Fri 18 Feb 2011
Children of Mana is one of the later Mana games, available for the DS. I am a big fan of the early Mana series, from Final Fantasy adventure up to Legend of Mana. I enjoyed each of those. However, the newer Mana games were shaky, ranging from dull dialogue to flawed gameplay. They still had their strong points, and I think they could have done well with some changes. The graphics were never a downside in the mana games. They are all very colorful and is probably the strongest area of the game. I have done a short playthrough again recently, which you can find here.
This was developed by Koichi Ishii. There was an interview in RPGamer about his ideas on the game. You can read the interview here, and I will reference some points later. I want to go over some of the ideas used in this game, what went well, what didn’t work well, and what we could get out of it. I don’t intend to do this in a review form, but more to examine specific points of it.
First off, I do not believe that a game must be done in the same way for a sequel. I enjoyed Legend of Mana despite how different it was to Secret of Mana. Seiken Densetsu 3 pulled off Secret of Mana really well. I am fine with some experimentation. However, I think some of the concepts here could have used some more thought or work into it. These are the systems I wanted to go with here: Quest system, Level design, Gem system, Elemental system, Rewards.
This idea was finally realized in Children of Mana, where several players can pursue the quest simultaneously. Different from theSword of Mana and Secret of Mana titles, Children of Mana features a branching story line with quests that can take you in different directions from the main story. -Koichi Ishii from the interview
This is primarily a Dungeon crawler, rather than a straight out Action RPG like Secret of Mana. No problem I say, games like Diablo (which this seems inspired from) do this and some people really enjoy them. If you have played my game Paradise Blue, you will know I like sidequests generally. I am also a fan of games such as Oblivion, Legend of Mana, and used to play Might and Magic VI back in the day. So no, I don’t have any problem with quests. However here, the “quests that can take you in different directions from the main story”, is rarely something meaningful. They are nearly all “weak explanation with random character you are unattached to” and then get reward. Admittedly, the rewards aren’t usually that bad, but that’s another for another section. You also have to pay to take a quest. Not very much, and I can sort of understand why it is done, but it was not my favorite mechanic. It did not alter my gaming experience significantly though, but it did lose out on some possibilities. There are not many NPCs, and you don’t need to talk to them. Instead of doing favors for them, and developing your relationships with them in the game, you just talk to dudbears and get quest from random no name.
EDIT- As I replayed the game, I remembered that there WERE quests like this. You have to chat with them at certain times and they may give you a quest. The millionaire for example, you’d get crud for a reward but the character will be visibly upset too and not trust him after. But still, the main source of quests is from Dudbears.
They decided the best way to accomplish this in the case of multiplayer would be to have the layout of dungeons automatically generated. This would give them the greatest playability and the greatest number of differences in the feeling of battle from session to session. -Koichi Ishii
Speaking of Random, the dungeons are randomly generated. I am rather against it in general, some people like it though. I prefer my levels to be hand crafted rather than generated. In this game, basically when you take on a quest, you will have to go through various “floors” (called zones) of an area to beat it. Unlike the more straightaway or exploratory paths of Secret of Mana and Seiken Densetsu 3, these are pretty much open areas. Only one way through it: Reach the objective for that zone (Usually killing an enemy, killing all enemies, or finding in a pot/treasure) then go to this certain point. So you will generally have to go around the whole floor anyway. Well it’s not even so much that it’s randomly generated, but later in the game, dungeons start being 12-16+ floors long. And then you know you’ll have to do it again sometime, and they end up feeling really repetitive. If you provided say 40 quests for the player, you could have had say 5 different variations for each area, all designed specifically so that you can go through them. Or have more types of areas too, so you don’t feel like you’re going through the same few. The game doesn’t necessarily need to be huge and have unlimited content, because frankly the repetitive nature of the randomized dungeons makes it feel dull instead. It is fine when it is 4 zones, but when it gets up to 16 or more, you reallly feel like you want it to end. I felt this was the biggest failing for me to enjoy this game.
Gem system. Here, you have a gem board for you to customize your character. Ideally, you would look at the types of gems you find (you can buy some but you’re better off just finding them), and then balance it our by their effects, your stats, what you intend to be using more, how much space they take up, and how much room you have. You start out with a 2×2 square, but will get upgrades as the game goes on. As you’ll be doing a lot of attacking in this game, a perfectly acceptable way to do this is to just stick in Strength+ gems and forget about it until you can upgrade. Or just keep inserting strength + gems as you get them until they’re all strength+ gems. It comes from the fact that you will do so much attacking as magic is an inefficient way to do damage.
You have 4 weapons to use, but only 2 magic spells. There are a total of 16, but they are all available to choose from when you’re in town, but you can only take 2 spells to a dungeon. An elemental attack spell, and a support spell. It is generally agreed upon that Lumina or Luna are the best, because of their healing spells. I tried once to go and pick another one, and I ended up just wasting items without getting a good use out of it. As this game seems Diablo inspired, I would perhaps line up the spells on the bottom and have the player either press a button/pause the game for a bit/then select the spell, or tap the box with the stylus as it’s a DS game to select it. Then I would make a shorter wait time for the spells, as MP is enough of a limiter already. Perhaps a cooldown period for each spell too. The problem with the current system became that there wasn’t much to use other than attack. You had a fair variety with the switchable weapons that each did their own thing, but magic seemed almost an afterthought.
Rewards were for me, a nice thing. You had a limited inventory, but you could increase it later. You were more limited by the amount you could carry of a certain item, rather than a total limitation. So you could find various drops around, and you’d appreciate it. Instead of having to spend the money for it, you can find a fair amount of loot from enemies, ranging anywhere from a few lucre to a new weapon/armor. Also, quests can give decent rewards too, like 1000 Lucre in the beginning of the game when you have about 200-300. While I didn’t particularly like doing quests, seeing the rewards made me feel like doing more of them. “Hmmm, 1000 more Lucre, then if I can get another 300, I can buy a new knapsack to carry 12 items instead of 8!”. The weapons/armor also had level restrictions. So instead of equipping the best one you find, you have to wait until you reach the level. Sort of like a prize then. The only thing is that finding a nice new sword likely meant you couldn’t use it for another 5 levels or so. They could have done stuff with the equipment as well such as a chance of Burning, raising mind as well, raising power of a certain spell type, things like that.
I’m sure I could go on even more, but I think I will stop it at here. I liked the concepts behind it. Koichi Ishii seemed to want to make this game an expansion of the Secret of Mana multiplayer (which was quite fun), but it ended up being very repetitive as a game. If you can pick the game up for cheap, you might still be entertained for a bit, but it could have been so much better. Combining Sword of Manas linear maps, Children of Manas weapon system, and Heroes of Manas story, and you could have had something very good! Or even create a mana game like the old Secret of Mana / Seiken Densetsu 3 ones, each time a new mana game came out, that’s what people were hoping for.