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Platform

DS

 

Genre

Role-Playing Game

 

Publisher

Nintendo

 

Developer

Square-Enix

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Released

November 1, 2006

 

 

- Fun dungeon crawling and hacking

- Excellent graphics and music

 

 

- Ultimately rather mindless

- Lots of filler

- Lame story

 

 

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Children of Mana

Score: 7.0 / 10

 

For years, Square has been playing with the hearts of Mana fans everywhere. Their SNES classic Secret of Mana is regarded as one of the best action RPGs of the era, and yet each successive game - the strange, non-linear Legend of Mana for the Playstation, and Sword of Mana for the GBA, a remake of the original game - deviated greatly from what fans really wanted. Unfortunately, the latest installment, Children of Mana for the DS, won't fulfill any wishes for a true sequel to Secret of Mana.

 

children of mana          children of mana

 

There are several familiar elements that will seem more than familiar. You ride a dragon named Flammie (summoned with a drum, naturally), there are merchants that looks like cats, and there's a dude with a huge turban - although, regrettably,

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he doesn't do any funny dances like the previous mana games. You still wield multiple weapons, you still engulf candy to gain HP, and several familiar bad guys such as Rabites make their appearance. There's the ever-important Mana tree that's in trouble, and lots of summoned spirits to help you out. You can even play multiplayer with up to three other people,

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presuming you know other people with Dses and copies of the game, although there's a suspicious lack of AI controlled partners. Indeed, many of the base elements of the Mana games are here, but these are ultimately superficial.

 

Instead of a free-roaming world, the whole game is a Diablo-esque dungeon crawler. There's no overworld, no exploration, just a single town (with only but a few screens) and a map screen that lets you choose your destination. Once you reach a stage, you need to complete a certain number of levels before you reach the boss and complete the level. Each stage can also be revisited by tackling any one of numerous subquests, usually with a slightly different layout (there are no randomly generated stages.) Since each floor is pretty simplistically designed, it seems like kind of a copout to create as much gameplay with as little design as possible. This was undoubtedly done to extend the otherwise short main story mode. It=s not like you should be playing for the story anyway, because it=s ultimately superficial.

 

Simply finding the exit to a stage isn't nearly enough - you need to find the gem to unlock the portal to the next level. Sometimes they're easy to find. Most of the time it involves wailing on all of the bad guys in the area until it pops up. Since there's very little in the way of actual exploration, a vast majority of Children of Mana is focused on item gathering and level gaining.

 

Thankfully, fighting bad guys is pretty fun - which is quite welcome, considering you'll be spending most of the game thwacking bad guys and harvesting their precious experience points. These are especially important, as the game has a nasty habit of doling out equipment that you can't use until you're at a certain level.

 

children of mana          children of mana

 

You can equip two weapons at once (out of four total, including swords, flails, bows and hammers), with each having two kinds of attacks. Hitting an enemy into a wall will cause it to bounce around and slam into other enemies...or your own character, if you're not careful, although it least it doesn't drain any HP. Knocking enemies around the screen is pretty fun, especially when you get the mallet, which sends foes flying across the field, but the inability to corner foes without getting hit is a bit grating. The game is rarely difficult - if you find yourself getting owned, you just need to gain a few levels or buy new equipment. You can also escape from a dungeon at any time, keeping all of your items but forcing you to start from the bottom.

 

There are four different characters to play as, although you simply pick one in the beginning and play as them through the entire game. The storyline is only altered slightly, but they each have different combat and magic abilities. Unfortunately the magic skills are pretty lame, considering you can only take one "spirit" (read as: set of spells) into a dungeon. You need to head back to town if you want to change it, which drastically reduces its usefulness. Want to be able to use healing magic AND fire magic? Too bad, you're outta luck.

 

For as simplistic as the gameplay seems, there's a simple old school pleasure in dungeon hacking that makes Children of Mana so appealing, even if there are some occasional annoyances. While the graphics are repetitive by the nature of this kind of game, they're pretty well done, especially the gorgeously painted town scenes. But the real standout is the soundtrack, which maintains the same musical excellent Square has been known for since the 16-bit era. So even though Children of Mana is essentially just a mindless timewaster, it's a certainly a well done one.

 

- Kurt Kalata

(December 5, 2006)

 

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