Heroes of Mana - Staff Retroview  

We Don't Need Another Hero
by Mike Moehnke

Click here for game information
Less than 20 Hours
+ Captivating music
- Characters aren't developed and story is trite
- AI is atrocious on both sides
- Pathfinding is abysmal
- Hero is too weak to survive late in the game
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   Square Enix's World of Mana began with such high hopes, only to bring one of the company's intellectual property rights into extinction with its consistent lack of quality. Children of Mana was at least enjoyable in parts, but Dawn of Mana's reputation bodes ill for any who brave its borders; however, Dawn would have to be quite terrible to match Heroes of Mana's amazingly poor showing. Quality assurance was clearly lacking when it came time to push Heroes out the door, and it shows in a glut of issues that make the game a punishment to play.

   In making Heroes a Real Time Strategy game, Brownie Brown removed almost everything that kept preceding Mana games in the RPG realm. At the beginning of every chapter, the player must create various units to do battle with. Gatherer units collect the resources to construct soldiers for combat purposes, but are themselves thin-skinned and prone to quick death if attacked. The troops are created using bases inside a ship that can be moved at the player's discretion, though if it is not played at handy anchor points within the levels, it cannot disperse any additional soldiers. The four main unit types all have a strength and weakness, and new varieties of troopers become available as dictated by the plot. The characters who play a role in story happenings are leader units, and a few of them take part in every battle.

   The leaders start fairly strong, but as the game proceeds and new enemy units are revealed, their qualifications as leaders become highly suspect. This is particularly important in battles where a certain character must not fall, and since the 'hero' Roget must be used in every battle, he is of constant concern. Keeping the key characters safe will bedevil the player constantly, since they can die in a few seconds if the wrong enemy happens along, forcing a restart of the battle.

   Proper timing is vital in Heroes of Mana, because the enemy will often strike only when revealed. This makes the abysmal pathfinding of units incredibly aggravating, since they love to take incredibly roundabout ways of reaching their goals. Taking a roundabout way will often reveal a nest of enemies that will promptly begin its attack before the player was ready, but this does nothing to dissuade the thin-skinned gatherer units from taking the most dangerous possible path. A close corollary to the lousy pathfinding is the masterful ability of troops to get stuck in a traffic jam when the environment is narrow, as they cannot move diagonally and are too stupid to resolve any logjams on their own. It will fall to the player to manually make minor movements of each soldier in the gridlock.

Wouldn Wouldn't it be nice if your troops would conform to some sort of pattern in combat?

   Sadly, units under player control doing stupid things will not be limited to the above issues, but will also see their combat aptitude affected. Soldiers have the infuriating tendency to keep moving around their adversaries instead of stopping to hit them and will fruitlessly circle their opponents while being constantly hit. Sometimes player troops will walk right by enemies, and sometimes they will be diverted from their assigned task to start attacking an enemy far off the intended route. This is particularly ruinous in the case of any soldier that uses a projectile, because they have an alarming tendency to ignore long-range attacks in favor of walking up to their selected adversaries to exchange blows point-blank.

   The odds may be stacked against the player because of these terrible facets, but the opposing AI isn't much better. The computer will often stay stationary with no activity whatsoever until the player reveals its forces on the map, meaning that with careful micromanagement of the stupid pathfinding one can easily accrue enough resources for victory before a shot is fired on many maps. Most battles revolve around the player finding out what the AI is going to do, then planning around that to achieve victory. Certain units only the CPU can use are overpowered, but their feeble AI makes victory achievable even so.

   The touch screen is used for almost all the maneuvering, and it does a serviceable job. The isometric perspective with different levels of height is an annoyance, because the jumps from one stratum to another are often so abrupt as to throw off the player. It can also be difficult to find any vantage point that allows a clear view of the action when large archways are present, as happens in multiple missions. These problems aside, maneuvering is effectively done by touching a unit and then directing it toward a tile somewhere on the map. Making multiple units move as one formation demands pinpoint accuracy with the stylus to encircle them, but does the job with no problems.

The Nightswan must be the size of a star cruiser with all the junk packed in. The Nightswan must be the size of a star cruiser with all the junk packed in.

   Heroes of Mana's story manages to be cliché-ridden and uninteresting throughout. Its core crew of Roget, Qucas, Gemiére, D'Kelli and Yurchael are soldiers of Pedda on a scouting mission against the beastman nation. Things go wrong for their mission, but it turns out Pedda is able to conquer the beastmen quite easily and goes on from there to conquer the entire world at the behest of its bloodthirsty general Bexilios. This scenario has been seen in dozens of other RPGs, and Heroes merely makes matters more mundane by saddling too many characters with too little development time onto the team. There are a few glimmers of interest from the game being set nineteen years prior to Seiken Densetsu 3, but the plot is dull.

   There is one definite plus among the dispiriting package deal of Heroes of Mana, and it is Yoko Shimomura's typically fine music. Consistently compelling and never boring, her compositions make listening to the game its only real pleasure. As for the visuals, they mostly do the job without drawing attention to themselves, except for their lack of slowdown even when dozens of units are onscreen together.

   Though bonus maps and a Hard Mode are offered as replay incentives, there is no reason to touch this game in the first place, let alone play it again. Heroes of Mana's multiple, massive mistakes in its battles make it a constant irritation, one that grants no reward for suffering through its maladies. The game did poorly upon release, and if it was the best the World of Mana could offer, the death of the Mana series was deserved.

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