Bastard Children of Mana

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I told Ryan Wilson (thef1sh) that I didn’t want to use profanity on this site, in case it ever comes back to haunt me, but I made an exception for this topic.

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Children of Mana for the DS sucks to high heaven. That’s really all I have to say.

Still here? Fine, I’ll continue. Remember Secret of Mana for SNES? Remember how good that game was? How it was part hack-and-slash, part RPG, part glorious co-op adventure? (Three players at once? Hell yes!) Remember how intriguing and original the story was? Remember the characters, with their well-motivated actions and rich lives? (Remember Rabite-Man? Rabite-Man was hilarious!) Well nothing of the sort is in Children of Mana.

There is, however, a sword.

I should really stop buying games before I read the reviews, but I found this one used at a game store for $15. Since I don’t have an iPhone or anything comparably cool, I couldn’t instantaneously check this one out, but I figured, “It’s a Mana game, how bad could it be?”

Really, really bad, as it turns out.

Even if I had read the reviews I probably would have bought it anyway. IGN gave this game an 8/10, what the consider “impressive.” The only thing impressive about this game is that anyone actually bothered finishing it for a review. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why it got such a good review, the first 5 hours of game play are 8-worthy, and the screen shots on the site don’t go any further than I got with 10 hours, maybe the reviewer simply didn’t play the whole way through.

The problem with Children of Mana is that the only difference between level 1 and level 8 (“chapter 1 and 8” whatever) is the fucking background!!! Admittedly, the backgrounds are very pretty, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that no matter what the background looks like, the game never changes! You just kill things with your sword and the flail! The bow and hammer are bullshit! The magic is useless! The bosses are WAY too easily defeated! There is NO COHERENT STORY!

Shit!

Here is Children of Mana in a nutshell:

You get to choose from 4 characters. You start by choosing one of 4 characters. There’s Ferrick, the standard guy-with-a-sword character. Tamber, she’s got a bow and nice legs. Poppen, the nine-year-old magic-user currently being sued by Pippen of the Shire. Finally there’s Wanderer… he’s a niccolo, like Niko from Secret… and his name is fucking WANDERER!!! Why not EXPLORER or ADVENTURER or RAMBLER!?!? Or how about an actually name!?!?

Okay, so you pick a character, then it’s time to customize! Would you like blue hair or green hair. Is your hat red, or yellow? This has no effect on the game whatsoever, but if you’re going to play a shity game, you might as well be allowed to pick your character’s hair color.

So you’ve got your character and your preferred color scheme, time to rock some Mana. Well, Tess, this chick from town, went to the Mana tower to pray, and she hasn’t come back yet, so go check that shit out. This is where the “game” part of the game begins.

I’m having a hard time continuing. I can’t believe they based an entire game on this concept. This is from the instruction booklet:
“You will advance through dungeons one zone at a time. You can move from one zone to the next by placing the gleam drop into the gleam well, both of which are often hidden in every zone. Use the hints on the lower screen to find them.”

Okay, let me explain this. A “gleam drop” is a rock. A “gleam well” is a hole in the ground. You have to find the rock and put it in the hole. With the exception of a few bosses, that is the ENTIRE GAME! You find a rock, you put it in a hole. Then you find another rock and put it in another hole. Rock. Hole. Rock. Hole. Rock. Hole. Rockholerockholerockholerockholerockhole… you do this approximately 300 times and you win!

This is a rock

Sometimes the rock is in a treasure chest. Other times, it’s merely hidden in a pot or some overgrown weeds. Other times you have to kill a certain enemy, or all of the enemies in a zone, and then the enemy will drop the rock. The hole is also sometimes hidden by things, though never enemies. After you get the hammer, you usually have to smash something to find the hole.

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It’s just rocks and holes for 20 hours. You can’t even fly through the game because without the experience you gain in side-quests, you end up getting your ass handed to you by the third dungeon. But the side-quests are just more rocks and holes! What were they thinking when they came up with this concept?!?!

The 8 magic spirits from Secret of Mana are there, but you don’t really need them unless you choose to play as Poppen, in which case you’re nine-years-old and can barely lift your sword, let alone use it. The spirits only have two spells each and you can only take one spirit with you at a time, so your entire magical arsenal at any moment consists of two spells. Fucking brilliant.

There’s a multi-player mode, up to four players, but unlike most DS games, every player needs to own their own copy of the game. Even if you had three friends stupid enough to own this game, the only thing teaming up gives you is experience points, you can’t save in multiplayer mode, so essentially you’re playing for the “fun” of it.

Another thing. Sometimes you’ll come across a floating bail of hay that blocks your way. You can’t get around it unless you knock something in it’s way or hack at it for 5 minutes (that’s not an exaggeration, it takes 5 minutes to destroy the floating hay bails). What is the purpose of these hay bails? Where did they come from? Are they enemies? They can’t hurt you, they just prevent you from moving forward. WTF?!?!

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Now the story: I didn’t finish the game. After wasting 10 hours of my life on this piece of garbage I had a profound revelation: I didn’t care at all how the game ended. The villain of the game, The Mana Lord, was trying to destroy the world. Just cuz. The voices in his head told him that that’s what God (The Mana Godess, actually) wanted. At one point in the game, your Mana Sword turns on you. Just cuz. It started to think you were boring, wanted to try evil for a while. None of the supporting characters seem to know anything about anything, so you just pick up rocks and put them in holes hoping to be enlightened, but it never happens. When I quit playing, the Mana Lord had just abducted Tess. Just cuz. No explanation. That’s when I realized I didn’t care anymore. The Mana Lord could have been planning to grind her up and serve her to the citizens of Mana Village in a meatloaf, and I still wouldn’t feel like putting another rock in a hole to prevent it (I’m sure it doesn’t come to that, the game is rated E10+).

Children of Mana sucks.

I think I might have learned my lesson this time. Gibbo recently wrote about the abuse Sonic has been suffering at the hands of Sega. The Sonic games, once revolutionary, now suck. Mana seems to be suffering the same fate. Secret of Mana, an amazing game, was followed up by Secret of Evermore, a pretty good game (Seiken Densetsu 3 was a bit better, though never officially released State-side, or anywhere besides Japan for that matter). When the series left the SNES, the titles started getting progressively worse. Legend of Mana for PS1 was alright, Sword of Mana for GBA, while feeling more like Secret, was a bit worse overall than Legend, Dawn of Mana for PS2 was just garbage, but at least tried to be innovative. Children of Mana is the gaming equivalent of throwing up in a bowl, putting it in the fridge overnight, reheating it the next day, and calling it stew. I hope the creators now work at a Japanese McDonalds.

Franchise loyalty is for fools. The only series that has yet to disappoint me is Mario. Now it’s true that there are far too many Mario Party games. And it is true that Yoshi’s Story was too short and essentially the same game as Yoshi’s Island. It is also true that Luigi’s Mansion was kind of blah. Outside of these minor exceptions, I can’t think of a Mario game I haven’t fully enjoyed. Paper Mario, the Mario and Luigi RPGs, Dr. Mario, Mario Kart, it’s like even when Mario shits on a plate it tastes like fudge.

I wish I could say the same for Children of Mana, which, if you’ve forgotten, sucks.

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