Children of ManaCategory: n/a
Developer – Square Enix Publisher – Square Enix/Nintendo Features 2-4 Wireless DS Multi-Card Play Anyone who is an RPG fan will instantly recognize the term "Mana" as it has become a staple word for the genre. Square Enix has once again tapped the story of "Mana" in their latest release Children of Mana, this time for the Nintendo DS. I had the chance to give this game some time in my DS and I have to say that it left some very positive impressions on this RPG rookie. Graphics This game is a looker, there is no doubt about that. With some beautiful backgrounds that look like they were taken out of an art magazine, gamers will no doubt be satisfied. Although I am somewhat an RPG rookie only having played very few of these games over the past 12 years or so, I know that the style of Children of Mana is very recognizable from any previous "Mana" games that have been released in the past. This game is specifically a dungeon crawler, but during my gameplay I did not get tired of the visuals because they varied enough that I was experiencing new looking areas throughout the game. Animations are also spot on and just seem to suit the art style of this game. That being said you may find that some of the animations seem to be missing a frame or two, but this is a minor problem and it does not occur that often. During the story you are also treated to some pretty good looking 2D animated cut-scenes and continue the lineage of visual polish this game seems to be following. Overall anyone who plugs this game into their DS will be treated to a very eye pleasing experience. Sound The audio experience of this game seems to match the visuals in that it will bring a smile to any RPG fan or DS owner's face. I would have to say that Square Enix managed to hit the nail right on the head for the musical score, and this is something that is a must for any gamer to feel immersed in a great RPG experience. The music just seems to match the atmosphere of the game during each level you play. The DS's speakers manage to put forth a very good sound with the music that is provided, but should you wish for a little more immersion headphones are recommended. The rest of the sound package is what one would expect in this game with weapon and magic sounds continuing the level of quality that the music and graphics have already set. Gameplay Children of Mana is a pretty straight forward dungeon crawler. Square Enix has crafted together a no nonsense story. This time around you, the hero of the game, comes into contact with a magical sword that has been sent down from the heavens. You must navigate the lands presented in the game while defeating any evil you come across. It doesn't get anymore straight forward then that. What I found interesting about Children of Mana is that it was a pretty open game as you can decide what areas you can explore, what side quests to challenge and what weapons you can specialize in. Many games of this nature, specifically on a handheld console, seem to take you down a specific path, but not Children of Mana, and this was much appreciated. Of course being a Square Enix RPG, there are some general expectations in terms of your character and Children of Mana doesn't miss a beat here either. You start out by selecting your character's race, each one having differing levels of attributes (e.g. hit points, magic points, dexterity, mind, etc.). Once you choose you character's race you get to choose your spirit. A spirit works as your magic attacks and it is attached to a single element. These spirits can either attack your enemy or act in a support role (e.g. revive HP) for your party. It will take some experimentation to figure out which spirit(s) you want. I thought that I should point out that your character has a lot of personal customization features allowing you for some individuality that you may identify with. Children of Mana has added what is known as a "gem frame". This is a 2x2 shell that allows for placement of different gem types. These gems can be used for such things as upgrading stats or adding onto your existing weapon combos. They are found in differing sizes and range from one block of usage to using all four blocks. As with your spirit choice experimentation is the key here and it will take some time for you to find what gems you will want to use on a consistent basis. As mentioned before this dungeon crawler is not as linear as one would have you believe. Sure, should you be the type of individual who likes to just finish an RPG without doing any extra stuff, this game will feel somewhat linear as the main quest will lead you down that path. However for those who like to finish everything this game will seem more open. Children of Mana has what is known as Dud Services, an agency that sells quests for you to complete. These range from such things as finding specific items to clearing out a specific level or area. The higher your level the more opportunities that will open up in terms of the types of side missions you can access. You are rewarded with rare items or copious amounts of money for completion of each side quest and I found these side missions a nice treat for this latest DS RPG. Now I have to admit to all of you that I am not an RPG nut, hence the rookie status, but the RPG's that have been released for the DS have me starting to take an interest in this genre, especially given that I can take these games on the run. Children of Mana never got boring for me and I found myself wanting to play this game more and more. The presentation is great and story managed to keep me interested, even though there are clichés now and then. Added to an already great set of features is the ability to hit up some multiplayer fun. Of course each person has to have a copy of the game, which around this office was rare as the fall and winter months have brought an onslaught of games for all the other reviewers to buy. However, that being said, I did get a few games in with some other DS gaming fans that I know. Overall the experience of playing in a multiplayer party was somewhat fun. The main concern I had during any of these games was that there was no way to share items after they were picked up, so if you want something make sure to tell other members in your party. Experience is divided evenly amongst your party members though so that is a good thing. Another minor hiccup is that when in the heat of battle you may find yourself knocking your own party down onto their butts while swinging madly at the on-screen enemies. Luckily it doesn't take off any health but it is somewhat of an annoyance to have to pick yourself up off the ground because your friend knocked you off your feet. Overall however I would have to give some pretty high marks to the limited experience I had with the multiplayer feature of this game. Conclusion I would have to say that for an action RPG Children of Mana is an enjoyable game. With great graphics, great sound and pretty good gameplay, including the addition of multiplayer, Square Enix has once again shown why they are on top when it comes to developing and publishing RPG titles. Anyone who is a DS owner, or who is an RPG fan, would be well rewarded for picking up this title.