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   Children of Mana - Reader Review  

Magical Scion
by Prince Jeremy, Duke of Otterland

BATTLE SYSTEM
INTERACTION
ORIGINALITY
STORY
MUSIC & SOUND
VISUALS
CHALLENGE
Easy
COMPLETION TIME
15-25 Hours
OVERALL

3.0/5

Rating definitions 

   Ever since Secret of Mana appeared on the Super NES over a decade ago, Squaresoft's Seiken Densetsu franchise, before Kingdom Hearts the company's flagship action RPG series, has developed a bit of a following, with only the third installment not seeing light beyond Japan. However, since Legend of Mana appeared on the Playstation and completely shook up the series, the franchise's subsequent installments have consequently met with mixed feelings, with no title in the series since then being proclaimed a masterpiece. Children of Mana marks the series' debut on the Nintendo DS, again evoking mixed feelings from the gaming world.

   Combat in Children of Mana, like its predecessors, is heavily action-based, with the main character able to simultaneously wield two of four acquirable weapons: a sword, a mace, a bow, and a mallet, each of which has two different functions, one when the weapon's assigned button is pressed normally, and another after the player holds the button briefly and, except in the case of the sword, (where holding down its assigned button puts the main character in a defensive stance), releases it. Weapons, in many instances, play an important role in allowing players to advance through dungeons, which contain a certain number of floors, each with an objective to find a portal to the next floor and its key. Every four floors, the player can change equipment and save.

   Players can buy upgrades for each weapon, armor, and accessories from the game's only town, with consumable items playing a part as well. Unlike in previous installments, players immediately have one item type available for instant use, with the player able to change the active item anytime during battle. Another form of equipment is gems, with players able to fit a certain amount of various shapes and sizes into a frame whose size the player can increase at certain points throughout the game; gems have various effects like increased stats, increased affinity with a certain weapon type, and so forth.

Somebody set us up the Tree! All your Mana are belong to us!

   Magic also plays a bit of a role in Children of Mana, with players able to only bring one of eight elemental spirits into dungeons, each with two functions, one where the player, upon charging and bringing it onto the field, allows it to fall to the ground, releasing an offensive spell on surrounding enemies, and another where the player can catch the spirit as it falls to gain a support effect such as increased damage. Odds are, however, that players won't be using magic all that often, given that weapons are a lot easier to use and just as effective, if not more so than, spells.

   Combat is certainly tolerable, though the general lack of strategy, except in maybe a few boss battles, will certainly turn players off, and battles themselves in most instances basically wind down to button-mashing. Players can, however, engage in multiplayer gameplay with other owners of Children of Mana, although long-distance Wi-Fi connectivity, unfortunately, is unavailable. Overall, while the battle system could've easily been better, so, too, could it have been much worse.

   The controls are hardly problematic, with clean menus, an easy battle interface, and little problem in finding out how to advance the story. Granted, it can be a bit annoying to lose progress in dungeons if you decide to return to town, but other than that, interaction leaves little room for improvement.

   Children of Mana retains plenty of features from its predecessors to make it feel like a logical part of the Seiken Densetsu franchise, such as Mana, the eight spirits, action-based combat elements, and so forth, although it does have some new features, such as dual-weapon-wielding, the gem system, and a greater emphasis on dungeon-crawling, that make it feel like its own unique installment.

On a cartridge game, no less Anime cutscenes, woot

   The place where Children of Mana suffers the most is its story. Character development is scant, the villain is rather unthreatening, and backstory generally involves the Mana Tree. Granted, playing through the game as the other characters may reveal different story details, though that really doesn't compensate for the fact that the plot itself really isn't all that interesting, or much of a reason to play the game, for that matter.

   The soundtrack, however, is one of the high points of the game, featuring a number of catchy tracks by composer Kenji Ito, though the musical quality does leave a bit to desire at points, and even wearing headphones doesn't mask the buzziness that plagues the tunes at times. Sound effects aren't all that bad, though, and overall, Children of Mana is decently easy on the ears.

   The visuals are another high point, with Children of Mana featuring a colorful visual style that, for once, is on par with, if not superior to, those in Secret of Mana and Seiken Densetsu 3. Environments and character/monster sprites are well designed, with many characters even able to face eight directions, alongside nice character portraits. Granted, some of the scenery in dungeons is a bit redundant, and though players receive the option of changing a character's hair color when starting a new game, that character's portrait remains the same. Otherwise, a nice-looking game.

   Finally, Children of Mana isn't a terribly lengthy game, taking somewhere from fifteen to twenty-five hours to complete, with a few story sidequests and endless Dudbear fetch-quests serving to boost playing time. Overall, Children of Mana, while not a terrible game, doesn't exactly excel in terms of gameplay, although the graphics and music, in addition to the controls, are pretty solid. Those hoping to relive the glory days of Secret of Mana, however, will be in for sore disappointment, although loyal fans of the Mana series and maybe those looking for an acceptable multiplayer RPG might find some enjoyment in this latest incarnation of the franchise.

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