Well since the next Final Fantasy Tactics installment for a Nintendo handheld is a long ways off it’s time for Square-Enix to take another franchise and give it a strategy treatment. Though I must say I’m intrigued by Heroes of Mana, mostly because of what they got right here is a definite improvement for the Mana series and it’s a fairly solid game. The story of political shadiness and dealings is fairly solid even if a tad cliché. The game looks and sounds pretty good and really captures the feel of the old school Mana titles (Seiken Densetsu, not stuff like Legend of Mana). There are just a lot of little things to mar the experience here, but this game is definitely one that deserves at the very least a rental.
Heroes of Mana has a very generic political story going for it and it’s about the nation of Pedda that has just sent of a scouting party which consists of a few mercenaries including Roget, the main character. After heading out for a scouting mission to report on the Beastmen, Roget finds that his home country is on the attack and is looking to take over the world, with the powerful General Baxilios leading the charge with the mysterious Black Mirror as a source of power. Along the way you’ll recruit new members to the party and meet others who pull some very typical maneuvers that you’ll see coming a mile away. Truth be told this story doesn’t seem too far off from Final Fantasy Tactics, minus all the crazy religious nonsense that started to pop-up in FFT.
I’m not far off in saying that the game play is reminiscent of your old school RTS like good old Warcraft. You’ve got gatherer units that go and fetch the resources that you need to build your various unit producing buildings. Then there are the units that go out to fight. You’ve got heavy units which can rock a ranged unit but get trounced by a flying unit. And you’ve got a four way game of rock, paper, scissors, where one unit is strong against one but weak against another. Then you’ve got specialty units that don’t really have a physical distinction and they are just good for all around fighting and require a lot of units to take down. There are also hero units who pack more of a punch but you are limited to the amount you can take in to the start of battle. An interesting twist is that all your buildings come from your flying ship that can move about the battlefield and anchor at specific parts of the map, but if it takes too much damage then it’s going to bite the dust and your battle will come to an end.
Navigating the maps and interface is something of a mixed bag. For one thing once you’ve issued commands to another you have to make sure you cancel control of them otherwise you’re just going to move them to the wrong place. Also character pathing is pretty weak, where sometimes your units will take a very roundabout path to reach their destination, and once they get there they don’t always perform the command that you set them out to do. Even when you have them track an enemy sometime they will simply follow them and when they get there they don’t do anything. More often than not you are following one unit around to make sure it performs the action you told it to do, while you wind up neglecting another part of the battlefield which will often be the harbinger of doom for the adventure.
Old school RTS is also the route the graphics travel. You’ve got 2-D sprites that have a little detail from them but overall the sprites are small. The 3-D tiered maps look pretty good but the contrasting 2-D sprites make them look kind of weak in comparison. Character art is of the typical world of Mana style with a whole lot of color and character detail. Audio is a little simplistic and really sounds like early GBA audio, which really does not help the cause here.
Heroes of Mana is taking steps to rectify the mess that has become the World of Mana. There are a lot of good things to like here, for instance the story, and the overall design behind battle, but there are some nagging issues like the character pathing and balance that keep this from being a winning title. The Wi-fi multiplayer is some fun stuff if you have a friend with a copy so be sure to give it a shot. Otherwise, give this one a rental.
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