Review by XCommander
"The monotony of the game just became too much for me to bear"
Colorful characters, swashbuckling action, incessantly jovial music, and a certain sword and tree
these are the elements that have been classically extracted and associated with Square's semi-legendary Mana/Seiken Densets series. The series, now officially dubbed World of Mana, has never been on the absolute forefront of the videogame world, but it certainly has had its share of fine moments. The most famous of these fine moments would undoubtedly be the much respected Secret of Mana for the Super Nintendo. Replete with an engaging storyline, memorable characters, and a joyous musical score; the game really raised the bar to what an RPG, specifically an action-RPG, could accomplish in 1993. A direct sequel, an experimental side-story, and a remake of the original game in the series later, the Mana series has received an update for Nintendo's fledgling DS system styled much after the game that really put the series on the map. Children of Mana is that update.
One thing I didn't mention about the series is its tendency to reinterpret itself and challenge traditional boundaries given to the action-RPG genre. Children of Mana is no exception to this reinterpretation rule, but the part about challenging boundaries doesn't really hold up. You see this time the game has an arrangement that really makes it no different than a typical dungeon crawler. There is a storyline that takes the player character in differently generated dungeons, and the player can take quests after completing said dungeons to earn experience and prizes. This setup, for me at least, leaves quite a bit to be desired especially from this series. Where is the sense of adventurism? Where is this epic quest and nonlinearity? Gone. Gone, to the depths of what, as it appears to be to me, a real lack of originality and effort on the parts of the developers of the game. This game could have been so much more, but instead it leaves itself to only just that, a game that could have been legendary.
As usual trouble is brewing in the World of Mana; the seal to the Mana Tree is breaking, and large luminous lights are appearing at certain places throughout the world. The hero of choice witnesses the spread of endless monsters and a dastardly villain at the top of the Mana tree. All hell breaks loose, and the quest is naturally started. Quite a boring storyline if I do say so myself. Whilst never really being a particularly compassionate aspect of many Japanese strictly action-RPG's (Mana included), a creative and thoroughly engaging story has never hurt. It is apparent that the idea of actually putting effort into the story was never in the forefront of any developer of this particular game's mind, and I will say the rather bland and uninteresting story puts quite a hamper on the game's originality.
The game itself admittedly is quite easy to control and play. It certainly is up to the par set up by previous games; the one it most closely competes with in this aspect is probably Seiken Densetsu 3. Honestly though, in a game set up as such and with earlier precedent games to use as reference, it would be quite hard to mess this part up.
Where the game really takes a tumble is in the particularly daft dungeon-crawling mechanism. The developers clearly thought that by transferring the classic Mana look and feel onto an absurdly outdated tangent of the RPG kingdom they would be making the series refreshing and experimental, trying to cater to the rebellious nature of a thirteen year old pubescent child, apparently the demographic Square thinks Mana appeals to mostly. In the end, anybody with any sort of experience with older role-players will take one look (probably the equivalent of a couple dungeons and suddenly noting how little it had changed from the previous one) and realize how boring this game has made itself out to be. For one, even with a random dungeon generator there are few designs and worlds for them to be based on that going back just becomes a chore. Continuing with the story brings little reward, as there is never really anything in your way or something that just kind of throws a monkey wrench upon you, impeding your progress. It is monotonous. Quests can be given to you by denizens of the main village, but little can be gained from them. The loot and experience are neither a justifying factor for the sheer boredom and frivolity of going through the dungeon ONE MORE TIME.
That ONE MORE TIME seems to go on to add up to about a MILLION MORE TIMES in just a few hours of playing.
It's a shame too, because the game just looks so nice. It's an incredible projection of the past onto the little screens of the Nintendo DS. So bright, so colorful, so Mana-esque. I just kept wanting to play it, like there would be some mitigating factor that would eventually show up just because the game looked so incredibly good. The sounds and music also conjure nostalgia, almost to the degree of the graphics. Unfortunately a great deal of downright obnoxious and annoying tracks put a damper on the classical inspired organic music.
So Children of Mana really ended up being a disappointment for me. Taking such a revered franchise with legions of fans, myself included, and dumbing it down to a basic dungeon-crawling hack'n'slash. Perhaps it's a look into the state of such a genre; such old standards being updated with essentially tributes. It is a sad state of affairs. I honestly tried to bear the uniformity, repetitiveness, and monotony in the game. But in the end it was just too much for me to bear. The series definitely still has hope, but this particular game has exhausted all the resources it could from me.
Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 12/05/07
Game Release: Children of Mana (US, 11/01/06)
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