Review by Bkstunt_31
"The series is in a downfall!"
Heroes of Mana is the newest game in the entire Mana series, and since I've always been a fan of the series I decided to pick it up. It does take a dramatic turn from the series, being more of a Real-Time Strategy (RTS) game instead of the standard action-adventure genre that Mana is known for, so with all of this in mind, here's my thoughts on how the game turned out.
The story is actually a prequel to the Japanese-only Mana game "Seiken Densetsu 3". In it, it details the adventures of a squad of Pedan Soldiers who have been sent on a scouting mission, only to be attacked in flight and forced to defend themselves and learn why they were attacked. Over time they learn of a great disaster about to occur and take steps in order to save the world.
The story isn't too bad, but it isn't too great either. It starts off very vague, and it took quite awhile to grab my interest. You will often gain new allies as you progress through the story, and since you can only use so many leader units during battles, you will soon be leaving many people on the bench while your favorites take the field. The story isn't too dramatic, rather bland actually, and rather straight-forward (I believe there's only one plot twist in the whole game). In my opinion Heroes of Mana's sequel, Seiken Densetsu 3, had a much better story, and it was released over a DECADE before this game.
Game play: 4/10
The game play is quite similar to most RTS games: you build gatherer units which collect precious resources in order to summon attack units in order to defeat your enemies. The attack units follow the old time-tested formula of paper-rock-scissors, where one type of unit's weapon is stronger than another type's, but weaker than a third unit's type. Combine that with a limited troop amount, and you have to pick your unit type carefully. Your opponent will usually only have two different unit types, though, meaning you can easily focus on the two types he is weak to and usually win without much effort. Thankfully, there are also a few special unit types, such as scouts, heroes, and cannons, which help to make things a bit different. Your units will start off relatively weak, but you will eventually be able to summon stronger units as you progress through the game. Thankfully, you have your hero units which can take and deal quite a bit of damage. You can even equip them with items to improve them even further, receiving better and better items as you go.
While describing the game play as a typical RTS is fairly accurate, let me tell you my real opinion about the game play. We'll start with the good stuff first since I think it is rather bad, overall. Being a big Mana fan, it's great to see the variety of unit types available, since they all come from familiar enemies of the series. I also enjoyed having the customization options for all of my hero units, and being able to pick out of so many hero options is a plus. HOWEVER, the path-finding ability of your units is SO ATROCIOUS that it almost makes the game unplayable. For example, a common tactic in RTS games is to build up an army, than throw them at the enemy all at once. When you do this, though, if your characters can't go to where you TOLD them to go, they will look for a different way there. Unfortunately, this means they will walk right through the enemy's camp just to get there. The path-finding is so bad, you will soon find yourself telling individual units to go somewhere as superior to telling the entire group to go somewhere. Even then, keep an eye on the map to stop that one unit from committing suicide by walking straight into the enemy.
Another recent Square-Enix RTS, FFXII: Revenant Wings (which is very similar to this game), wasn't THIS bad. What happened here Square-Enix? I find it hard to believe that they could release such broken AI, considering that they supposedly run these games through countless Q&A testers, right? Right?
The graphics are pretty standard 2D fare. Everything runs smoothly with how many units are on the screen at once, but I suppose that's why they limit the amount of people you can summon at once as well. The hero and important enemy units received most of the attention here, as they each sport their own look while every other unit is a carbon copy of each other. All of the animations throughout the game (such as the various sprites attacking and getting hit) are well done as well. The real treat is, of course, the video segments which occur all too seldom to spur the story forward. They also have videos of the special spirit attacks which you can use about half-way through the game. Each of them are a treat to watch, but these videos are fairly standard for most DS games now, especially SE games.
Music / Sound effects: 6/10
The music is fairly good, actually, though I was actually hoping for some remixed music from Secret of Mana and Seiken Densetsu 3. As it is, though, it helps to establish the mood and atmosphere in the game, being mellow and dramatic when it should, while not being anything new or awe-inspiring. While I found the music to be average, the sound effects disappointed me somewhat. While everything you would think should be there is, they could have done so much more. For example, with that many unit types available, would it hurt to have a few different sound effects for when a unit dies? Or maybe a short voice clip for when a hero unit is about to die (to be fair, they do have a disappointing sound for when your main unit is about to die, but a short voice clip for every hero unit would have been awesome)?
Re-playability / Difficulty: 6/10
While there is a new game + option after you finish the game, as well as several bonus missions the real battle is coming up with a reason to play through the game again. I do think that if you could find another person to play with, multi-player would be interesting, but the shoddy AI will always be a thorn in your side.
The game was fairly easy to complete, and it seemed the most difficult missions were about halfway through, which is a shame as the harder battles should be towards the end of the game. The learning curve isn't very steep at all, and they do a good job at providing comprehensive tutorials throughout the learning process.
Overall, a sub-standard RTS DS game, especially disappointing coming from Square-Enix, as I really did expect more from them (and you should too!). I can only really recommend this game to hardcore RTS fans or Mana fans, as it does tie in directly to Seiken Densetsu 3. If you do plan on playing through it, make sure to pick it up cheap. Have fun and keep playing!
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 05/29/08, Updated 04/13/11
Game Release: Heroes of Mana (US, 08/14/07)
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