Final Glimpse: Rabite Slaughter for a New Generation
During the 16-bit era, the Super Nintendo (SNES) was the system to own for quality role-playing games. Sure the Genesis featured the Phantasy Star series and the Turbo Grafx-16 possessed a solid few, but there is little question that the Nintendo-Squaresoft partnership dominated the U.S. market. This union spawned many fondly remembered RPGs including Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, and Super Mario RPG. Of these Secret of Mana was arguably the most innovative in terms of both game play and pure artistry. It regularly appears on fan lists as one of the greatest games ever made. However subsequent installments either never made it to the U.S. or simply failed to meet Secret of Mana's high water mark (Legend of Mana). On October 30, Square-Enix hopes to recapture the glory of the original with the DS sequel Children of Mana.
Children of Mana retains the mythology established in previous entries. The game takes place on the island of Illusia where the sacred Mana Tree resides. Years ago Children of Mana's heroes were orphaned when a disaster struck the island. Now grown up, the four main characters join together in Stephen King, Stand By Me-fashion (only with swords) to discover the truth behind this event. Rest assured the series' mainstays such as the Mana Sword, Elementals and the infamous Rabites make an appearance.
First let's answer the question plaguing many fans. Yes, Children of Mana possesses a multiplayer mode. One of the most fondly remembered aspects of Secret of Mana was its simultaneous three-player mode via the SNES multi-tap. For years fans uttered a collective sigh of disappointment as each new installment possessed poor excuses for multiplayer options. Children of Mana actually one-ups Secret of Mana in this area by allowing four players at a time. In this mode players navigate through randomly generated dungeons, ensuring a new experience each time. This multiplayer option is only available through local wireless for the game does not support Nintendo DS Wi-Fi.
The game plays similarly to Secret of Mana. The player switches between the four heroes who each possess their own strengths and weaknesses. While Children of Mana features many RPG staples (experience points, etc.), it also differs from its brethren in several areas. Most notably, like Secret of Mana, the game's battles are fought in real-time like The Legend of Zelda instead of menu-driven as with Final Fantasy
This is not to say fights are simple hack n' slash-fests. Square-Enix took the battle system a step further by adding a ?bouncing? element to the mix. If the player hits an enemy, usually said enemy will fly back a few feet. If this enemy hits a wall it will take more damage. Likewise players can bounce enemies off one another and create unique combos (not to mention one sadistic game of pinball). All this combat helps to build up the Fever Meter. Once full, the player can unleash a powerful limit attack upon the evil hordes.
The game features four weapons: the sword, the bow, the flail and the hammer. The player can equip characters with two weapons at a time. Every weapon possesses its own tactical advantages. The bow naturally is better for long distance attacks. When the fiends get in too close, then a sword to the gullet is the appropriate choice. Each weapon also features an alternate function. For example, when the attack button is held the sword will cast a temporary force field around the character.
As previously mentioned, the series' Elementals make a return. These eight creatures grant the characters magical abilities. Each elemental is specialized. For example, Salamander is inexplicably fire-based while Gnome possesses earth magic (and a penchant for looking great in lawns).
Instead of taking place in a huge over-world, Children of Mana takes the form of a dungeon crawler. This means that battle is confined to specific areas of the game like the PC RPG Diablo. Each dungeon is made up of a number of floors. The player must obtain the Mana Egg on each of these floors to progress to the next and ultimately reach the dungeon's boss.
The game features the same top-down perspective and 2-D sprite-based graphics of Secret of Mana. Never fear for Children of Mana takes full advantage of the DS's power. The main game play features hand drawn graphics that will have 16-bit fans drooling like Pavlov's dogs. In addition, a significant portion of the story is told through anime cut-scenes.