World of Mana
franchise to the dogs, Koichi Ishii
’s final attempt at revitalizing his Mana series
comes now, in the form of Heroes of Mana, a Real-Time Strategy venture for the Nintendo DS and the apparent prequel to famed Seiken Densetsu 3
. To spare you the suspense, Ishii has completed his trilogy of failure, and turned a third interesting concept with lovely art design into a flawed pile of broken nonsense. Brief, aren’t I?
Heroes of Mana
tells the story of Fa’Diel in an age before Seiken Densetsu 3
, where the nation of Pedda has sent a scouting party, consisting of main character Roget and crew, to scout another nation. In flies a large carrier that looks as though it could possibly an airborne whale…or maybe a Gnosis of Xenosaga
fame. As it turns out, this mission is simply a diversion for the invading Peddan army, which has decided to enact a world takeover at that particular point in time.
Everything is going fine and well until your superior commanders decide that despite the fact that the entire army is entirely aware of and directly involved in these insidious schemes, your party must die. Just ‘cause. Apparently, someone with a pen decided to use the “party on the run” device and didn’t really follow through with any reasoning. The result is a romp around the world in an attempt to beat back Pedda’s ruthless invasions of the world’s nations.
Conversation between characters is actually worth reading and is mildly interesting, which is party due to lack of voice acting. The writers, it seems, suddenly discovered that showing a “damn” and “hell” here and there does actually make for realistic dialogue. By far the best writing aspects of Heroes of Mana
have gone into these character exchanges—the credit likely goes to the respective English localization departments, especially since they seemed to have worked hard to salvage whatever was left of the story concept.
At its conclusion, the story flirts with an interesting foil to the Goddess of Mana—one which, by now, has appeared as the focal point of the World of Mana
concept. Further tie-offs allude to various future Seiken Densetsu
events, offer explanations about World of Mana plotpoints as relative to the previous Seiken Densetsu titles
, and, in union with the other two World of Mana titles, give something of a timeline to the series. Again, the mantra is “good on paper”.
As its strong point, the game is a graphic pleasure, with lovely environmental and character art coupled with fantastically produced animé cutscenes. CG summon sequences are also featured, but the combat system gives them so little availability that they are rarely enjoyed. It is always a shame when one development feature undermines another—developer Brownie Brown could have used the effort in creating these cutscenes for tweaking the combat system. Correcting core game mechanics is always preferable over flashy nonsense you never see. Another highlight is Yoko Shimomura’s interesting score, as it does attempt to give the game a unique aural characteristic, even if I felt like I was listening to Kingdom Hearts half the time.
Battle is standard RTS fare. The Nightswan carrier has room to house all of the necessary unit creation buildings, while various types of resource gatherers can go out and seek Gaia’s stones and Treant’s berries (for buildings and units, respectively). This prevents the map from becoming cluttered. The fog of war locks in place for your vision once areas of the map are explored and units may find secret items when stepping over specific spaces on the battle map. Characters can equip these outside of combat along with Mana spirits to maximize their statistics and give them abilities in battle.
As a complexity, unit types have strengths and weaknesses over other types in circular fashion, which are explained in tutorial over the first eight missions. In fact, these eight missions compromise just under a third of the entire game length and explicit directions for winning said battles are given. This method of tutorial is both slow and ridiculous, removing a large chunk of free game time and replacing it with waiting and free hints. Of course, figuring enemy unit types may still be complete guesswork as types are not displayed on screen and upgraded units change completely instead of being simple palette swaps.
Once the player becomes accustomed to the controls, battles are short and well suited to the Nintendo DS. Unfortunately, the infernal allied AI is about as unruly as Dawn of Mana
’s physics engine. Allies often take ridiculous routes to get to a location and resource gatherers have a terrible habit of going out of their way and then getting killed. A grid-based combat system would have been greatly preferred with these issues in mind.
Gamers seeking replay value will find that the mission maps are available for different battle situations and, far more impressively, that they can go online via the Nintendo DS’s Wi-Fi to download weekly challenges which are then ranked against “Heroes” around the world. Players can then receive rewards for their completion and bragging rights amongst Heroes of Mana players everywhere. Of course, multi-card multiplayer is also available so you and your friends can enjoy watching your units run around completely ignoring your orders.
Thusly does Heroes of Mana
end its hopeful appearance. Clocking in at a relatively short ten to fifteen hours, its well-founded artistic design is ruined by a problematic battle system and a poorly paced story. So it lies in ruins next to Children of Mana
and Dawn of Mana
as a potentially great idea that was driven straight into the ground.
You had three chances, Koichi Ishii. We gave you our hopes, our dreams, and our childhood nostalgia. We begged and pleaded for you to bring back our joy and wonder. Then you took our faith in you and broke it clear in half. Whenever you have another idea, let us know and we’ll wrestle it out of your hands before it’s too late.
This was the last strike and you, sir, are out.
In the end, there was one. Having successfully thrown the