Of all the fans of a given video game series/franchise, Mana fans have had it worse. Once Mana fans realized that the original Secret of Mana games would never come to be, many became distant with the franchise and have developed a jaded look in any new Mana entry that wasn’t Secret of Mana or remotely felt like Secret of Mana. With Children of Mana being a semi-success both in the East and the West and Dawn of Mana (Seiken Densetsu 4) plundering in sales and receiving harsh criticism among those who’ve played it sans the angry Mana fans, many Mana fans began to believe that one of three of Square’s pillar franchises (the other two being SaGa and Final Fantasy) was finally going down and wasn’t coming back to reclaim its spot. Of course, Heroes of Mana, the latest entry in the World of Mana Project, looks to reclaim the series’ pillar with good reason; it provides a fun and interesting experience on the Nintendo DS and was developed by Brownie Brown, the original team behind Legend of Mana, Sword of Mana, Magical Vacation, Magical Vacation 2: When The Five Stars Align, and Mother 3. Does it succeed? To me, yes.
Heroes of Mana takes place about 19 years prior to Seiken Densetsu 3 and tells the tale of a young Pedan swordsman named Roger. One day, Roger and his companions are given a secret mission when all of a sudden the airship Roger and his friends were travelling in is suddenly shot down and are instantly attacked by their own people. After having cleared up any confusions, Roger and co. encounter the king of the Beastmen, King Gauzar, and end up in Mistoth, a city under attack by the Pedan Army. When Roger and his companions learn that the Pedan Army is after the Beastmen, Roger insists that he and his friends protect the Beastmen under any circumstances. From here, the game’s story takes off and manages to have a few twists and turns; furthermore, there’s even a cameo from a Seiken Densetsu 3 character in the game. For the sake of spoilers, I won’t say who it is.
The best thing about Heroes of Mana just so happens to be its gameplay. Heroes of Mana functions as an RTS that manages provide a unique gameplay experience with the Nintendo DS and the first few missions of the game serve as a tutorial of how the game works. If you’re familiar with RTS, then Heroes of Mana shouldn’t feel foreign at all. For those who’ve never played an RTS, Heroes of Mana requires the gathering of materials and the building of factories to help you win battles against your opponents. All buildings are housed within the airship, and any units you create will teleport from the airship to the battlefield. Rabites serve as your basic gathering units that will take materials from various Mana essences and place them in the airship, and each unit you create requires a certain amount of Mana essences. Up to five of the same unit can be created in a single factory.
Another cool feature about battles is, like a PC RTS, having the ability to literally circle the area around any numbers of units you want to control by pressing the three character icons with your stylus. Then commanding them via pointing on an enemy with the stylus to attack a monster. The same can be said for selecting all your Rabites to gather the same materials from the same source. One major problem with this form of A.I. is not all your units will follow the same path to fight a foe/gather materials. For some peculiar reason, some of your units will end up moving somewhere else that you never told them to go and will end up staying there until you manually point and click where to move the unit.
The status of each of your units is cleverly displayed at the bottom of the stylus screen. Where green icons are shown to indicate the status of your unit that ranges from perfect to okay to near death. Since a vast majority of battles are fast paced and require quick action, you’ll often find yourself losing some units without even knowing it! You can speed up the flow of battle by holding the B button and can rotate the camera with the L and R buttons. Should any of your units incur heavy damage, you can build a healing tower (at least until you’ve been given the ability to create wizards) within the airship and move your units near the airship to cure. Talk about convenient. Your main units can also equip mana spirits to aid in battle! In time, you’ll acquire the ability to equip and make use of the game’s various mana spirits and, get this, summon God Beasts, too!
Perhaps the biggest problem in Heroes of Mana, aside from the retarded A.I. and inability to have your units automatically move to a certain area when spawned, that can serve as a handicap for some people is its fluidity. Though the game’s early missions are pretty easy, the latter parts of the game turn out to be a bit more challenging and automatically require that you be fluent in knowing what to do and how fast you can do it. Particular missions have a time limit attributed to them, so time is absolutely everything and should not be taken lightly. You can take part in some practice missions to help train yourself and improve your speed; but if you’re the kind of person who likes to take his time when playing an RTS to defeat your enemy, Heroes of Mana may not be for you.
The game also doesn’t make great use of WiFi as Luminious Arc does. Rather than having the ability to play people online, Heroes of Mana WiFi only limits you to DS-v-DS battle. WiFi only allows you to view your personal ranking against other people in particular Free Maps that you can play through via WiFi, and you can also see what rewards you’ll earn for completing each of those Free Maps. It’s a shame that there isn’t the option to play against other people online as Heroes of Mana could have benefited greatly from this feature, but even if it lacks that option, Heroes of Mana manages to stand alone as a great title.
If you ask me, Heroes of Mana is the one game that seeks to revive the Mana franchise and does it gracefully. With a new take on gameplay and making use of the DS’ capabilities, Heroes of Mana is sure to provide many of you with a great experience. Just be sure to venture into Heroes of Mana with an open mind and limited, if none, expectations. After all, the game practically speaks for itself.