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Children of Mana (Nintendo DS)

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3.6
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Written by  :  Joshua J. Slone (4618)
Written on  :  Jun 08, 2007
Rating  :  3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars

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Summary

Dungeon Crawl of Mana

The Good

This game is centered around battling, so it's a good thing that its battle controls are among the best a Mana game has seen. L pauses the action to allow you to choose which healing item is active, while R pauses the action to let you choose between weapons. Y is used to activate the healing item, while A and X are used for weapons. In past Mana games you might have needed to switch back and forth between weapons at times, but since you're able to have two active of four total at any time, it's very convenient. B is used for magic; once the elemental has arrived, you either walk into it for the defensive purpose, or it goes into its offensive use. Select activates Fury if you've filled it up, allowing you to attack more quickly and use special attacks.

It's worth dragging into a second paragraph that the battling is really fun. I frequently stay away from dungeon crawl games, since the battle system is often uninspired, with leveling up and rare items being the reason you're supposed to keep playing. Mana fighting is fun, though, and it's done well here. There are some things that seem simplified for sake of a multiplayer experience with less pauses, but it mostly works. Something new to the series is a sort of ricochet system, where an enemy can be knocked around by another item or enemy and take damage. The effect can cascade, so it's a hoot to smack a block into a crowd of enemies and watch them bouncing around taking minor damage.

As long as you enjoy battling, the game gives you plenty of excuses to. The first time you go to a new area, it will be for story reasons. Past that, chatting with people in your home town of Illusia may get them to request you take on a mission for them. If you want even more, there's Dud Services in town where for a fee you can take randomly generated quests for more goodies. Whether it's the townspeoples' requests or a job from the dudbears, these sidequests play out very much like your first trip through a dungeon, though with no boss and perhaps there will be a different number of randomly generated zones. You can even replay each dungeon as if it were the first time, using a "space-time distortion" as the game says.

The gem system is pretty cool. You get a gem frame, which starts off at a 2x2 size, but as the game progresses you may expand up to a 4x4 size. Within the frame you place gems that you find, buy, or fuse together from other gems. Gems will have various sizes and properties, though usually the better it is the more spots it will take up. Perhaps a game will increase your attack stat. Perhaps it will automatically use a status-healing item when necessary. Perhaps it will add an extra effect to your sword attack. This is the key piece of character customization in the game, and it's done well.

I wish I could put multiplayer here, but not having been able to try it I can only postulate. Battling is funner with friends, and I imagine the same is true here. I can't say, though, how hassle-free the process is, or whether there are any goofy limitations to be aware of as with the multiplayer in .

The Bad

The game is centered around battling. If you just took a look over some screens, you might think it looks like a regular Mana game, but there's no traveling from town to town or exploring an overworld that connects them here. You've got the one town of Illusia, and leaving the town brings you to a map from which you choose a destination, taking you immediately to a dungeon. More a bad thing if you're a previous fan of the series and come in with certain expectations.

Being centered around battling, there's no focus on interesting dungeon layouts or puzzles, just a series of zones to work through. On each zone there are two things you need to find: the gleamdrop (egg-shaped item) and the gleamwell (glowing spot on the floor). It tells you the requirements to find each. Sometimes the gleamdrop will be hidden in a chest or require you to defeat all the enemies; if the gleamwell is hidden it's usually under some larger destroyable object. As you go deeper through the zones the enemy selection becomes tougher. Every four zones you have a chance to change your equipment and save. It's a series of increasingly tough challenges through a single tileset, rather than a truly interestingly designed dungeon.

Though I mentioned in The Good that I liked the control/battle setup, there is one notable downgrade from previous games in that you can only bring spells from one elemental with you at a time. There's no ring system to switch between them, instead you can only switch them while in town. This also means there are no areas where by design one certain element is very crucial, so really magic is made not very important. Most of the time I stuck with Wisp so I could have access to the healing spell. Perhaps this would be more interesting in multiplayer, where different players could bring different elementals with them.

Other than the gem system, character evolution is very flat. At the beginning of the game you pick one of four characters and a color scheme for them, but from then on stat and item upgrades are pretty boring. No choosing to enhance one stat more than another at each level. No making a class choice at certain point. Not even finding different weapons with different special abilities. When you find a sword, it's just like every other sword, but with a different strength rating and level requirement. It just feels like a part of leveling up that you have to bother finding/buying and equipping.

The game feels very multiplayer oriented. Which I want to say is a good thing, since it's something Mana games from the past decade haven't been very good at. However, the plain fact is that as with most games that are too complex for a single-card multiplayer mode, odds are you'll be playing by yourself unless you hang out with many people who buy all the same games you do.

I knew going in that this game had a heavy multiplayer component, but what I wasn't expecting was that this meant I'd be playing solo with no computer-controller assistants throughout the entire game. That's first for the Mana series. No aiding a computer ally or vice-versa. No combining different strengths to be more effective. It's a real shame. Of the four character, three seem like they were directly aping qualities of the three leads from Secret of Mana, so it would've been nice to have them working together.

There's really not a whole lot to this game. Outside of town there aren't even 10 dungeons. Having gone through most of them several times due to sidequests and Dudbear jobs, my game time barely snuck past 20 hours.

The Bottom Line

Is it a Mana game with lacking dungeons and single-player? Is it a dungeon crawl with limited customization and no incentive to search for loot? It's got the basics from both sides of its heritage, but doesn't satisfy as much as the games it's inspired by.