Any gamer who’s old enough – or learned enough, regardless of age – has heard of Secret of Mana, one of the most impressive and singular RPGs in history. It contributed to a fantastic list of RPGs on the SNES back in the early ‘90s, and ever since then, fans of the engrossing team-based action/RPG have been yearning for a true sequel. Legend of Mana on the PS1 was a unique RPG with some of the best hand-drawn artistry ever, but it didn’t have anything to do with Secret, and the gameplay was different as well. But after long last, we’re finally getting a sequel to what has become one of the most sought-after cult classics around.
No, it’s not a joke.
Dawn of Mana, or Seiken Densetu 4 in Japan, will be the first direct sequel since those glorious SNES days. Well, actually, it’s a prequel, but given this positive news, let’s not argue semantics. After all, we’re getting another storyline that involves the Tree, Sword, and Goddess of Mana, and the origins of how everyday mortal humans came to possess magic. That concept alone should be enough to spark your interest, but for the sake of details and specificity, we’ll provide some other cool info, courtesy of the game’s unveiling at the Tokyo Game Show this year.
You play as the hero Eldy, and you’ll have a goodly cast of companions to assist you in your noble and fantastical endeavor. You’ll have a friendly fairy that acts as the magic force to combine with your physical ability, and each have their own set of statistics and abilities. Of course, as Eldy is using mostly physical attacks, he’ll have hit points while the fairy has mana points; by putting these two effective fighters together, you’ll have plenty of options in each and every battle. Even the Dual Shock will be put to the test. The left and right analog sticks are used for movement and camera, X jumps (you can double-jump, too!), Square attacks (aerial attacks included!), L1 blocks, L2 locks on to an enemy, R2 locks on to an item, R1 is for magic, Circle is for ranged attacks, and Triangle is for the whip. Get all that? Sounds like massive fun, doesn’t it?
Any spell in your inventory can be easily accessed by using the D-pad for selection and R1 for activation. However, there is a casting time involved, so you’ll have to take that into account when taking advantage of your fairy friend’s skills. But as the battle is in real-time, you can certainly evade and block if you’re in dire straits, awaiting that crucial healing spell. The demo at TGS showed off a variety of spells, but perhaps surprisingly, most of the ones on display were support-based; i.e., healing and buffing spells. There wasn’t much in the way of brutal attack spells, but we’re willing to bet they exist.
As outlined before, you’ll also be able to attack with ranged attacks, whips, and the like. The basic ranged attack, which you can utilize from the very start, involves a rock. Yeah, it’s only a simple and pretty boring projectile, but you have an unlimited number of them, and they can be tossed at any locked-on target, or you can even enter first-person mode for full control. As for other ranged attacks, they’re very similar to spells, as they’re elemental in nature. So instead of having fire, ice, and lightning “spells,” it seems you’ll have fire, ice, and lightning “attacks.”
In regards to that nifty whip, Eldy will be able to actually snag an enemy and immobilize it, thus allowing him to “whip” his foe all over the place, smashing the monster into walls and other solid objects. You can even use centrifugal force by dragging the enemy around in a circle and eventually launching it into the air at top speed, perhaps sending it flying into another group of enemies. Combine this with the other ranged attacks, the fairy’s magic, and the basic combat essentials, and you’re looking at what should be a fully realized battle mechanic.
Lastly, there is one neat-o tidbit we can’t forget to mention- panic. We’re always used to the typical braindead AI, where the enemies just keep stumbling after you even after you crush them with one devastating blow after another. However, if you use those special elemental attacks or the whip, the enemies in this game will freak right out. As they run around in circles, flailing their arms and desperately hoping you take mercy on them, you have the opportunity to do some serious damage. Why? Because when “panicked,” your attacks do twice the normal damage, and the enemy is more likely to drop awesome power-up items that directly impact your statistics.
As you might’ve expected, the days of hand-drawn environments are basically gone, so you can’t expect something like Legend of Mana. Still, this title looks awfully pretty, as we’ve seen everything from lush forest areas to dank, dark caves crawling with baddies. And besides, you’ll still be treated to those bright, vibrant, charming, and beautifully designed backdrops so often associated with the Mana series. There’s just something special about this style, and the screenshots we’ve seen thus far indicate that Square-Enix fully intends to maintain that style. Aw heck, it couldn’t be called part of the franchise if it didn’t have that look and feel.
In the end, Dawn of Mana looks like the very game Secret fans have anticipating for over a dozen years. It’s got the foundation, it’s gearing up to be a top-notch RPG from top to bottom, and best of all, it just might be very reminiscent of that old great SNES game. The only bad news is that they’re not including a co-op mode, which is probably a serious drawback for fans of the franchise. Well, nothing’s ever perfect. Be happy about this sequel...er, prequel, sorry. Just go away smiling; another Mana is on the way!
There is no official release date, but Square-Enix is aiming for March.
12/9/2006 Ben Dutka