Heroes of Mana is the unofficial, though blatantly obvious, prequel to Seiken Densetsu 3. Heroes is considered unofficial because the fact that the game is actually a prequel is being widely ignored. This is probably because SD3 has never been released outside Japan and many non-Japanese gamers may not be familiar with the original game. For the many diehard SD3 fans, Heroes will mark the first time for a real translation of SD3 locations and character names. For all those who are new to SD3, Heroes will provide a fresh and unique chance to explore one of the most beloved Mana realms in the history of the series. With that said, there is absolutely no need to play SD3 in order to appreciate Heroes; the game is a prequel after all. Heroes is set 19 years before the events of SD3, and though none of the starring cast of SD3 will appear, the game features a wide variety of references, cameos, and playable versions of the original's NPCs.
The story of Heroes pits players in the role of a Peddan soldier named Roget. Trouble begins when our hero and his crew are shot down while on a reconnaissance mission heading for the Beast Kingdom. Things really take a turn once Roget and company discover that their mission was nothing more than a ruse to distract the enemy while the Peddan army marches towards war and domination. Betrayed by their own country and bearing witness to the vileness of the Peddan army, our heroes muster their own force to bring justice and peace to the land. Accompanying Roget are the crew members of his ship: Qucas--an eye patch clad soldier, who is also Roget's good friend; Gemière--the pirate-esque niece of the powerful Peddan State Minister; D'Kelli--the last survivor of a special tribe of people who can communicate with monsters; and lastly, Yurchael--the Captain of the Nightswan and Roget's superior officer. As these heroes journey throughout the world, they will come across new lands and new allies; from the other six nations of the world, six other heroes will join Roget in his quest. Overall, the story flows from chapter to chapter and from battle to battle. There are 27 chapters in total which also means that there are 27 missions to complete.
"...as soon as players have access to unit upgrades and learn that the A.I. is a master of battlefield topography, battles will soon prove to be more complicated than the original rock-paper-scissors concept."
Speaking of missions and battles, let's move on to the gameplay. First off, Heroes is an RTS game that has also merged with SRPG mechanics and conventions. This means that while battles are playing out in real-time, there is also emphasis on pre-battle preparation. Players will have the options to equip their generals, upgrade units, make alliances with certain kingdoms, and assign weapons and abilities to their army. The actual battles will also be a little different from traditional RTS games in quite a few ways. First, instead of building structures on the battlefield like in regular RTS games, all buildings are constructed within our hero's flying fortress--the Nightswan. Secondly, the Nightswan can fly around the battlefield. Also, it has its own HP and can regenerate that HP while docked. Third, the introduction of SRPG elements allows character-specific abilities and status-causing effects to add to the strategic value of the gameplay.
As for the units, each side may have up to 25 units out on the battlefield at one time. These units will range from ferocious beasts of Mana lore, to human soldiers and special weaponry. Units are divided up into six types: harvester, ground, heavy, flying, missile, and special units. Harvester units gather resources and don't attack. All the other units are strong against one other unit type but are also weak versus another; for example, ground units can easily destroy missilers, but are weak if fighting against heavy units. This relationship between unit types may seem rather simple, but as soon as players have access to unit upgrades and learn that the A.I. is a master of battlefield topography, battles will soon prove to be more complicated than the original rock-paper-scissors concept. Another interesting detail is that the eight elemental Mana spirits make a return in this title. Heroes can equip these spirits, and, in turn, will be endowed with magical powers. Each character will have a unique set of spells, so try switching spirits around to get the best setup possible.
The DS stylus will act like a PC mouse: it'll grab units, set attack targets, and assign rally points. It is possible to control one unit at a time by simply pointing at it, and it is also possible to control entire groups of similar type units. Players can also align units by drawing a formation using the DS stylus. The mini-map on the top screen can be switched to the touch screen to assign quick, easy movement to any area on the battlefield. However be warned, the game incorporates the common RTS 'fog of war,' which will make all areas outside unit vision unknown territory. Players can tell which units are friendly by looking at the color of their health bars: red means enemy, green means ally, and blue means neutral.
As for the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, there won't be any online multiplayer mode. It will only be used for an online ranking system. Players who are looking to battle each other in multiplayer mode will have to do it on the local wireless option. There will be 20 unique maps for the multiplayer mode. Each player should have their own copy of the game for this to work. Players will have access to all the characters, items, weapons, units, and skills that they have unlocked by playing the normal game campaign.
Heroes of Mana will be hitting retail stores on August 14, 2007 in North America. As for our European friends, look forward to a September 14, 2007 release date.