It seems to be a little known fact that Square-Enix actually makes RPGs which are not Final Fantasy. One of the other series which Square-Enix has claim to is the Mana series, which were pretty decent at one point. Unfortunately, since the GBA days, the Mana series seems to be going downhill.
For a series which traditionally prides itself on having a strong plot, I must say, in this game, it’s disappointing. The story essentially boils down to ‘oh bloody hell there’s an evil dude doing bad stuff and turning the elementals evil, you must stop him with the holy sword’. The pacing isn’t great either – you advance a bit of the story, unlock a new dungeon to run through, complete that, go back to the hub village, advance the story, unlock a new dungeon, rinse, later, repeat.
Well, some of the soundtrack is decent (Jadd’s desert and Lorimar’s Ice Citadel come to mind), but the rest is… well, not great. Off the top of my head and away from the game, I am struggling to recall much from the game’s soundtrack. One thing that annoys me is, considering how much of your time is spent in the hub village, the lack of decent music for the village is glaring. Apart from a few select places, I can honestly say, I’d rather play this game with the music turned off. I don’t often say that for games…
I will give the graphics, they are pretty. However, they also look like they’ve been pulled straight from the GBA games. Still, they do the job well enough. However, one glaring thing with the graphics is during the character creation bit, you get the option of choosing your character’s hair colour. You see the hair colour change on the in-game sprite. When it comes to character portraits during dialogue… there’s only the generic hair colour used for the portraits. That really niggles at me. Also, the sprites being completely static in the background when you’re in the village hub also annoys me. I mean, how difficult would it have been to make it look like the inhabitants aren’t statues?
I have a slight problem here. I haven’t yet found someone else who plays this game to multiplayer with…
Unfortunately for this game, it does suffer from the same problem a lot of Mana games suffer from. Once you’ve overleveled enough, which isn’t difficult, everything becomes easy to kill. The game does attempt to stop you from overlevelling by capping the amount of EXP you can gain per kill once you’ve reached a certain level, but that doesn’t really do much to stop you hammering away at the enemy until it falls. There are a couple of bits in the game where you will grind your teeth, but this game really does boil down to ‘meh, I died there, let’s level up a level or two and try again’.
I hate to say it, but the gameplay isn’t brilliant. You do have a very basic (and I mean basic) job system, whereby you get to choose at the start of the game if you have a fighter-based, magic-based, mixed-attacker or a defensive type to play through the game with. What I have found is, it doesn’t matter which you choose, the game becomes a mad button mashing frenzy of the A-button to kill things with whatever weapon you have equipped. This is a shame, because the Mana games do generally tend to do quite well with the magic system (Sword of Mana on the GBA comes to mind), and this is a bit of a let-down as magic is massively side lined in this game. The lack of strategy when it comes to fights is also an issue. I like being made to think about how I’m going to fight something, I don’t want to just mash ‘A’.
The boss fights are also a bit pathetic. I mean, yeah, sure, you occasionally have to think about how to kill them, but even they get killed with whatever basic weapon you were handed before you went into the dungeon.
And here’s another issue. The dungeons. They are bland, repetitive and just generally ugh. They all have the same format of either being four or eight floors in size, and have a boss at the end. You do have the option of clearing a dungeon again and taking on jobs for rewards while you’re doing it, but meh. The rewards don’t really justify the means. Not to mention mashing through the text at the end of each dungeon gets painful as well.
The one thing I did like about this game is the gem system. In this game you get given a gem frame which you can fill with various combinations of gems you either find or buy from one of the in –game shops, which change your stats in different ways or given you different abilities. A little bit through the game you also get the ability to combine different gems for a small fee in order to unlock new gems. Being an SRPG fan at heart, anything which allows me to tinker with the stats of my characters is always appreciated, so this did go down well for me. I just wish it was more in-depth.
Well, you can play this game through four times with different characters. From what I can tell after running through the game with three of the four, there are no changes at all, as far as dialogue, events or gameplay go. This is a shame, as I like playing through games with different characters if I’m given the option at the start. Still, I would say you can replay this game… only just though. And preferably with a very long gap between playthroughs.
Replay Value: 3
Why Square-Enix, why did you do this to the previously solid Mana series, why? I’d recommend this game really only for hardcore ARPG fans and/or Mana series fans.
Written by Karen