I feel better now I got to hit him,” says Raze after the final battle is over and done with. This moment of uncharacteristic openness and honesty from a character who has been fairly uptight for the whole game provides a wonderful feeling of relief and release after the preceding 80+ hours — and provokes a moment of stunned silence from his companions, who are accustomed to him trying just a little too hard to be cool.
It’s a satisfying conclusion to one of Gust’s best games — and after spending so long with this wonderful ensemble cast, you’ll be very sorry to leave them behind. But they all have their own lives to live from hereon; one can only conjecture what the future holds for them!
This post is one chapter of a MegaFeature!
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