previews\ May 10, 2006 at 8:00 pm

Children of Mana - NDS - Preview

E3 2006 Hands On Preview

Children of Mana’s first run of screenshots brought many thoughts. Who are those three-headed monsters (who are nearly as big as one of the DS screens)? What’s the story about? Who are these characters? How did the game artists make them look so good on two tiny screens?

Their paint job: impressive. Their detail: immense. Children of Mana is a beautiful action-filled RPG with dozens of enemies to annihilate. It’s these monstrous encounters that sets Mana apart from its predecessors, especially the colorful but less eventful Mana games for the PSone.

Children of Mana is both colorful and eventful. It’s faster, smoother, and easier to get into. I didn’t have as much time to devote to the story as I would have liked, but the taste I got was rather satisfying. The characters are well designed out of battle and look great in battle as well.

Children of Mana Nintendo DS screenshots

You get your first look at these guys from the character selection screen at the start of the game. Ferrik, who has the spirit Salamander; Poppen, who is somehow connected to Undine; and Tamber, whose spirit is named Luna. Each spirit and playable character has a unique design that’s slightly reminiscent of the Final Fantasy Tactics art style. Faces are standout but less defined – the nose is almost nonexistent, a feature that is typically noticeable in game characters.

As I battled enemies, broke pots for no reason, and worked my way toward what would end up being a fiery boss battle, my spirit chimed in to say “Hi!” It wasn’t speaking directly to me or to my character, yet it had a lot to say. Without an explanation given in the game’s opening, the talking spirit didn’t make much sense. I know it must play a huge role in the story, otherwise they wouldn’t have introduced the spirit so early on. Chances are it’ll have an effect on the gameplay as well.

Upon reaching the end of the level, I discovered a door to the roof of the building. Outside a bird waited for me to arrive. While normally this wouldn’t be much of a problem, this was no ordinary bird. In fact, he was quite fowl, and fiery. Engulfed in flames, the bird charged at Ferrik, hoping to take him out. I dodge many of his moves, most of which were fairly predictable and not that hard to avoid. He could fly but not very fast. On one hand that made quick evasions easy. At the same time it made me get lax and fall into his trap every now and then.

Children of Mana Nintendo DS screenshots

Getting hit by the bird is more than just taking damage, it means having to (possibly) endure the effects of a severe burn or temporary paralysis. Paralysis makes the character feel stiff and hard to control. You can still move, just not very well. Burns prevent your character from attacking. Luckily the negative effects don’t last very long.

Weapons are going to be one of the game’s highlights, with four options available from the start: sword, hammer, chain, and a bow and arrow. Two weapons can be designated to two of the face buttons; the other two face buttons are reserved for items. Children of Mana isn’t the first game to take a stab at quick weapon/item access, but it’s definitely one of the most effective.

At its current stage in development, Children of Mana does not have the best touch screen features. You use it to select items and weapons, nothing more. I don’t want to see a lot of Zelda copycats on the market, but I do hope Square Enix has plans to include at least one more touchable feature: puzzles, special attacks, a rare spell – anything that would effect the gameplay in a positive way.


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