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Children of Mana September 18, 2007

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Reviews, Video Games.
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Children of Mana follows in the tradition of one of the more popular titles ever to have been released on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). It boasts decent graphics, straightforward gameplay, and an interesting enough storyline for even the most casual of gamers. More, the anime cutscenes that are peppered throughout the game, though few, are among the best to have graced the screens of the Nintendo DS thus far.

Why, then, hasn’t Children of Mana received more positive buzz from gamers and fans of the series?

If I were to hazard a guess, there are two reasons. First, the game is a surprising departure from the formula that made the original a standout. Secret of Mana positively bewitched SNES gamers because it was a unique take on the action-RPG genre wrapped up in an engrossing story and (what was at the time) a superior battle system. For a handheld sequel, Children of Mana tries to recapture old glory by going back to basics; yet the results are less RPG and more action-oriented. Indeed, it is really a dungeon crawler hiding in an RPG’s clothing, which wouldn’t be much of a problem were it better designed: not only does the gameplay tend towards the mind-numbingly repetitive hack-and-slash mold, but it also lacks balance in that magic, a key component to many a Mana game, becomes completely unnecessary.

As far as dungeon crawlers go, it’s probably easy enough to overlook these blemishes were it not for the game’s second and more glaring flaw: it is, for lack of a better term, quite clunky. More forgiving players keen on just getting to the action must suffer through how slow Children of Mana’s interface feels. Simply put, dealing with the game’s menu system is a chore that detracts from the gameplay and just bogs down all attempts to push the story forward. Players get a sense of this upon first firing up the game, what with far too many button presses just to get past the opening credits and through to the title screen.

Notwithstanding all this, there is some fun to be had from Children of Mana. There is something to be said for the qualities of the dungeon-crawling genre as a diversion, and it does translate quite nicely on the DS for a no-frills pick-up-and-play experience. The abundance of sidequests, though really more of the same, and the ability to revisit dungeons after they have been cleared further guarantees that this game can be played ad infinitum for exactly that purpose. Further, inasmuch as the game’s interface leaves much to be desired, it does have the advantage of slowing down the game to be friendlier to younger gamers, particularly those who perhaps have yet to jump headlong into a true and blue RPG. Finally, those in search of a title not overly time-consuming will find that the game has the advantage of being relatively short: on my playthrough, I finished it in exactly twenty-five hours, which includes time spent ensuring that my character was powerful enough to weather the stages ahead. On balance, this means that the main game can perhaps be finished in well under twenty hours for those set on just getting it over with, while those obsessed with completing every sidequest (and collecting every item) that the game has to offer can look forward to upwards of forty hours of playing time.

In all, Children of Mana is an average game with above-average potential. For those who have never played anything in the series before, it is a decent enough game to get their feet wet with, albeit one that does not naturally outshine the many other titles already available for the DS. For longtime fans of the series, this Mana game just goes to show that the franchise has some life left in it yet as it continues to reinvent itself, for better or worse.

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