The World of Mana has certainly seen its ups and downs, actually it really had a high starting point and from there continuously rolled down the hole of mediocrity and Square Enix hasn’t really been able to do anything to bring it to a halt. And try as they might, Dawn of Mana can do nothing to stop the snowball effect that this series has suffered from. Each title seems to become more boring and tired than the last. For a game that is meant to bring us to the roots of the World of Mana it certainly fails to hold the interest that the first title did with its nameless hero, wacky princess, and sprite companion. Dawn of Mana really doesn’t seem like more than a late and pretty PS2 tech demo for the Havok physics engine.
Yeah, Dawn of Mana’s biggest draw is its use of the Havok physics engine. But this really ends up being a hindrance to the game play since it is used so heavily, it winds up making floaty jump physics that feel worse than the first Kingdom Hearts game and spotty collision detection when it comes to platforming. So when you’re not fighting the camera to get it to point to where you want to see, you’re struggling to land on platforms that you know are well within your range of skill. It rarely ever felt like it was my fault that I missed a jump. While it is fun to just toss stuff around with the vine whip you are given, it ultimately becomes the main focus of the game that you have to pay attention to. Even then it’s not terribly fun because the controls behind using the vine whip are shoddy at best. You’d think that you’d be able to toss things over your head, but no they will just fly in to you and hurt you.
Rather than just focusing on getting from Point A to Point B, you have to spend a good amount of time leveling up to make sure you are ready to take on the bosses for each stage. And this happens on every level. At the start your powers are all reduced to a base level, and you must fight enemies to regain the levels you held on the previous level. So rather than have a slow progression through the entire game, you are forced to start back at level one for each stage. This is slightly augmented by the fact that you can take medals in to each level. Medals are used to boost up your base stats per level, though you really don’t have much of an idea as to what those base stats are either. This game is really all about action with the RPG elements tossed in to make it feel more Mana-ish I guess.
Controls are a bit of a mixed bag; on the one hand combat is tight and easy to get the hang of but on the other hand it provides a ton of unnecessary complications. The problem is the shoddy target selection and camera controls. When using the slingshot or vine whip, the target selection is a pain to deal with, especially when there are a large number of enemies on the screen. Combat also suffers from a very obvious lack of variety. The game is a square button mash fest very much like Kingdom Hearts but minus all the flair that comes with that. So it gets boring and repetitive very early. The only thing that is there to attempt to shake things up is to use the objects around you to scare monsters by flinging things to and fro. Again because of the controls being as stiff and unforgiving as they are, you’ll wind up being aggravated by how many things you’ve got to throw around in order for enemies to enter their panicked state so that they will drop medals when hit. There are some gimmicks that show up when fighting bosses but they remain just that, gimmicks and are never further explored during game play.
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