The “World of Mana” has finally found its way to the PS2, albeit a little late in the PS2 life cycle. But console lifespan be damned if SquareEnix didn’t try to squeak out one last hit before feeling the need to move on to other consoles. In what looks to be their final PS2 offering we have Dawn of Mana, a sort of precursor if you will that reveals the origin to the legend of the Mana Tree and the Sword of Mana. We were given a little hands-on time with a recent build of the game, and have felt it only fair to share with you in our adventures.
From the outset of the game it looks very clean and beautiful. The PS2 is taxed with a soft lighting system that has the world looking very colorful and vibrant, and this is all spread across a very large plane of view. I’ve got to hand it to SquareEnix, they make a beautiful game. Character models are also greatly detailed and have an excellent range of animation. It almost feels criminal to hurt some of the monsters in this game too. If you recall how cute some of the monsters in previous games looked with their cartoon-like design, you’ll be surprised to see how well the transition was made to 3-D. Even the Mana sprites of old look great in their new three dimensional skin.
You can tell from the outset that SquareEnix wanted something special for the music too, as they’ve tapped the talents of Grammy Award winning composer Ryuichi Sakamoto who provides Dawn of Mana’s ethereal opening theme. Series composer Kenji Ito also returns to the series and provides a wide variety of music that takes many wild turns over the course of just the two levels we had access to. Voice acting so far has been solid, though a few lines feel stilted and poorly delivered, but overall it is done well.
From what we could glean from the short time with the build, the story follows the tale of Keldric and Ritzia as they try to defend their homeland of Illusia, a holy island where the Mana Tree resides, from the evil clutches of the Lorimarian Army and their evil king Stroud. Just from his short cameos I hate him, and pretty much anyone would when dealing with someone who has such a misaligned look on the lives of others. Suffice to say, he’s an ass and his uppence will come.
Getting in to the juicy bits of game play I must say at this point I am torn. I want to accuse this game of playing too much like the first Kingdom Hearts title with its at times boring battle system. But it has a few interesting aspects that make me hold my tongue in favor of waiting for the game to really impress me. I must say that the game makes excellent use of the Havok physics engine. The world has a ton of movable objects and enemies that can be tossed around and beaten up in exchange for power ups. By hitting enemies with objects or other enemies you place a timer above their head. During this time they will drop items, and the higher the timer the better the items. These items range from medals that increase your HP, or attack power, or MP, to money and one time use items to regain health and magic points. There is no familiar ring-like menu screen which is kind of a downer because I loved that in the past. And currently the weapon selection feels very limited. You have a sword, a whip that is used to throw things around, and a slingshot that has different types of ammo that is given to you by the various Mana Sprites. Another gripe I have is that upon completing each level you are graded on various aspects, and once that is done, you lose all the medals you had collected for the level, which means HP, attack power, and MP and spells learned all reset to a base level on every stage. If the weapon system doesn’t shape up and offer up something more robust then I fear that a lot of people are not going to want to continue through a game that bumps then back down to level one after every stage, especially when the weapons are typically boring at their low levels and magic is severely limited.
Dawn of Mana will be available late May, and hopefully within that time they can fix a few of the grievances I put out there on the table. I know I cannot be the only one to feel this way. It would be a shame for such a beautiful game with an interesting story to fall victim to a shoddy design aspect. Here is to hoping. Check back with us later for a full review.