Dawn of Mana
PlayStation 2
Reviewed: 08/28/2007

Dictionary.com defines “Dawn” as “the beginning or rise of anything; advent.” This makes sense in the context that Dawn of Mana‘s story takes place before that of any other Mana games. However, those of us familiar with the series know that the game really began, and was defined by, the SNES game Secret of Mana. In this context, a better fitting title would have been “Tedious Experience That Bears Little Resemblance Whatsoever to Mana.” Make no mistake about it, this game is rather well-polished, but that doesn’t change the fact that playing this game is a terrible experience… and that’s not even considering a comparison to Secret of Mana.

The story in Dawn of Mana revolves around a boy named Keldric (nickname Keldy) who has to rescue some chick a lot while dealing with an invading army that uses golems as its front liners of choice. The job of heroic savior is made a little easier when the Mana Tree’s seed impregnates Keldy’s arm with the ability to form a blade, a slingshot, and/or a vine. Keldy is also helped out by the eight elementals and a spirit named Faye that can cast helpful magic in between annoying the player with its Navi-esque talking. Although it has a twist specific to the Mana universe, we’ve seen this story at least a dozen times. An eight-year-old meth addict high on cocaine while suffering from seizures will still have the brain capacity to see where this story is going. Those who’ve played a game in the Mana series before will realize the story is more cookie cutter of the genre than textbook of the series itself.

Screen Shot
Such a beautiful game…

Not everyone plays an RPG for the story though; gameplay is also a huge factor. Unfortunately for this crowd, Dawn of Mana does not delivery in this area either. Controls are about as responsive as a deaf-mute in a spelling bee. The programmers obviously didn’t truly understand the Havoc system – the same system found in Half-Life 2 – when creating this game. It sounds awesome, using a vine to move pretty much anything and flinging it at enemies. However, you’ll never master it, because you’ll be fighting the sluggish controls. You’ll be pressing buttons and noticing a moment, however swift, before what you want to do actually happens. You’ll spend more time cursing the haphazard way the controls respond than actually getting anywhere in the game.

This game claims to be playable by two players. Do not be decieved by this bunk! The second player can control the fairy, which means that player can choose which spells to cast when. This is far removed from the original Secret of Mana‘s full two player compatibility. The second player can’t control the movement of the fairy, and outside of casting magic the first player could already cast, can offer nothing to help in battle.

Every chapter, which is broken into a number of subsections, Keldy’s abilities are reset to his basic uselessness. To get back into being a lean mean killing machine, the player gets to grind his way up on beasts he has killed umpteen times before. This makes the beginning of each chapter tediously repetitive. Players can get around this limitation in part by acquiring pets to fight alongside them and in part by acquiring emblems to boost their stats, but most of these features aren’t available until later in the game and even then winning them takes a maddening amount of game play.

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…until you start to play it. Just one of many cluttered moments.

In theory, one gains bonuses in Dawn of Mana in a merely convoluted process: use the vine weapon to grab something in the environment, throw that item at the enemy to startle them, run up to them and start smacking them with the sword until they either die or need to be restartled again, enjoy delicious stat-upgrade tokens. In reality, the player grabs an item with the vine, struggles to get it in a position where they can throw it at the monster, finally gets the item in a position that seems like it will work, is surprised when the thrown item doesn’t quite work as well as expected, goes for ANOTHER item because the creature isn’t surpriseds, struggles with the new object while trying not to get hit by the monster(s) that are now onto the player, eventually startles the beast, and then tries to attack it all while fighting the camera.

You’d think that in the year 2007 there wouldn’t be crappy cameras in video games, but Square Enix proves us wrong yet again. This camera is something like the one in Kingdom Hearts, only much closer to the main character, which makes the game feel at some parts unplayable. Want to do some jumping, which this game has a lot of? Have fun doing it while fighting the camera. Want an epic boss fight? Get ready to fight the camera!

While the game offers much to dislike, it is very beautiful and captures the look of the Mana series perfectly in three dimensions. In fact, the opening scene itself is very reminiscent of the original Secret of Mana game. The colors are bright and vivid, and the monsters prominent in the series are everything they’d be expected to be. The music is also very respectable, showing the talent of Ruichi Sakamoto and Kenji Ito. The music is easily better than the graphics, however, because one isn’t fighting the camera to listen to it.

Overall, this game looks pretty, but is a few steps from being unplayable. The game is short for the genre, being beaten in the first difficulty in about 15 hours (thank God). It does offer multiple difficulty modes and a grading system so that players can strive to be better, which adds to the replayability…but why bother? Those that believe they might enjoy this game are heavily warned to rent it first. Save your money for the sound track and listen to it while viewing screenshots.

-Tim Olsen

Score Breakdown
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Horrible
Story Bad
Graphics Very Good
Sound/Music Great
Replay Value Below Average
The Verdict: 3