Review by Simon_Zeno
"Shallow as a cheerleader, but just as pleasant to watch"
All right, I promised myself that while doing this review I'd set all prejudice aside, so here goes. *deep breath*
First of all, if you're expecting another Mana title, get that idea out of your head. Aside from the storyline, there is very little connecting this game to the other Mana titles. I think expecting something like Seiken Densetsu 3 will ruin this game for you.
Children of Mana is a dungeon crawler, which means that instead of running around the world and doing a bunch of stuff, you basically have one town and a crapload of dungeons, and you skip everything in-between. You go to a dungeon, clear out some monsters, fight a boss (when it's a storyline quest), go back to town to buy stuff, and repeat. This gets to be a little repetitive at times.
In the beginning, you can choose among four different characters, each with their own attributes. Ferrik is the stereotypical young male protagonist. He's the most balanced, with a slight tendency towards combat over magic. Tamber, the female of the bunch, is faster than Ferrik and has better magic, in exchange for less health and strength. Wanderer is a big cat/rabbit dude. He's useless with magic and is rather slow but is the strongest of the four. Poppen is some little turban-wearing kid that uses magic. Personally, I prefer Tamber, as speed is the one stat that can't be modified by gems (more on those later).
Combat is obviously the focus of CoM's gameplay, as you'll spend most of your time fighting hordes of monsters. What I really like about CoM's combat system is that you can wield two of each of the four weapon-types (Sword, Flail, Hammer, and Bow) at a time, using A for one and X for the other. You can switch between your weapon-types at any time, which is necessary for getting around the dungeons. Unfortunately, you'll find that the combat quickly degrades into mashing the attack button as fast as you can. No real strategy is required for the basic enemies, and fighting bosses usually is just a matter of finding the right weapon.
The magic system in this game was to me a real letdown, since I generally like to play as a magic-user. Instead of having a variety of spells to use, you carry around an elemental spirit, who can either unleash an explosion-type spell, or give you some kind of helpful effect. There are eight elemental spirits in all, but because you can only carry one at a time, any plans to "mage it up" are quickly dashed.
A feature that I do like, however, is the Gem system. You can find/buy/make these gems with special abilities, and can equip a few at a time. This allows for some degree of customization. The range of effects was a little disappointing, but on the whole I think it's a pretty neat system.
While the other issues with the game can be overlooked, one glaring flaw in this title is its lack of difficulty. CoM doesn't present a challenge to any experienced gamer; I died only a handful of times in the entire game, and only once was it to a boss. The last boss of the game is a major letdown, as he is by far less difficult than the other bosses. Also, even doing every sidequest, CoM won't take more than around 30 hours to breeze through.
Perhaps the best part of CoM, and the only reason it's not getting a 3/10, is that the game is downright beautiful. The anime cutscenes, though largely absent until the end, look great. The storyline is pretty good as well, and will be sure to entertain Mana fans who love to brush up on Mana lore.
All in all, Children of Mana is a decent dungeon crawler that just fails in the shadow of its predecessors. I think if this had just been released as a separate franchise, it would've done much better, but with the Mana tag comes certain expectations that this game doesn't meet. Personally, I would only recommend this game to diehard fans who want to collect every Mana game out there, or to the three or so people who love dungeon crawlers.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 01/10/07
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