What do you get when you cross Final Fantasy Tactics with Warcraft? The answer, Heroes of Mana, is about the closest I have come to a perfect game in a long time.
I love my DS; it goes everywhere with me and I play it almost every day. Usually there are very few games on any platform that can get and keep my attention for more than a few hours. I think this is partly because when I play my DS I do so for only half an hour at a time and therefore, it is hard for me to establish a connection to a game that lasts longer than that. It’s like being forced to take a bunch of five minute breaks throughout a two hour movie; you just can’t get into the film. I like games like Warioware, Scrabble, Arcade Hits, etc, because I can play them in small doses and get the full effect out of them. Usually this means I don’t play a lot of long games or RPGs. Heroes of Mana has been an exception to this rule. It is, in almost every way, one of the best games I have played for the DS.
The game was developed by Brownie Brown, a group of guys funded by Nintendo that broke away from Square-Enix and started their own gig. Hence the look and feel of the game are very similar to Final Fantasy Tactics for the GBA and so I am not going to complain because that and Advance Wars are the only other Tactical RPGs I have enjoyed.
Heroes of Mana puts you and a few other people in the middle of a world war in which a general from your country has gone haywire and decided to take on everyone else. It becomes your job to try to head her off and perform damage control with the other countries that she has taken the Wiffle Ball Bat of Doom to. Each person on your team has a different background and specialization and, at times, their personalities clash and can lead to some humorous dialogue.
Speaking of the dialogue, the localization of this game is amazing. Brownie Brown did an extremely good job scripting the conversations between the characters. Everything just feels like it fits and that makes cut scenes flow very well. You can pick up the distinct voice and attitudes of some of the characters and that leads to a feeling of depth in the game. Final Fantasy Tactics had a more refined look, but Heroes of Mana definitely has better dialogue. Then again, both games were designed for a younger audience, so don’t expect The Sound and the Fury when you hit a cut scene.
The mechanics of the game are where this title truly shines. I have reviewed Dungeons and Dragons Tactics and I harped about the over complication of the inventory system and the overkill quantities of items in the game. Heroes of Mana is the exact opposite. The inventory system is streamlined and the amount of items is pretty minimal. There are only a handful of slots on each character for equipped items and that makes it so you spend more time playing the game than debating whether to equip the Styrofoam Bracers of Eternal Might or the Packing Peanut Crown of Everlasting Clear Pores and Smooth Skin. I like this. Items and equipping can be done quickly and without fuss.
The part of the game that I feel sets it apart from most other run-of-the-mill tactics games is the building and deployment of troops. What I did not mention about you and your group of friends in Heroes of Mana is that you are part of a fantabulous special ops team. Like all Spec Ops squads worth their salt, you have a spiffy airplane/troop carrier thingy. Hey, it’s not the black van from the A Team but what can you do? Anywho, this airplane is magical. Within its hull, you have the ability to construct a variety of buildings.
Each of these buildings does a certain job. The most basic thing is a hut that generates these things that look like Pikachu if he ate too many Cheesy Poofs, I can’t remember their real names so for this article they will be called, Chubbichus. The sole job of the Chubbichu is to gather resources and they do this pretty well. Once you have enough resources, you can build a basic troop dispenser that kicks out even chubbier monsters that have somehow found the ambition to fight instead of gorge themselves.
After that, you get heavy units (pun intended) and archery and everything else that you would expect from Warcraft or Advanced Wars. The difference in the approach used in Heroes of Mana is that everything has been simplified. They took lots of good elements from several games and just made them more streamlined.
What seals the deal for me is the length of the missions. As I said, I like to be able to pick a game up, play for a little while, and then turn off the system and do whatever it is that I was supposed to be doing in the first place. The mission length for most of the battles in Heroes of Mana seems to be between ten minutes and half an hour – perfect for me.
Also, for one of the first times ever, I don’t have any gripes about a game. There is not much that I feel could be changed in Heroes of Mana that would benefit gameplay. Any quibble I could come up with for this game would be nothing more than nitpicking and would probably have to do with the graphical aspect of the game. I see no good reason why Heroes of Mana should not be in every tactical or RPG lover’s game library. For me, it was seriously that good. I could also be totally off my rocker though so give the game a once over and tell me what you think.