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Heroes of Mana - NDS - Preview

E3 2007 Preview

The Mana game has spent its life in one genre: action/RPG. It has been good, bad, beautiful, and ugly. It's a fluctuating series that never seems to know where it should end up.

Today I'm going to tell you where it should end up -- in the real-time strategy genre. I know the purists will cry and the core RTS market may have a question mark hanging over its head, but that doesn't matter. Square Enix has been making turn-based strategy games for years, and now that they're diving into the world of real-time, they must see it through to new innovations.

Heroes of Mana is the first RTS for the DS that plays like an RTS. There aren't any turn-based elements. To make one unit attack, you select it with the stylus (simply touch it on the screen) and touch the part of the world where you wish to travel. To select multiple units, you touch the circle icon on the screen to change your selector to a drawing tool. Now draw a circle around the units you want to direct. They move in, attack the snowmen enemies (don't ask -- I have no clue why I'm fighting something that can melt), and it all happens without a hitch.

Played from an isometric view, Heroes of Mana is a 3D game that's loaded with polygons. The worlds are big and colorful but do not feel endless. You'll be able to tell exactly how big a stage is by glancing at the top screen, which shows a map of where everything is located. The world can be passed through quickly by holding the B button while pushing the D-pad, just like in a console or PC RTS -- where scrolling through worlds is second nature.

Once a unit has engaged in combat, it will fight repeatedly until the enemy is finished. Enemies are always in greater numbers, but with a backyard snow creature as one of the game's early threats, there isn't too much to worry about. Then the larger monsters come and ruin your day.

As for the story, it would seem that a war is being fought and you must rise to action. Text dialogue sequences occur before and after each battle, just like the Advance Wars and Fire Emblem series. However, Heroes of Mana won't currently let you skip the dialogue with one button press. I hope that changes, even if the final story is great. 'Cause I know that no matter how good it is, it's the gameplay that'll pull me back.

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