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Dawn of Mana
Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Genre: Action RPG
Format: DVD-ROM
Release: US 05/22/07
Japan 12/21/06
Official Website: English Site



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They just have the munchies. Really bad.
 
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You, too, can be a cowboy.
 
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Ooh, shiny.
 
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Could it be... the Mana tree?
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Dennis Rubinshteyn
Hands-On Preview
05/04/07
Dennis Rubinshteyn

The Seiken Densetsu (Mana) series was at its peak during the SNES era with Seiken Densetsu 2 (Secret of Mana for US gamers) and Seiken Densetsu 3 (unreleased in the US). Since than, the series has been branched into a lot of spin-offs with developers tweaking the gameplay mechanics. The results is that each game is a mixed bag, as are the critics' ratings. Over a decade later, Seiken Densetsu 4 was released in Japan on December 2006. On May 22, it will be released in the states as Dawn of Mana.

As the name implies, the plot of Dawn of Mana is a prequel to all the other Mana games. The 8 mana spirits gather together and foretell a story of events to occur. There are 4 major countries with an ocean separating them. Within the ocean contains the holy island of Illusia where the tree folk live. There we meet the main character Keldric (sometimes called Keldy) and his friend Ritzia, the tree maiden. It was a pleasant day when Ritzia's Rabite pet runs off to the forest and Keldric tries to capture him. This serves as a tutorial for the game's mechanics. Afterwards, they spot Lorimar entering a cavern where the sleeping Mana Tree and guardian beast lie dormant. The two went after them, but little do they know, this string of events will affect the entire world.

This is the first Mana game to ascend to full 3D, and to no surprise, Square Enix did a great job on making the 3D Mana world crisp and vibrant with a lot of imagination on the character and environment designs. The game features many cut scenes, and occasionally, a beautiful, lengthy CG movie will occur during some key moments in the story.

Like the graphics, the music department is top-notch, perhaps the best in the series to date. The main composers are Kenji Ito, who did a lot of the soft enchanting songs, and Tsuyoshi Sekito, who was the man behind a lot of the more edgy, sinister songs present during most cut scenes and boss fights. Other composers are involved as they did brand new arrangements of several songs used in past Mana games. Along with solid music is a solid English dub featuring full voice acting.

As usual, the game is an Action RPG, but with a few twists to it. The game is linear, using a stage-based structure on every chapter. You go through a huge map and fight lots of enemies; then, at the end of the stage, you fight a boss. The level structure is unusual too. There is a level for Keldric's weapon, HP and MP with a level cap of three or four. With the exception of HP, Gaining a level earns new abilities and the power up to the weapon or magic. The only way to level up is to earn medals by defeating enemies in a certain condition. Due to this obscure level structure, one that could be abused if it were cumulative, your level resets to 1 at the beginning of every chapter.

You earn medals by getting an enemy dizzy by either ramming objects onto enemies or throwing an enemy onto an object or another enemy. They will be dizzy for a duration and each hit during their dizzy state would make them drop medals and lucre (the game's currency). The game uses a havoc psychics engine to make the environment a lot more interactive, thus the majority of objects lying around can be used to make foes lose focus.

Keldric obtains a unique weapon in the game. It's a sword that can unleash a hook to grab objects or enemies to pull or throw them. The weapon is also capable of shooting projectile attacks. Pebbles are unlimited, and once in a while, you may stumble upon an elemental bullet. It's used mainly to dizzy enemies who are weak to certain element(s) and to cause status effects.

At the end of each chapter, you will be ranked on each category, then will be given an overall rank. Occasionally, if you fulfill certain a certain condition throughout the game, you earn emblems which serve as a permanent power-up. You can equip up to three emblems during a chapter. The conditions can be something simple (such as collecting a certain amount of medals) or difficult (like pulling off a few S-ranks).

Outside of the main game is arena combat, unlocked later on. It consists of levels where you have to defeat all enemies in certain conditions and under a time limit. There is also a shop where you can spend your hard-earned lucre on pets (which I barely tried), emblems, and some unlockable content like music or move clips.

With solid graphics, excellent composition and interesting gameplay ideas, Dawn of Mana has the potential to be a solid title. Expect the game's release in stores later this month, and our full review accompanying said release.



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© 2007 Square Enix, Inc.
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