There are some games that left an indefinite dent in my life. Games that I still adore even to this day. Warping back to my snes days, Secret of Mana is without a doubt one of these games. Squaresoft's first huge game in Europe, blending action-based gameplay with a toned-down kettle of stats for extra fun. The result was a blend of Zelda and Final Fantasy that changed my gaming habits.
So when I walked by its newest incarnation on the DS, there was no way in hell I could leave it on the shelves.
Children of Mana is one of those games that confirm the retro charm of the DS. In essence, it's a revamp of old gaming traditions and visuals. At first glance, the game resembles the snes version, it just looks a whole lot better. Like it or not, but I still stand by pixel-based graphics. The game looks lush and colorful, it remains visually appealing throughout its entire span and the level of detail given to the characters and their surroundings is excellent.
To top that, there are a few cinematic (anime) sequences that provide a nice breather between the numerous battles. Animation and character design are splendid, but what else did you expect from Production I.G. They are still one of the best anime production companies of Japan.
The gameplay itself hasn't changed much over the years, although the whole game is based more on dungeon crawling than before. The number of weapons and levels are reduced and the use of them is less based on preference and more on actual need to overcome certain obstacles. The magic system changed a fair bit, as you can only take one element with you and use its spell. This makes the game a tad more action oriented than before, as magic plays a smaller role in finishing up levels.
A nice addition is the inclusion of gems, which boost your stats or give your extra benefits. There a quite a few of them and a special shop lets you blend them to open up an even wider range of gems. You can lose a lot of time looking for the best combination to enforce your character.
The biggest change comes from the level design. The game has lost its A to Z adventure feel and uses a system where your hometown serves as a base camp for all adventures. The game has a clearer level structure than before, and after each level you return to your hometown to advance the plot and start looking for new levels.
Can't say I'm a big fan of this system, as I started missing the exploration of new towns and people after a while. Luckily, the game is quite big, features four main characters to choose from and offers lots of dungeons and a fair share of side quests. The linear feel of the game might put some people off but I consider it a plus. I know games have been evolving to give gamers more freedom but as I have little time to replay games this freedom often means I just miss parts of a game, which I hate.
Children of Mana is old-style action-rpg fun, nothing more and nothing less. The only real problem I had with it was the lack of adventuring but apart from that, it's a fun play with lots of moments of recognition for the fans of the series. Probably not one for the hardcore gamer but with 40+ hours of gameplay more than enough for the retrogamer with a tight schedule.