Name: Mana Khemia: Student Alliance
Platform: PlayStation Portable
Porting PlayStation 2 titles to the PlayStation Portable isn't a new phenomenon. In fact, whenever a game is a success on one it's only a matter of time before it's brought to the other. Newest in this time-honored tradition is Mana Khemia: Student Alliance, the handheld port of Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-revis. Alchemists of Al-revis enjoyed moderate critical success when it was released last year, but didn't earn any stars for innovation, instead adding another notch in the PlayStation 2's large belt of traditional RPGs. Mana Khemia is a traditional JRPG at its most cliché, which isn't really that bad of a thing to be. There's a huge market for it, and with SquareEnix seemingly jumping off the turn-based ship there's an empty niche that Mana Khemia for the PlayStation 2 filled.
The PSP version retains all of the aspects that made the original popular, with enough new features to justify a re-release. It has a cutesy story, quirky characters, and interesting, albeit uninspired, combat; fairly standard for the genre. Even the graphics, which were dulled down for the handheld release, are nice looking, and the game’s presentation doesn’t appear to be flawed at first. There's nothing mindblowing, but that doesn't mean that it isn't an enjoyable experience.
There are a few other features, however, that the game would have been better without. Most notably there is the addition of lag, a terrible framerate, and incredibly long load times. Any joy the PlayStation 2 version might elicit is lost, and there are very few that have the patience necessary to work through Student Alliance's problems. It's a broken game, and one that shouldn't have ever made it out of QA. It doesn't crash or freeze, it just wasn't optimized for the handheld in the slightest. Every action taken is a strain on the engine, dropping the framerate to that of a slideshow. Even jumping, which is necessary to travel the world, comes with a few seconds of stillness before and after, tripling the length of every action.
Load times are a travesty, and are the lengthiest I've ever experienced on the PSP. Moving from one place to another (a fairly frequent occurrence in RPGs) usually has ten seconds of black followed by twenty seconds of loading screens that look like they were taken from a fourteen-year-old's DeviantArt site. During these unbelievably frequent encounters, the PSP's UMD drive screams in pain, writhing in loading and poor optimization. It's an incredibly troublesome experience, and one that would likely turn anyone off of the game. If BioShock had this many problems most people would have given up by the time they made it out of the Bathysphere.
Oddly, the option to install some components of the game onto a memory stick is allowed, but this does very little to alleviate these issues. Something terribly wrong went on during the development of Student Alliance, and it's shocking that anyone would have spent time adding new components to a game that is so fundamentally and completely unplayable.
It's a shame, because there's likely something deep within that's worth paying attention to, but it is surrounded so completely by problems that it simply cannot be worth the effort. If there's anything of interest in Mana Khemia it was lost in the transition, and the ability to game on the go isn't worth the hassle of this sloppy port. There are literally no gamers who should play this game, regardless of their love of RPGs, the PSP, or even the original Mana Khemia. It’s insulting, and shouldn’t be accepted.