Seiken Densetsu: Children of Mana Import Hands-On
We get our mitts on the mysterious new portable entry in Square Enix's beloved action RPG series, fresh off the streets of Japan.
Way back in 1993, the Super NES action RPG Secret of Mana became one of then-Squaresoft's most beloved 16-bit titles. But then the series fell into inexplicable decline. The next Mana game never made it to the States, and subsequent entries released by the current incarnation of Square-Enix have never quite captured the same lighthearted hack-and-slash magic of the original on the SNES. Luckily, the Mana series (known chiefly as Seiken Densetsu in Japan) has yet another chance to shine with Children of Mana, a new DS game with the same aesthetic sensibilities and, hopefully, the same sort of action that made Secret of Mana such a winner back in the day.
The story here seems to be classic Mana and it is, of course, fully in Japanese. You start out by selecting from four characters, whose attributes in categories like strength and magic are fully displayed. We opted for Flick, the token well-rounded guy who's got reasonable skill in all categories. The other available characters naturally tend toward one extreme or the other. Once we selected our character, we were tossed into a whimsical forest village where not only the human residents dwelled, but also the eight classic spirits--such as Luna, Dryad, Salamander, and Gnome--who have defined the Mana series' magic system (and who will be quite familiar to series fans).
After speaking with the village authorities and experiencing a minor earthquake, we learned that something was amiss at a tower near the village, and of course it was up to our character to investigate the problem and bring back the village girl who was trapped there. At this point, you'll hit the game's world map, which really is just a map. It doesn't look like you'll be exploring any overworld-style areas in between towns and dungeons, since the starting town and our target tower were represented by icons on this map, and we could visit either one just by moving our character to the appropriate icon.
Once we got inside the tower, we found our long-dormant Mana skills being called immediately back into action. In other words, the core combat here feels a lot like the traditional overhead Mana games, like the original Secret of Mana or the more-recent Sword of Mana on the Game Boy Advance. You start out with just a basic sword, which you can use to pull off a rudimentary combo system, and you'll hack your way through floor after floor of familiar-looking enemies as you try to reach the top. Interestingly, you'll knock enemies around as you attack them, and they can bounce off of each other, so hitting one enemy into a group behind them can have some chaotic results.
The format of this first dungeon was quite straightforward, as you won't have to explore any mazes to find your way from floor to floor. Rather, you'll have to find a small brown egg of sorts on each floor and deliver it to a glowing portal, which will then teleport you to the next floor instantly. After we made it to the top and fought a giant phoenix, we were introduced to some of the combat abilities we'll have access to throughout the game, such as the ability to use not only the sword, but also a chain weapon, which can be swung around in a circle or charged up and shot in a straight line.
There seems to be a decent amount of RPG-like depth aside from the basic combat, too. You'll gain experience and level up as you kill enemies, of course, and we managed to pick up some new equipment, like a sword and new piece of armor, with specific level requirements for use. The game also has a gem-equipping system, whereby you'll collect gems of power during battle. You can then equip multiple gems onto your character to receive various stat boosts. Lastly, there's the magic. Before we headed off to the tower, we were able to pick one of the spirits to accompany us, and after we returned, we were able to swap to another spirit at will. Hopefully, later in the game you'll be allowed to carry multiple spirits at once, since commanding all of them is part of what made Secret of Mana a lot of fun.
Children of Mana is instantly recognizable as a Mana game, what with its cheerfully colored, hand-rendered backgrounds and traditional sprite-based characters. The art style is also consistent with past games in the series. From the friendly magical spirits to the classic enemies we encountered, it seems there will be plenty of elements that smack of the Mana franchise. There's also a surprising amount of full-motion anime-style video (not just during the lengthy intro movie, but also scattered throughout the storyline), which was created by legendary animation house Production IG.
So far, Children of Mana looks like a simplistic but faithful new entry in the Mana series that's heavy on traditional combat and storyline. It's also rather heavy on the Japanese text, so unless you just can't wait to check out the next installment in the series, you'd probably be better off waiting for the (presumably) eventual North American release. When that will happen is anybody's guess, but we'll bring you the first word when we get it. In the meantime, check out some new gameplay videos of Children of Mana in action.