Dawn of Mana

Breaking Dawn

Dawn of Mana is an interesting experiment into a physics-based adventure game, but suffers from bigger issues than the combat.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: June 11, 2007
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There are going to be people out there that see the Mana part of Dawn of Mana and assume that it's a proper continuation of the Mana series. Don't. Oh, it's technically set in the same world, boasts familiar tunes and enemies as the previous games, but the downward trend that started after the series progressed from the 8- and 16-bit days of Final Fantasy Adventure and Secret of Mana is either continued here or started in a whole new direction, neither of which will be good news for Mana fans. No, the key here is to think of the game as something of a side experiment, but even without treating it like a proper Mana title, the outcome is still just as busted.

Let's just get out of the way what isn't the problem. It's not that somewhere along the way someone made the decision to ditch the familiar RPG elements of the series in favor of a weird medals and unlockables system that starts main hero Keldy over with each new chapter of the story. It's not even that the game makes extensive use of the Havok physics engine for everything from combat to puzzles. Both of these things will likely piss off fans that were told this would be the first proper sequel to the series since the SNES days, and while I'm certainly bummed that we didn't get a proper action RPG update in 3D, it's not really reason to boycott the game.

No, it's that despite offering both a mini-map and a little guide arrow whenever you stand around for a few seconds neither of them actually take into account elevation or the routes that need to be taken to get to the next objective, and it can lead to hours of running around, which of course destroys any chance of getting a good grade at the end of the level and subsequently new ribbons, which are the only permanent way of attaching up to three boosts like attack, health, range and so on to Keldy. This is what infuriated me about the game, not the admittedly ballsy move to ditch some of the very things that brought people into the series to begin with.

At least the basics are the same. Acting as something of a prequel to Secret of Mana, the SNES outing (and, by extension, all of the Mana games), Dawn of Mana starts with a handful of elemental spirits recounting a tale of Illusia, an island that houses the massive, dormant Mana Tree, and the sudden invasion of Lorimar, one of five continents that until now had enjoyed a tenuous peace with each other. Led by Stroud, Lorimar's army intends to wake the Tree and open the door to realm of Malvolia, thus destroying the world.

Of course, he needs a little help in the form of Ritzia, a cute little "Tree Maiden," someone who can listen to nature and other hippy-type things. Her BFF and could-be love interest, Keldy, isn't really down with someone else scooting in on his maybe special lady friend, and, with the help of a splinter from the Tree that gives him a whip to attack enemies and interact with objects in the world, as well as Faye, a sprite that can cast spells to support and heal Keldy, he aims to get her back. Thus begins a whole lot of confusing developments as both Keldy and the player are taken through his mysterious past (he washed up on shore and the tree folk adopted him), the future of Illusia and how he and Ritzia all fit into things.

It's actually not a bad story, and even the dialogue and cinematics teeter on the line of becoming campy but never quite fall off the edge. The result is characters that are at least endearing without being too sappy or cutesy (though Faye can push it at times). Keldy and Faye end up traipsing all over the place, and along the way they meet the same elemental spirits that are telling the whole story as something of a flashback. These spirits in turn offer these elemental goodies as pebbles Keldy can fire off with his slingshot to do everything from create a gravity well to light enemies on fire to put them to sleep. They actually work quite well, both in damaging enemies and inciting the core part of the game's combat and light upgrades system: panic.

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