Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: May 22, 2007
Dawn of Mana opens a long time before any of the prior Mana games. Keldy and his friend, Ritzia, live in a small village in the middle of nowhere, said to be a sacred ground that is guarded by a mystical Guardian Beast. When an evil empire comes to the village, Keldy and Ritzia are accidentally entangled in their schemes when Keldy gets chosen as the "Seed Bearer" of the Mana Tree, turning his right arm into a mass of transforming vines in the shape of a sword. Naturally, this vine sword is the key to stopping the Empire's evil plot, and it is up to Keldy, with a little bit of help from his friends, to save the world from evil.
The sword is your primary weapon for most of the game. Formed from the vines growing on Keldy's arm, the sword's power is directly connected to Keldy's own. As you go through levels and defeat enemies, you receive status-boosting items that improve Keldy's health and attack power. Receive enough, and Keldy's vine-sword levels up, allowing it access to better combos and greater attack power. The sword itself is a very simple weapon but can be made more powerful over time. As you fight enemies, you gain attack experience which adds extra hits to your sword's combo and increase its attack power. The real trick to the sword comes from the fact that it has the ability to morph into other weaponry at the press of a button, including a whip and slingshot. As you power up your blade, these secondary weapons gain extra power as well, including new moves and abilities.
The whip isn't much of a weapon by itself, and doing any damage with it is almost impossible. Instead, you use the vine whip as a way to interact with the various objects spread across the levels. Dawn of Mana's levels are packed to the brim with interactive objects. Everything from rocks and logs to the enemies themselves can be moved around with your whip. As the whip levels up, you can even do more things with the objects, such as spinning enemies to dizzy them, or using a rock as a makeshift bludgeon. Using these objects is more than just fun, however: It is the key to the entire game. While your sword is excellent at taking down an enemy's health bar, enemies killed normally drop very little in the way of stat-boosting items and life-recovering food. In order to loosen these enemies' pockets, you have to send them into a state of panic. While a guy with a tree-sword isn't enough on his own to frighten these foes into submission, they're not quite so peaceful when giant boulders and exploding pumpkins are being hurled at their heads.
The slingshot is the last of your primary weapons. Compared to the sword and the whip, the slingshot may seem rather lackluster, but in the right hands, it can be the most powerful tool in your inventory. The slingshot's default ammunition is simple pebbles, which are useful for peppering far-away enemies safely, but do minimal damage. The slingshot only begins to shine once you get new kinds of ammunition for it.
Unlike the previous Mana titles, Dawn of Mana doesn't allow you to summon the power of the Elemental Spirits for power. Instead, these spirits provide you with special ammunition for your slingshot, each of a different element. Fire Spirit Salamander's ammo sets enemies ablaze, while the Earth Spirit Gnome causes the enemy to instantly attract anything nearby like a magnet, like other enemies or giant boulders. Besides being useful crowd-clearing weaponry, Elemental ammunition has a second advantage: It is very easy to use to cause enemies to panic. Naturally, this powerful ammunition is limited, so it is best to save it for when it is really needed.
Early on in the game, Keldy encounters a spirit child named Faye, who becomes Keldy's only constant companion through the rest of the game. Although Faye isn't any use in combat herself, she has powerful support magic available to her. At the press of a button, Faye can boost Keldy's attack or defense, heal him, or even grant him the power to perform a powerful special attack. However, like Keldy's vine sword, Faye herself needs to get stat boosting items to level up. Once Faye joins your party, MP boosters drop from enemies, which serves to increase the size of Faye's MP bar, and, with enough stat boosters, causes her to level up and learn new magic.
There is a catch to these powerful abilities, however: They don't retain their power. At the end of every chapter of the game, Keldy and Faye lose all the power they gained in that segment and have to start the next chapter anew. The lost power is converted into Lucre, the monetary unit of the Mana world. Fear not, however, as you are not completely without hope. As you travel through the world of Dawn of Mana, completing various objectives unlocks Emblems. Emblems are powerful items that can increase your attack range, halve the MP cost of spells, or other beneficial effects. Earning these Emblems is the only thing that gives you an edge in the later chapters of the game, where enemies are powerful, and earning the experience required to level up can be a challenge.
As the first title in the Mana franchise to be in full 3-D, Dawn of Mana has a pretty unique challenge in store for itself. It had to convert the excellent 2-D art style that the previous Mana games are known for into three dimensions without losing any of the charm that the previous games held. Luckily, Dawn of Mana looks well on its way to doing so. The 3-D models of classic Mana characters and enemies, such as the Chobins and Rabbites come across quite well and do an excellent job of translating a difficult art style into three dimensions. Die-hard Mana fans will be glad to know that all their favorite foes make a return in some form or another, and all made the trip to 3-D quite well.
Dawn of Mana is the first title in the series since the classic Secret of Mana to forego the more complex elements, such as forging weaponry and armor and growing rare items, in exchange for pure action elements. In many ways, it is actually a far simpler game than Secret was. However, with giant stages full of interactive objects to explore, this title is sure to keep gamers busy for a while, especially those hardcore gamers who eagerly earn every Emblem. Fans of the Mana games are sure to want to keep their eye on Dawn of Mana.
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