Review by DeviousRoo

"Miserly monsters, gratuitous grinding"

I guess that when one takes apart a video game and articulates his thoughts on it, it isn't entirely possible to leave all bias at the door and discuss the game for what it is, on its merits independent of reputation of the studio which wrote the game, the franchise which the game is a part of. In the case of Children of Mana, this is especially hard to do given my exposure to Secret of Mana, and Seiken Densetsu 3. Both were extremely engrossing games with top-notch gameplay and captivating storylines which stand up well even today. It was on the strength of those titles which I decided to make the blind purchase of Children of Mana expecting the same sort of gameplay featured on the former two games. Obviously things didn't pan out that way, but I don't think that this has really swayed my judgement that much given that I am a fan of good dungeon crawlers. However, Secret of Mana is not a good dungeon crawler by any means. The game is essentially built upon the premise of extreme repetition, extreme grinding, extreme repetition, extreme grinding, extreme repetition ad nauseam.

So, as I said, the game is essentially a chore to play, fitting in somewhere between cleaning up the crap the family dog left in the living room and removing rancid meat from the refrigerator after enduring a 12-hour power outage. Any given dungeon will take between 20 minutes to an hour to complete, depending on your luck with the conditions required for advancing between floors, and the enemies are probably the most miserly, Scrooge-McDuckerly enemies I've come across. Seriously, you only get one or two experience for any given enemy you defeat, no matter how far into the game you are or how tough the monsters may be to defeat. Now factor this in with the fact that about halfway through the game you will be requiring 700 or so experience points to go up a level, and it is very easy to see why this game is incredibly frustrating and even slightly sadistic. The grind is absolutely horrible... and you can't escape it, because you need to get up as many levels as practical just to defeat the regular monsters in dungeons. Some of the weapons can speed up this process a bit more than others, the hammer in particular I found useful for cutting through packs of enemies, but without a doubt insufficiently fast enough to avoid putting me off the game entirely.

The storyline is pretty lacking, which is a real disappointment for me given the other two installments in the Mana franchise mentioned above. Basically you get to pick one of four characters at the beginning of the game, and you go and hack your way through dungeons to get sporadic updates on the very thin plot which, if you've ever played an old console RPG before such as Lufia, you'd know the score. Bad dude wants to destroy the world, you're the chosen one, you have to stop him yadda yadda yadda. You'll get a weapon (though eventually you'll end up with four) and some rather useless magic to assist you on your journey, and then it's straight into dungeon crawling and grind. Dungeon crawling and grind. Dungeon crawling and grind.

The game is, however, very pleasing to the eye, with the environments wonderfully drawn and the characters and monsters extremely detailed and well animated. The rabites look adorable and the werewolves look pretty evil, in a cartoony sort of way. I don't think I ever really experienced any frame-rate slowdown or lag even with the screen featuring a dozen or so enemies bouncing around the screen while at the mercy of my character's hammer either, which is definitely a plus. The game also features quite a few full-motion videos, in a typical anime style, which was a nice touch and really, really cool. The music was quite nice too, rather ambient and not really intrusive or anything, it just served to set a nice mood (other than the boss fights, where we're privy to more energetic music).

That one positive is not really sufficient to cover up the glaring deficiencies in the gameplay and enjoyability of the game as a whole, however. The one thing this game has done is to teach me that going on reputation of franchise alone is not a wise purchasing policy and that it's better to be skeptical of the quality of a title regardless of the name attached to it, and I'm $30 poorer to show for it.


Reviewer's Score: 2/10 | Originally Posted: 09/09/09

Game Release: Children of Mana (AU, 12/07/06)


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