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DS  header logo

Heroes of Mana

For: DS

Bright tactics, bad map reading

Product: Heroes of Mana | Developer: Brownie Brown | Publisher: Square Enix | Format: DS | Genre: RPG, Strategy | Players: 1-2 | Networking: wireless (adhoc), wireless (network) | Version: US
 
Heroes of Mana DS, thumbnail 1
We all remember the military strategy of the Grand Old Duke of York. Up the hill went his 10,000 men. Then down the hill went the valiant 10,000. The assumption is the Duke didn't fully understand the advantage of height when it came to engaging ranks of horsemen and heavy foot soldiers with a smaller, more mobile force.

Still, we're sure he was very impressed by the sight of his army marching around the place. They probably looked splendid in their jolly red tunics and polished buttons. Well, until the Napoleonic opposition cut them all down.

It's the sort of cautionary tale Heroes of Mana developer Brownie Brown should have considered when making its DS real-time strategy game.

The omens were so positive. Heroes of Mana is one grandiose adventure, set in the fantasy world of Fa'Diel, where 12 warriors wielding the powers of the Goddess of Mana have to halt an evil bid for world domination. They do this through epic real-time battles in which you control the heroes and dozens of units under their command.

Your base during these battles is a mobile airship you can move around the map and which enables you to create new units – assuming you have enough gaia stones and treant berries, the game's two resources. Spending these, you can create five types of units: ground, heavy, missile, flying, and specials.

A balance of power keeps each unit type in check; for instance, ground units are weak against heavy units, whereas missile units are strong against heavy units. Special units exist outside of this chain, offering unique abilities such as scouting or resource collection.

As you'd imagine, much of the strategy in playing Heroes of Mana involves selecting the right units to contend with specific enemies. It's a simple enough system to jump into, but provides depth for an extended challenge, too. Winning battles requires a combination of quick resource harvesting, strategic use of units on the battlefield, and skill in moving them about the map.

But the fundamental issue we have with this beautifully crafted game is that it's almost fatally let down by too much aimless marching around when it comes to combat – much like the Grand Old Duke, then.

Technically put, the flaw revolves around the path-finding, which is the process by which the game's artificial intelligent tells the various units how to travel from one point on the map to another. The problem is any obstruction in a unit's path will either stop it in its tracks or result in it finding another, more roundabout way to its destination. These detours often involve traversing the entire map, sometime doubling the travel time and usually placing the unit in harm's way along the way.

Exacerbating this fact is that even groups of friendly units won't clear a path for allies attempting to pass through to a specific location. As a result, your units often end up stalling and you're forced to waste time escorting them to their final destination. Having to nanny your troops every step of the way through the game is annoying and detracts from the experience.

Yet, Heroes of Mana isn't a total wash-out. For one thing, its touchscreen control method seems likely to be copied by future DS strategy games. The units you create all have a small icon that's shown on the bottom of the touchscreen and you can tap them directly to select a specific unit or all of a certain type of unit. Alternatively, groups can be created using the rope icon, which pauses the action and enables you to draw a loop around the units you wish to control. It's a remarkably intuitive selection process that makes it possible to handle dozens of units simultaneously.

And if you can bear the decidedly questionable path-finding, there's a load of gameplay to be had here, with 28 missions in the main campaign alone. In addition, there are over 40 standalone single-player maps, plus head-to-head adhoc multiplayer matches and a Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection battle rankings system that's updated on a weekly basis if you play through the single-player missions.

On another level, like most Square Enix titles, Heroes of Mana also boasts superb presentation. The visuals are top-notch – whether it's the rendered cut-scenes, the cute little sprites milling about during a mission, or the gorgeous artwork used to represent characters during dialogue.

Complementing the graphics is an equally enjoyable soundtrack. As a package, it would be hard to argue against Heroes of Mana being one of the best looking and sounding games yet on DS.

But is the beauty of the game enough to counter the path-finding issues dogging Heroes of Mana? The reality is that, probably for all but the totally fanatical strategy gamer, this will be a disappointing experience. Those with the patience to personally direct their units up and down hill and over vale, however, will certainly be compensated by the great control method, the depth of strategy, and numerous gameplay options.
 
Heroes of Mana
Reviewer photo
Tracy Erickson | 31 August 2007
Simultaneously brilliant yet deeply flawed, Heroes of Mana brings novelty to DS strategy gaming. If only the path-finding was up to the standard of the rest of the game, this would be essential
 
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