Dawn of Mana - PS2 - Preview
Before the cluster of Zelda clones came pouring in, only one game challenged its status as the leading action/RPG: Secret of Mana. Originally launched as a top-down role-playing game with action-style, real-time combat, Secret of Mana has seen numerous iterations for a variety of consoles. Soon we will experience the series in strategy form via the upcoming Heroes of Mana for Nintendo DS.
Though Secret of Mana has been successful in different forms, there has been a question lingering ever since The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time was released in 1998 – what would Mana be like as a 3D adventure game?
The answer comes on May 22, when Square Enix will release Dawn of Mana exclusively for PlayStation 2.
Part Ocarina of Time, part Brave Fencer Musashi (if you can remember that game you are a true Square Enix enthusiast), and wholeheartedly a sequel to gaming’s greatest Secret, Dawn of Mana is populated with enemies, worlds of great vibrancy, and a hack-n-slash engine that could threaten the lifespan of your Dual-Shock 2.
Calling All Kingdom Hearts Fans
Dawn of Mana borrows most of its groundwork from the beloved Kingdom Hearts series. It’s no surprise the developers made this decision – KH is one of the best action/RPGs around, containing a fast and relentless move set that’s dominating, not demanding. This game has that same kind of personality, plus more enemies to ensure you never stop fighting.
Dawn of Mana’s monsters look friendly – like kindhearted woodland creatures in search of their mother. Approach them and their true colors shine through. They don’t suddenly turn into ferocious and grotesque beasts. In fact, their peaceful exterior remains the same. But they’ll still attempt to knock a few hit points off your health meter.
Enemies are eliminated in an unusual manner. You can beat them senseless as any action/RPG allows. But there’s a more effective way the game prefers you to use: stun them first, then attack.
Don’t look for an in-game tutorial to announce this helpful tip. Brief attack and move descriptions are given at the start of the adventure, but that’s all you’ll receive. Most gamers are still likely to catch on due to the large number of objects found around every corner.
My instincts told me to attack the nearest barrel to see if coins were hidden inside. That’s the common response from an action game – coins or some other important object hidden within destructible objects. But like enemies, barrels have a life meter. Therefore when you strike a barrel, it will move forward and hit anything in its path.
Big or small, most objects can be influenced to your benefit. Strike an individual enemy for minimal success – strike multiple enemies for some serious, combo-thriving results. Once an enemy has been struck, a timer will appear over its head. The timer determines how long the enemy will be stunned for. Its length depends on the strength of the object used to create the stunning effect, as well as the number of enemies struck during your assault.
Stunned enemies are easier to take down, increasing the likelihood that gamers will perform this action frequently. But if not, it’s nothing an endless amount of hacking and slashing can’t cure.
In addition to the graphics and color set, which are very bright, Dawn of Mana is much lighter in its story implementation. The dark and death-filled themes popularized by Final Fantasy VII have not influenced this game’s storyline, which has taken a more family-friendly approach. While this might make the story content a little less appealing to the existing RPG audience, it could open the door to a new generation of players. You might think that Kingdom Hearts has already done this, and it probably has to some degree. But most of its fans are hardcore teen and adult gamers, not children.
Shipping nationwide this May, Dawn of Mana is another reason why PlayStation 2 is the best console an RPG lover could have. Its aggressive (though not particularly violent) battle system, lengthy worlds, and whimsical soundtrack are of the standards you’d expect from the publishing house duo that brought us Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest.