Children of Mana (Nintendo DS) Review

By Adam Riley 15.01.2007 15

Review for Children of Mana on Nintendo DS

The World of Mana is now in full flow over in Japan, but Europe is about to get its first dose of the action with Children of Mana, the début title in what Square Enix is hoping will be the full-on resurrection of a franchise that was unfairly left lying around, with just two recent updates in the form of the PSone’s Legend of Mana and the remake of Seiken Densetsu, Sword of Mana (which was developed by an outside company – Nintendo’s very own Brownie Brown). What people are eager to know, though, is whether this is a strong enough entry to jump-start the series once more…

The Mana part of the title is an integral part of the story for all entries in the franchise, with this particular game focusing on the Sword of Mana and its special power. This time round, the story is set in the past on an island called Illusia that has floated to the surface of the world. In the centre of this new isle is an ancient tree, the Mana Tree. Sadly chaos ensued shortly after until at long last salvation appeared in the form of a boy, girl and the legendary holy sword (very apt give the translation of the Japanese name Seiken Densetsu...). Now things are starting on the road to recovery...or are they?

For those of you with fond memories of the SNES game and people who loved the style of the GBA remake of the original, you are in for a treat with Children of Mana. That hand-drawn, 2D approach that comes full to the brim with rich colours, lively backgrounds and wonderfully animated enemies is not only back, but also far better than ever before. Whilst the Japanese-only Seiken Densetsu 3 may still appear a superior offering, Children of Mana actually takes those graphics and tidied them up a treat to make this one of the most attractive DS games so far.

Screenshot for Children of Mana on Nintendo DS

And again, with the soundtrack, some of the music within is so extremely melodic and memorably that headphones definitely are a must to get the full experience. Sadly, though, not all of the tunes are quite as strong as in previous Mana outings, yet they still manage to keep their head above the majority of competitors on the DS…As for sound effects, well, there are the obligatory grunts and noises that accompany various actions such as opening chests, firing off weapons and unleashing magic – in other words, nothing is missing and the result is definitely a pleasing one.

As for the game itself, it is definitely not what you would remember in terms of overall gameplay. Sure, the main characters will all look vaguely familiar, the worlds will certainly give you a feeling of déjà vu and the collection of enemies are all lifted from previous entries in the Mana series (yes, including the US-only PSone game Legend of Mana and Seiken Densetsu 3 – so they will in fact be ‘new’ to most European gamers), but the meat of the action is distinctly different. This has led to much debate over whether Children is a ‘true’ Mana follow-up and if the change has indeed been a positive one.

First of all, the developer is Nex Entertainment, a group that has previously worked on Sega’s Shining Soul, a very strong dungeon crawling RPG series for the GBA, as well as Shining Tears on the PS2. Secondly, this is indeed a dungeon crawling game! There has already been one dungeon crawling game released for the DS here in Europe late last year, in the form of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, and in a way Children of Mana bares a striking resemblance to it. However, whilst the Pocket Monsters spin-off from ChunSoft proves to be limited in its appeal due to the game basically repeating itself until the credits roll, CoM far outclasses it thanks to the spectacular graphical quality, strong atmospheric soundtrack, as well as being extremely varied in its execution.

Screenshot for Children of Mana on Nintendo DS

You choose one of three characters and play the game from a main hub-system, which is in the form of the first village you encounter (and a gorgeous looking village it is, complete with such a serene theme that it never grows tiring despite you spending SO much time there!). From here on in you are given missions by the various inhabitants, be they human, animal or of the spirit kind – anyone (or anything) you talk to will either give you information, provide a service (buying/selling items, special gems, armour, weapons and so on), offer special gifts or move the main story along by requesting you complete a certain new task. A nice touch is that you cannot simply store up ridiculous amounts of money then rush off to buy all the best equipment to help you breeze through the game. Instead, every weapon, piece of armour and accessory item has a ‘level’, meaning you must reach that level of experience before you can make use of it. This definitely gives you more of a purpose for boosting your experience rather than skipping by as many enemies as you can.

Armour is standard defence-boosting equipment, accessories can have a range of different attributes and there are four types of weapon – sword, flail, bow and hammer. Everything is of the utmost importance and if you do not bother to upgrade as often as possible then the consequences will be suffered later on as death imposes itself upon you with due haste. In terms of these weapons, you only start with the sword, but eventually obtain the next three as you progress through the main missions. Speaking of which, the ‘dungeons’ in this game are not quite what you would imagine. Nex has taken the route of changing the format as much as possible and keeping the feel of the Mana world. Therefore, we are treated to a difficult desert area, a lively leafy location, a tower of trepidation and an…’intense’…icy world (phew), to name just a few examples. Again, differing from Chunsoft’s Pokémon game, the enemies in each dungeon have varying attack methods, which adds so much to the action and considerably helps to stop boredom setting in (remember, you will be sent back to the same locations on many an occasion to complete a ‘new’ task, so there was indeed the potential for tedium to creep in).

Screenshot for Children of Mana on Nintendo DS

To move through a ‘dungeon’, you must locate a special crystal and take it to a warp location. Crystals may be anywhere – hidden in a jar, inside a plant or even may only appear when a group of enemies have been despatched. The same goes for the Gleamwells (warp spots) later in the game as well (at first they are just on-show somewhere in a stage), again adding a pleasing new aspect to the game. As stated earlier, enemies from previous games make an appearance, so there are hooded creatures that fire arrows at you, different coloured Rabites, strange fish that bounce around spitting bubbles at you, stacks of evil bats, rabid wolves, devious hedgehogs that dive into the ground and charge you from below, the infamous ducks with their long chains and even large pumpkins. Thankfully you are well equipped to defeat them in fine fashion. Holding down the attack button builds up a special move (such as a shield from the sword that deflects projectiles or throws the flail straight forward, which comes in very handy when grabbing items from across large expanses of spikes), one of the eight elemental spirits can be called upon to unleash powerful magic and then there are the gems that can help out considerably.

Yes, other than the various tasks asked of you that extend the game, there are gems that can be collected and added to your character to change their stats, increase the use of certain items and even boost your Fury attack (a special gauge that fills up the more you attack things, then can be unleashed by pressing ‘select’ to let you attack large groups in a much more efficient way for a short time). These are dropped by enemies, can be bought in the village or even two different ones can be fused together to create fantastic new ones (remembering all the while that you can only equip a certain amount at any one time…so balancing which are best is part of the fun!). They can really work to your advantage as you reach some of the later bosses that would otherwise have you pulling your hair out in frustration. As for the bottom screen, it is not used for character control, instead showing useful information, such as where crystals and warp spots are hidden, what your next objective is (extra tasks are found on the menu screen under ‘status’), as well as where enemies crop up around the stage you are currently on. Oh, and of course the longevity is helped along the way by letting four players jump into the action and solve quests together…Sounds good? It is much more than that!

Screenshot for Children of Mana on Nintendo DS

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

Gamers expecting a game in the same vein as Secret of Mana or Sword of Mana may come away disappointed by the gameplay change, but if you wander in with an open mind you will find that this transformation of the Mana world is fantastic. Dungeon crawling games can wear thin over time, but Children of Mana exudes enough class to last the whole adventure...

Developer

Next

Publisher

Square Enix

Genre

Real Time RPG

Players

4

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  10/10 (6 Votes)

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

Comments

What exactly is dungeon crawling? Is it what is says on the tin?

I have no idea. I'm still waiting for my DS fix of Golden Sun...hey, when is that coming??

Vote 1, Eternal Darkness 2 for Wii

A dungeon crawler ist something like Diablo1. You are running around in dungeons solving mysteries, collectiong things and level up. It's normally an RPG with not that important a story but with lots of quests. I see here, that there is a main quest going on as it seems. But no epic RPG with lots of different locations except the dungeons. Mostly only some villages for spending time, buying and selling.

Am I right?

I find your lack of faith disturbing!

I think I'd prefer that rather than your generic RPGs

numerous side-quest

You mean the INFINITE side quests?

I've not played this game in ages....i should.
How far am I - I'm at the bit where Tisu (the girls) gets nabbed by the bad guy?

It's normally an RPG with not that important a story but with lots of quests.

I wouldn't say that...
The story on children of mana is dead intense...you'll never guess...someones trying to destroy the world!!!:eek:

Avoid Games Like the Plague, productivity++

Really dunno what to think of the game... it's average score on Gameranking is rubbish... [/Wii]

Twitter | C3 Writer/Moderator | Backloggery

It depends what sort of game you like probably - i thought it was quite good but there weren't that many puzzles as such...mostly slashing enemies down - and it'll probably be a lot more fun in multiplayer (co-op)

Famtisu gave it 10/8/8/10

which is 36/40 or a 9/0

Avoid Games Like the Plague, productivity++

Sadly people are split over this and yet will probably go out and buy something like Pok

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

UNITE714: Weekly Prayers | Bible Verses

a stark contrast from GameCentral's 4/10.


Mike Gee of iZINE said, "...The Verve, as he [Richard Ashcroft] promised, had become the greatest band in the world. Most of the critics agreed with him. Most paid due homage. The Verve were no longer the question mark or the clich. They were the statement and the definition."

Well, Shining Soul II is a similar game (done by the same people, if I recall correctly) and I rated that an 8/10...and I feel Children of Mana is higher than that, probably an 8.6 or something like that. Definitely closer to a 9/10 in our current rating system than an 8/10.

By the way, the Shining Soul II review is here, for comparison: http://www.cubed3.com/review/168/

GameCentral, that used to be Digitiser didn't it? Kind of lost interest a short while after that...

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

UNITE714: Weekly Prayers | Bible Verses

Good review!

Personally, my only gripe with this game is that it lacks the "roaming" feel that RPG usually has. As a result it felt repetitive at times. Yet, the gems are great. I got so obsessed with them, you don't know how many hours I've spent questing & earninig money to get a particular combination of gems.

That made the hack & slash fun because I was object-driven to go through them. So, I guess that's how it all balances out. So to all of you who are getting this, I hope you all play it with your personal goal in mind. That really enhances the game play. I think it kind of takes a 'little bit' of effort from player's end, but otherwise well made.

Thanks PW :Smilie The gems aspect is indeed part of the reason why you keep plugging away (after I realised the Dud Bears' missions never bloody end...Smilie.

Sure it can grow tiresome if you just stick to using the sword and slash your way through blindly, but that's obviously not the aim of the game! Finding extra missions like discovering the key to the haunted house and then following that side-story is a large part of the game - loved it! :-D

Great to see this at least doing very well in Germany and Nintendo UK sent round a special newsletter for its promotion yesterday, so with any luck it'll get pushed a bit more here in the coming weeks...

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

UNITE714: Weekly Prayers | Bible Verses

What digister?

Gamecentral are probably one of the best reviews anywhere, granted they are a bit harsh


Mike Gee of iZINE said, "...The Verve, as he [Richard Ashcroft] promised, had become the greatest band in the world. Most of the critics agreed with him. Most paid due homage. The Verve were no longer the question mark or the clich. They were the statement and the definition."

Or is Game Central the one for the BBC? Whatever the case, I think people are being unfairly critical of this. Perhaps they should actually get reviewers that LIKE dungeon-crawlers to look at games such as this! :sarcy:

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

UNITE714: Weekly Prayers | Bible Verses

Gamecentral is the Channel 4 teletext really good service.

I am in no way saying your review is wrong, but stating the difference.

Wouldn't disrespect the Raz.


Mike Gee of iZINE said, "...The Verve, as he [Richard Ashcroft] promised, had become the greatest band in the world. Most of the critics agreed with him. Most paid due homage. The Verve were no longer the question mark or the clich. They were the statement and the definition."

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