Originally published on Pixelitis.net on February 26, 2014.
Square Enix’s choice of platform for the newly-announced Rise of Mana should honestly not come as any surprise to the series’ fans. Nevertheless, I can imagine Mana fans are ready to cast Level 8 Gem Missile on this game.
Reading through comments on Kotaku, I’ve already picked up on irritated responses to the new game, including “Square Enix just refuses to act right where this series is concerned…” and “Saw the title and knew with 100% certainty this would be the standard pay to win bullshit.”
But should we be so quick to cast judgement on a game that was just announced? Despite my own misgivings about JRPG series going the way of mobile platforms and the whole free-to-play, micro-transaction-laden model that Japanese game publishers are wiggling their way into, there are some details from Rise of Mana’s debut trailer that left me feeling – dare I say it – cautiously optimistic.
For one, the game still looks like a Mana title. The combat’s a little flashier but you’re still whacking Rabites, shaking up green treasure chests and squaring off against enormous bosses (one of which is the returning crustacean Full Metal Hagger from Seiken Densetsu 3). The familiar staples of the Mana games are still there, including merchant Niccolo, the seed-chomping Trent and that adorable Li’l Cactus.
And thankfully, the soundtrack’s being handled by the likes of Mana soundtrack luminaries like Kenji Ito, Hiroki Kikuta, Tsuyoshi Sekito and Yoko Shimomura.
The game will even feature eight-player co-op, which could make for a chaotically amusing time during boss battles. Co-op multiplayer was always one of the prime components that I loved most about playing Mana games.
On the other opposite of the spectrum, I also think about how mediocre the Mana series has developed in the past decade. Aside from the Sword of Mana GBA remake, I don’t think we’ve had a decent original entry in the series since 1999’s Legend of Mana on PS1. Children of Mana felt monotonous and uninspired. Heroes of Mana showed us what not to do with AI in an RTS game. Dawn of Mana on PS2 was a beautiful game sullied by shoddy gameplay quirks. It’s as if the only constant of the series is its penchant for incredibly good music.
Unfortunately, the F2P and micro-transactions of Rise of Mana undoubtedly concern most fans, myself included. It’s a worrying trend coming from Japanese publishers, with Square Enix right at the forefront. Given the company’s infamous abuse of this system (see: overpriced iOS/Android ports and Final Fantasy: All the Bravest), I feel like pop-ups that goad you into spending more money will only destroy the experience. If they can be implemented in a way that makes them purely optional and easy to brush off, such as Bravely Default’s “Sleep Point” system, then I’d cast these worries aside.
Nevertheless, this will be the first time the Mana series can try to prove itself on mobile platforms.
Last year’s Circle of Mana was a card-based RPG; hardly a good way to surmise Mana’s potential on the platform. And Secret of Mana on iOS was merely a port with touch controls tacked on. Rise of Mana on the other hand was built from the ground-up with mobile in mind and intended to play like an action RPG, so the game ought to feel right with touch controls.
The game comes out on iOS in Japan later this week, so we’ll find out fairly soon if the jump to mobile was a bad move. Even so, there’s always that burning desire to see a series like this on a dedicated gaming platform like the 3DS or PlayStation Vita.
Square Enix has certainly seen a fair share of success on the 3DS with games like Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy and Bravely Default, so why should they eschew Mana from that equation?