|System: PS2||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Square Enix||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Square Enix||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: May 22, 2007||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Matthew Walker
June 1, 2007 - RPGs seem to be the genre that has produced the most titles so far this year. While some have been great so far, others have been a little lackluster in their delivery. The ones that have not exactly delivered are the ones that have such a huge fan following to begin with that they excluded the casual new gamer who might be interested in joining the sometimes exclusive club of "RPG fan." Square Enix is somewhat known for delivering titles that fall in this classification. When possible new fans see the number attached they become a little intimidated by what they might have missed. With their latest release, Dawn of Mana, there is no number and new fans have the opportunity to jump on board to experience a beloved series without feeling the effects of a huge number. However, should they be all that excited?
Dawn of Mana will actually take place before the fabled NES classic Secret of Mana. Using "Dawn" to represent the beginning of something aspect, this title is wide open for the acceptance of new fans, as well as those who have followed the series from the beginning. The story of the game will take place over a prologue and eight chapters that are told by a group of gathered spirits you meet throughout the game. This is a tale about how a young boy named Keldy comes to possess the Sword of Mana and a young tree maiden, Ritzia, becomes the Goddess of Mana. It tells the tale of how the land of Illusia was invaded by Lorimar and his golem soldiers. It is Lorimar's intent to unlock the power of the Tree of Mana in order to open a secret door to a realm of darkness to blanket the entire world in evil. So far, everything seems to be going well as far as Dawn of Mana living up to high standard of a gaming experience that Square Enix has built for themselves and their vast library of RPG titles. Unfortunately, a game, especially an RPG, cannot survive on just story alone.
During the prologue of the game, you will quickly discover how the mechanics and overall gameplay will be throughout the game. You start out by exploring an area near your village, in search of Ritzia's crazy pet/friend that looks like a certain Pokémon without a body. With a giant stick, do not worry you will only have the stick for this and part of the next chapter; you will attack and defeat some of the cutest enemies I personally have ever seen in an RPG, or any other game for that matter. There are a few different ways to defeat them though. You can charge headfirst into the fray striking at anything that moves or you can use the interactive environment for objects to stun your enemies before you attack them. I think I had a little too much fun sending giant boulders rolling over cutesy animals before moving on. There are advantages to using both methods. However, using the items is probably the best, so it is important to master this capability early on, since it will become vital later on. After you stun an enemy, you are free to attack them as rapidly as you can. Doing so will cause your assailant to drop coins that represent HP, MP, and a few other various attributes for our hero.
The gameplay changes slightly once Keldy's right arm is implanted with a seed from the Tree of Mana itself. Now, instead of a stick, you have an interesting, amazing sword that somewhat resembles a paintbrush. Your attacks become slightly stronger, but there are two specific draws to the addition of the new weapon. One is the ability to use a slingshot system in order to fire pebbles at out of reach enemies. There is a locking mechanism for the "slingshot," however, you will quickly revert to a manual aiming system due to the lack of precision in the auto target system. Another unique ability that you gain will be the ability to use a vine like whip in order to grab enemies and objects to toss them around into other objects or enemies to stun certain enemies. All cool interesting concepts of a game that is as vast in size as an RPG. Keldy easily executes the combat, with straightforward controls easily meshing with the action-oriented side of RPGs that seems to be replacing the way we used to play our immersive games.
Unfortunately, there are problems with Dawn of Mana that could be viewed as detrimental. Most notable will be the fact that each chapter will start you off at square one. Yeah, you heard right. Each chapter of the game begins with you at level one and you have to build Keldy up during the chapter in order to stand a chance with quite a few of the enemies later in the game. While this does increase the difficulty of the game, it relies too heavily on players using the environmental objects to begin the throw down with their enemies, which becomes stale after a while. The other problem that I have is the map, or radar, of the game that is at the top right hand side of your screen. Instead of giving you a rough layout of your surroundings, you will see a mess of dots hanging around in giant clusters. This would be fine and well, except for the fact that generally most all of the dots are blue and you can't tell where the items and enemies are - it becomes yet another let down in the title.
As to be expected, the graphics are pristine. After all, this is a Square Enix game, the company that quickly became known for the hyper realistic computer graphics, so what else did you expect? Keldy's bright colorful textures blend into environments that look like an artist's color pallet has exploded onto a vibrant, colorful world. As I said earlier, the enemies are even brightly captured and, if they were not trying to kill me, I would probably want to make them my pet. Just like the graphics, the score of the game should come as no surprise as being eloquent in the truest sense of the word. Though I do have to point one thing out - a few points of the score resemble some of Square Enix's high profile game series, Final Fantasy. The voice-acting is also handled really well. There really was no point when the characters spoke that I wanted to turn down the volume on my television. So, that was a good thing.
Dawn of Mana has several things going for it that are good - a solid story, a quick and easy to learn melee attack system, graphics that please the senses, a score to please the soul, and voice acting that doesn't cause you ears to bleed - quite a few in the grand scheme of things. I think that when you have all of those things going for you in a game and you face the problems of a shoddy map and constant reset of your character's level, this aspect could still easily turn off even a hardcore fan. However, when a game branches out from what they know, there will be stepping-stones that have to be taken. Now we have our first stepping-stone, at least it's not set in quick-sand. Let's see what happens with the next one.
CCC Freelance Writer