The young and the restless.
I bet there are a lot of people who buy anything and everything Square (well, Square-Enix now) just because these are the same guys behind Final Fantasy. I’m also betting these are the same people who are going to get suckered into buying their latest “masterpiece” for the Nintendo DS, Children of Mana. But fear not dear readers, for I bear good news – I have played this game, so you don’t have to.
Children of Mana
, the latest iteration in the long running Seiken Densetsu
series, starts off on a positive note – as soon as you turn on your DS, you’ll be treated to a very impressive (by DS standards anyhow) anime cutscene about two minutes in length. Unfortunately, things begin to slide downhill from there.
When you first begin playing, you’ll be asked to select your protagonist from four possible choices – Ferrick, your regular hero type, Tamber, the obligatory heroine, a little runt named Poppen and finally, Wanderer, a fat rabbit creature…thing. Each one of them plays a little differently; Wanderer, for example, has more hitpoints and attack power, but is much slower and weaker in magic when compared to Poppen. I chose Tamber, if only because she was on the cover of the box wielding a bow (and bows, as we all know, are freaking awesome). It wasn’t too long before I realized that all the characters played pretty much the same and had barely any impact on the story whatsoever, but I’m getting ahead of myself here.
You start off in a tiny generic village, but hey, this one actually looks pretty good. You can see the grass wavering in the breeze and the rushing stream shimmering in the sunlight. Soon enough however, you find out that there are only two buildings you can actually enter in the town. This wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that – THIS IS THE ONLY TOWN IN THE GAME! Yes, aside from dungeons, this village is the only locale you will visit, and trust us, you won't want to stay.
Children of Mana is, at its heart, a basic dungeon crawler. You click (or rather, press a button) and are transported to a dungeon. Once you complete it, you’ll be whisked back to your village after which the process begins anew. This wouldn’t be all bad if the gameplay was intriguing and fun, except it isn’t.
So yeah, dungeons. Each one consists of several floors, ranging from about half a dozen to twenty or more. Every floor is small and looks the same as the previous one. There are no puzzles to spice up the gameplay, no interesting deviations aside from hacking and slashing the constantly respawning baddies over and over again, until you fulfill the quota for the particular floor and the enemies stop appearing from thin air. It’s the video game equivalent of housekeeping.
To clean a floor you will have to find a gleamdrop, an oddly egg-shaped object (that is either dropped by slain enemies or “hidden” in various objects you’ll have to break throughout the floor), which you will then need to carry to a marked area, in turn magically moving you up to the next level. Additionally, every four floors, you encounter a menu in which you can save your game, change your equipment (which, for some odd reason, you can’t do anywhere else inside the dungeon), and rearrange your gems.
Speaking of gems, they are used in Children of Mana
to gain stat boosts, immunities against certain enemy attacks and even special power ups. At first you are given a small two-by-two slot area to fill, which you can gradually expand as the game goes on. They come in various shapes, so fitting the ones you want (specifically the larger ones) can prove a bit troublesome. Gems can be found in treasure chests, dropped by enemies or just bought in town.
Children of Mana boasts an above average weapon system. You get four types of weapons in all – swords, bows, flails and hammers – which provide a nice variety to all the action. The combat is also not bad, with very responsive weapons and excellent hit detection. The main downfall is that fighting baddies is the only thing you’ll be doing over and over and over, until you find yourself fantasizing about washing dishes or clipping your nails. Okay, maybe not, but this game is so mind-numbingly repetitive, that after the ten-thousandth green owl you’ve slain, you’re not going to be able to take it anymore. Yeah, there are bosses at the end of every dungeon, but even they don’t do much to liven things up.
There’s also a magic system, but it’s broken and useless. In addition, there is a store in town that gives you “jobs” (aka side-quests) in exchange for items, but since they’re basically another excuse to run through the same dungeons again, would you really be interested?
Oh yeah, I almost forgot…the plot. The game starts you off on an errand to bring back a girl with mysterious powers from some forest where you’ll meet some bad guy in black bent on destroying the whole world. After which it’s your job to visit a number of places and wake up the slumbering spirits that can help you stop him. Wait…haven’t we heard this somewhere else before? Oh yeah, how about in every freaking RPG ever. The story is obviously just there to connect all the dungeons, but it’s so terribly cliché that even that simple task is poorly done.
Graphically, the game could’ve been great. Like I mentioned before, the town is actually quite nice looking. Characters and enemies are also nicely animated and are fairly detailed and colorful sprites. But the countless floors of each dungeon are recycled and nearly identical to one another. And since that’s what you’re going to be seeing at least ninety-nine percent of the time, I can’t say that the visuals are anything out of the ordinary.
Aurally, you would think that in a Square-Enix title, there would be at least one track that would be catchy or memorable or…you know, good. Well, you’d be wrong. There is nothing remarkable about the score whatsoever and it consists of some of the most forgettable music in recent memory. For a game in the Seiken Densetsu series, which have, in the past, had some pretty awesome music, this certainly is a grave disappointment.
Perhaps the only reason to play Children of Mana would be the multiplayer. Up to three other players can join in for some four player dungeon crawling, which should make the experience slightly more interesting. However, the other players must have their own copies, which seems like a waste of money when, in all likelihood, the four of you would have more fun with a tennis ball.
To recap, Children of Mana is repetitive, tedious, dull, monotonous, and boring. The only good thing about this game is that it will actually make you want to do something productive, just to stop playing it. Take our word and don't adopt Children of Mana.