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DS  header logo

Children of Mana

For: DS

Forget love. Make war, in a dungeon

Product: Children of Mana | Developer: Nex Entertainment | Developer: Square Enix | Publisher: Nintendo | Format: DS | Genre: Action, RPG | Players: 1-4 | Networking: wireless (adhoc) | Version: US
Children of Mana DS, thumbnail 1
Who wouldn't want to live life like in a Japanese role-playing game? You get to be a punky, headstrong kid, with colourful, spiky hair who travels through magical lands, has adventures, and collects progressively more impressive swords along the way.

To a large extent Children of Mana fulfils this brief admirably. Evil is corrupting the island of Illusia, mysterious columns of light have appeared throughout the land, and monsters are amok. It's up to you to reclaim the land, one dungeon at a time.

Only in this case, the spiky kid is just one of four playable characters you must initially select between. Each has a different mix of physical and magical powers, and your freedom to choose one and customise your appearance provides early clues that Children of Mana isn't your typical Japanse RPG, as do its dungeon-based settings.

In fact for all its traditional (hair)stylings, Children of Mana is actually an action RPG, in the spirit of the PC classic Diablo.

This isn't a game with hours of cutscenes and getting lost as you wander about working out where to go next. Rather, each new mission starts from a central village hub containing stores and non-playable characters, which you return to either when the quest is completed or when you run out a health points in the attempt.

The four types of weapons you can wield are also central to the game's charms. Starting off with a sword, you soon add a flail to your armoury, which enables you to knock back multiple enemies at distance. A bow and a hammer are also offered up as you get further in. You can equip two at any one time, and swap between the four on the fly.

But what's really neat are the secondary options they provide. Holding down the prescribed sword button gives you a shield, which will deflect back arrows. When it comes to the flail, holding down its button lets you fire it out like a grappling hook, enabling you to pull otherwise unreachable items towards yourself. The bow can be used to create soothing music to halt enemies, while a powered-up hammer blow destroys certain environmental objects.

They're all great extensions, and demonstrate just how well the makers of Children of Mana have layered the gameplay elements. For instance, when you get the hammer halfway into the game, you can go back to early levels and use it to smash your way into new areas.

Another example of such forethought is the ability to unleash your companion Mana spirit. There are eight to choose from; you can swap between back in the village. Again each can be used directly to attack, or as passive support to buff you up.

In the hub you can also equip various gems, which will either provide better attack moves or protection from poison or other afflictions. Of course, you'll always have more gems than slots available, so you'll have to make trade-offs depending on your playing style.

The result is you should never be button bashing your way through the game, rather using your brain to select the right tactical option as you work through the key missions and the sub-quests you can tackle to earn extra cash.

All revolve around multi-level dungeons, which not surprisingly are full of monsters. (Even once you've cleared the blighters out you'll likely need to do so again for the side-quests, which sees the monsters scattered about randomly, and the dungeon layout slightly rearranged.)

Each of the main missions also brings new environmental tweaks into play, with the slippery floor of the Ice Citadel a great example. Another is the sheer fun you can have with the hammer – using it will ping enemies around the dungeon, with health points dropping off them as they collide into the walls and each other like billiard balls.

As for actually clearing the dungeons, with careful play it's not tricky. Bosses can present a challenge, but even death only sends you back to the village with your skills and worldly goods intact.

Still, scaredey cats – and indeed, everyone else – might prefer to play through the missions co-operatively with three friends. The excellent Multiplayer mode really plays to the strengths of Children of Mana's action RPG gameplay, and the odd glitch or laggy moment is a small price to pay for the extra fun.

Indeed, our only real criticism of Children of Mana is the lack of early pace. Fans of engrossing role-playing stories such as Final Fantasy may also be disappointed by the ultimate lack of depth. Veterans of the original early 1990s Mana series ought to be pleased by the brand's return to form, however, albeit without Secret of Mana's vast scope.

As for everyone else, the combination of beautiful sprite graphics, well designed monsters, multiplayer support and customisation options make this one game well worth breaking down the door of your local game dungeon to claim.
Children of Mana
Reviewer photo
Jon Jordan | 20 November 2006
Children of Mana brings intelligence and charm into the realm of dungeon-based button bashing
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