Seiken Densetsu DS: Children of Diablo
The Secret of Mana is regarded as one of the greatest action RPGs ever created, and more recent games in the series have been a letdown to many of fans due to their inability to capture the epic feel of the SNES title. Thus, the big question is whether or not Children of Mana lives up to the Mana name. The answer depends on what you’re looking for. Does Children of Mana obtain the epic feel of Secret of Mana? No. However, that’s okay because that wasn’t the intent. Children of Mana deviates from the Mana series in that it is a dungeon crawler similar to Diablo. It’s as a dungeon crawler that Children of Mana indeed redeems the Mana name.
Children of Mana, the first game in the World of Mana compilation of games, begins the adventure of four children who lost their loved ones in a great catastrophe that struck Illusia and the surrounding lands several years prior. Departing from under the Tree of Mana, and with the aid of the Sword of Mana, the children set off to defeat a newly spreading evil in order to stop Mana itself from tearing apart the land. At the beginning of the game, Children of Mana allows players to choose one of the four characters and customize his or her appearance.
Dungeons are the main component of the game and are composed of several floors; each floor contains a Gleamdrop that, when taken to a Gleamwell, will allow the player to travel to the next floor. Previously cleared dungeons can be visited through a tear in the space-time continuum. The eccentric Dudbears also sell quests, which involve revisiting a completed dungeon in order to complete a certain task. Once completed, the player is given a reward. The floors are not the same as the first trek and there are a set number of floor designs, though enemies spawn fairly randomly. Players will likely want to play dungeons over again since they will need to level up in order to make it through the next dungeon. However, after several quests to the same dungeon, things can become a little repetitive, particularly since levels within a dungeon look basically the same.
In an age where games seem to be getting easier, Children of Mana thankfully doesn’t follow the lead. If players play extremely defensively, then they probably won’t have too many troubles, but it’s so much fun to jump into a group of enemies head-on that extreme care must be taken so that your character makes it through in one piece. Boss battles can get pretty intense. Recovery items are fairly plentiful, and being too conservative with them is a sure-fire way to fail, so expect to use them a lot. Players don’t actually die if they lose their health, they are simply brought back to their village with all items and experience intact, only having to start the dungeon over.
There are four types of weapons in the game, swords, flails, bow and arrows, and hammers, and any two can be equipped at a time. In addition, each of these weapons has two types of attacks, one charged by holding the button down before attacking. I couldn’t help but wish that the flail would someday appear in a Zelda game. Its charged attack works exactly like Link’s hookshot, while the standard attack allows the character to swing the weapon around in a circle, knocking away any surrounding enemies. The weapons really make dungeon crawling an enjoyable experience. Weapons and armor can be upgraded in the standard fashion, but there is also a “gem frame" system. Equipped gems cause effects to stats as well as weapons.
The ring menu system introduced in Secret of Mana is back. R activates the weapon menu and L activates the recovery item menu. Players cannot equip items or weapons while dungeon crawling, though these options are available during occasional intermissions between floors. Characters can also carry an Elemental Spirit, which can be used to heal or attack enemies for a small amount of MP. Unfortunately, magic is somewhat slow to pull off and isn't significantly better than other battle methods, so it isn’t worth fooling with most of the time.
Another fun aspect of dungeon battles is the unusual concept of ricocheting. Enemies can be knocked into other enemies or walls, which may also be knocked into other enemies or walls, and so on, each impact causing more damage. Thus, packing several enemies into a small space leads to a chain reaction of damage that is fun to perform and watch. Players must be careful, however, because they too can become part of that chain. This can quickly result in a nearly instant death and subsequent dungeon restart.
The game feels somewhat similar to Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, without the annoying chalice restriction. Unfortunately, in multiplayer, all players must have a game card in order to play, and the game cannot be saved while in this mode. Multiplayer can be played cooperatively or competitively, and certain items are only available by playing multiplayer. It's an odd letdown that items cannot be shared.
Travel between locations in the Mana world, including dungeons, is done via a map screen. The linear story doesn’t get too deep, and without a real feeling of travel, it isn’t engaging in the same way as Secret of Mana. Again, it doesn’t strive to be that type of game—it even gives ratings to your dungeon completion.
Children of Mana does feature one key characteristic of the Mana series: excellent presentation. The graphics are gorgeous, and the soundtrack is easily one of the very best on DS. While totally 2-D, sprite graphics rarely get better than this. Upon loading the game, a full motion anime sequence plays out, introducing each of the characters in a flashy way. And that isn’t the only amazing scene players will be treated to during the game. When talking to characters, hand-drawn characters expressing emotion are displayed along with the dialog.
Is this the game Mana fans have been waiting for? Probably not. However, Children of Mana is an excellent game in its own right, bringing dungeon crawling to a new level on Nintendo DS.