Good news, bad news time. Ready? If you're an old school fan of Square's Secret of Mana series (Seiken Densetsu in Japan and officially now World of Mana in the US), you're about to be blessed with not one new Mana game, but two. Considering how few titles in the beloved action-RPG franchise have actually reached our shores, this is obviously exciting. So, what's the other, potentially less good news? Heroes of Mana for Nintendo DS isn't an action-RPG at all... it's a real-time strategy game.
Whaaaa? Seriously. But based on our recent first look and hands-on time with the game, there should be no reason for disappointment. The genre may be different, but the colorful, charming and fast-paced style of play seems to remain quite intact.
The story follows a young soldier named Roget, who is sent by his king to stop an onslaught of invading beast men (don't you just hate those guys?) Upon arriving at the battle, however, Roget is betrayed by his own men and abandoned by his corrupt kingdom. Forced to fend for himself, he bands together with a group of outside allies including - from what we saw - a charmingly roguish mercenary, an airship captain, an enigmatic girl (think FFIV's Rydia) and an exotic chancellor's niece.
To begin with, Heroes of Mana simply looks and sounds like it belongs to the classic series. The character sprites, no matter how tiny they may appear on the tiny overhead battlefield of the tiny DS screen, are instantly familiar and clearly inspired by the older games. In fact, the entire presentation should be a smorgasbord for Square aficionados - the music composer scored Kingdom Hearts, the character designer worked on Final Fantasy Tactics and the CG cutscenes echo those in the DS remake of Final Fantasy III. And although we witnessed more military bravado than natural wonder, creator and producer Koichi Ishii assured us that trademark standbys like the Mana Tree would play a crucial role.