Heroes of Mana (Hands-On) (Nintendo DS) Preview

By Adam Riley 13.03.2007 10

Square Enix has been busy trying to boost its Mana property to the same levels Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest have reached. So far, though, the World of Mana project has been met with criticism from many quarters due to Children of Mana being outsourced and changing to a dungeon-crawler style affair, Friends of Mana merely being a mobile phone update of the PSone's Legend of Mana and Seiken Densetsu 4 on PS2 being like a poor man's Kingdom Hearts. So with morale low at the moment, can Heroes of Mana on DS change everyone's opinion and keep the dream alive? Let us take a look with this hands-on report...

The story begins with talk of Anith, a witch that brought Darkness upon the world even before the Mana Goddess was born. Despite being defeated by the Guardians of the Tree, her spell traversed other dimensions, wreaking havoc along the way...Another story intertwines itself with this, though, as during the period of Darkness, the newly born Mana Goddess sealed away a Sacred Beast that was set to lead the world to doom and despair and used the Mana Sword to store the Darkness in eight keystones. However, many years later, Darkness is descending once more and in the town of Pedan it is about to rip through the usual peaceful slumber. But chaos has in fact already ensued as the game's lead character (Roger) and his friends have set off on a secret mission, then get mistakenly attacked by their own people, scarper to King Gauzar of the Beastmen's castle and then head North East to the village of Mistoth, which they find in ruins. The story then continues with Roger et al having to protect the Beastmen from the Pedan Army...and that is where we jump into what seems like a very confusing tale.

Looking at the introductory video sequence when the game boots up, you will definitely be impressed by how vibrant everything looks and the level of detail that has gone into the visuals. Then you will see the various stylised character portraits for the conversations in the game itself and be equally pleased by how good they look. But then there is a strange mix of rough, early PSone-like 3D for the world you fight in, as well as certain elements within that field (such as airships) and small, 2D characters similar to what you would normally find in later SNES RPG adventures. It takes a while for your eyes to get used to the different styles on offer, but once you continue playing for a while, things begin to come together and look the part. But it certainly is an unusual approach, albeit one that Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings looks to be taking when released next month.

Screenshot for Heroes of Mana (Hands-On) on Nintendo DS

As for the soundtrack, whilst the music in Children of Mana was very peaceful, serene and 'nice' on the whole, Heroes has a far superior score, harking back to the days of Secret of Mana on the SNES and its sequel, Seiken Densetsu 3 (the game that has a story linking to this adventure). You can tell the original composer is back on-board for this project as the class has definitely been edged up several notches and you will find yourself coming away from the DS with tunes lodged in your head, similar to back in the 1990s. Thank goodness a soundtrack CD release has been confirmed!

Mana fans will definitely be surprised to find that although this may be tied to Seiken Densetsu 3 in storyline, the game itself not only plays nothing like the cult SNES classic, but is also completely dissimilar to anything else found in the series so far. Developed by Nintendo-owned Brownie Brown, a team made up of original Mana team members from back in the days of Squaresoft, despite what early images may have led people to believe, this is not actually a turn-based tactics game like Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics. Instead it is a real-time strategy one with a strong story to carry proceedings along smoothly. For those wondering, it plays rather like Starcraft or Command & Conquer, except on a much smaller screen, with fully integrated touch-screen controls and a wonderful fantasy backdrop.

Screenshot for Heroes of Mana (Hands-On) on Nintendo DS

There has been criticism levelled at the game from some quarters for not being in the same league as Warcraft, but considering I have not personally touched that game I can only compare it to other past experiences within this genre and in my eyes Brownie Brown has done a damn fine job of emulating the approach on the DS. The game is split up into separate missions, with you meeting new characters to aid your fight along the way. However, you can only take a set number of fighters into battle per mission. As this leaves you at a disadvantage in terms of troops, you must build sci-fi style factories within your mother ship and 'grow' creatures (a maximum of 25 at a time) that you will recognise as ones you have fought against in past outings. Different creatures have different uses, such as the yellow Rabites can be directed to collect special fruit (Trent Seeds) and rocks (Gaia Stones) that are returned to the ship to build other stations and thus create different creatures that can be used for battle.

Once you have a sufficient army, different groups can be ordered to head out at your disposal, changing to 'draw mode' where you literally draw a shape around the group you want to control and suddenly they are all standing to attention (so to speak...*ahem*) and can be directed to attack enemies elsewhere on the field simply by moving the screen with the D-pad (rotating it using the shoulder buttons) and then tapping on the enemy you want to despatch. Different creatures have alternate methods of attack, varying ranges and different susceptibilities, so the more you play, the more you will become accustomed to what type works best in which situation. It can become extremely hectic at times, but with practise the perfect balance can be struck. And then, to round things off for now, the main characters can be upgraded at the end of each mission, with better items being rewarded depending on your final score at the end of a mission.

Screenshot for Heroes of Mana (Hands-On) on Nintendo DS

From what has been played so far, Heroes is definitely not a game where you can go gung-ho into a scenario and hope for the best. Careful planning is required for you will very quickly find yourself with the 'Mission Failed' screen on a regular basis. And with the level starting off at more than a moderate level of difficulty, it looks like things can only get much harder, which certainly bodes well for the games overall longevity and value for money. Plus there is a Wi-Fi mode, which although there was no time to take for a spin due to the language issues, again looks to be a nice inclusion for completists.

Screenshot for Heroes of Mana (Hands-On) on Nintendo DS

Final Thoughts

Children of Mana, despite what people say, was a very attractive and thoroughly enjoyable dungeon crawling romp and now Brownie Brown has successfully taken the Mana series in yet another direction with this real-time strategy approach for Heroes of Mana. With slick presentation, an amazing soundtrack and gameplay that fits the whole touch-screen / stylus combination perfectly, with any luck this will not stay un-translated for too long!

Developer

Brownie Brown

Publisher

Square Enix

Genre

Real Time RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  10/10 (2 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

You know something, considering the bad word-of-mouth I've heard about this so far, it came as a very pleasing surprise to find it's actually REALLY good! Certainly something different for the DS and a welcomed return to the genre after the average Lost Magic.

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

UNITE714: Weekly Prayers | Bible Verses

Hmm, it does sound good. I am going through CoM at the moment and it's decent so far, abit repitive, which is what I would expect from a dungeon crawler.

The fact that this is real time stragedy is what makes it look damn awesome. Great preview.

Is this an RTS or TBS? Sorry If u've allready stated this. Looks allright, I think I'll buy FF3 first.

Enoch Powell was right, and you know it.

Thanks mOojc :Smilie I personally like the way the series is being experimented with for the moment...as long as we do eventually get the first SNES game on VC! :-D

And Vyse, it's a real-time strategy game, like Starcraft...read the preview! :sarcy: :tongue:

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

UNITE714: Weekly Prayers | Bible Verses

this game looks pretty awsome, too bad its not selling too well in Japan.

I see all these people insulting the Nintendo corporation because of the lack of mature content. Yet there is something about Nintendo (at least their games) that strikes a certain unadulterated feeling of joy!!!  Pokemon Y - 1048-9263-5562

20,000 sales in one week, with discounts already and 100,000 units of stock on shelves...doesn't bode well for its longevity. Perhaps word-of-mouth will do it more favours than SD4 on PS2, however I doubt it, sadly.

It's bound to be release in the US, though, anyway, so I wouldn't worry too much.

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

UNITE714: Weekly Prayers | Bible Verses

Great preview Adam :-D

I'm planning to get this if it ever gets released in Europe because I loved AoE DS but really wanted some real-time action. High hopes I have [/Yoda]

It seems like a very European-style game anyway, which is why I'd be surprised if it doesn't receive a translation. Hopefully it'll happen sooner than SD4 on PS2, or else it may be cripple by association...

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

UNITE714: Weekly Prayers | Bible Verses

Sounds pretty interesting Adam, good preview! I might pick this one up; I usually enjoy RTS games.

Having played this over the weekend, thought I'd update this thread. In a word, DISAPPOINTING! Confused, with overcrowded screens. Pure unenjoyable pain. :(

Old Man / Font of all useless knowledge

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