Two things stand out the most when you first start playing Square Enix’ Children of Mana: the hand-drawn graphics are positively beautiful and the gameplay sucks. I had high hopes for Children of Mana. I have been a fan of the series since I played the first installment, Final Fantasy Adventure on the original GameBoy and later played its sequel Secret of Mana on the SNES. But CoM doesn’t add much of anything to the series. This game is definitely just playing on its Mana heritage.
Children of Mana is saddled with a tradition of being an action RPG which is always a difficult role to live up to. Action RPGs are, by their very definition, not very “RPGish” and have two distinct conflicting personalities that are nearly impossible to integrate well. CoM does far worse than that though by using an archaic “Legend of Zelda” style of action interface which is cludgy and extremely unrefined. It feels like a cheap afterthought or, more likely, just old code borrowed from some late NES-era game.
The graphics of the non-action portions of the game are amazing but few and far between. The backgrounds are the best I have ever seen on the Nintendo DS and top anything I ever saw on the SNES. But a few amazing backgrounds only go so far. The sprites are okay but don’t mesh fluidly with the background being of a distinctively different quality and style. And the moment that you step foot into a “dungeon” you will get the impression that you have gone into a different game altogether.
RPG and Console RPG fans will be significantly disappointed in this game. The RPG elements are weak approaching non-existant. In fact, calling this game an RPG at all is truly misleading. If anything this is an action game with a strong storyline. The really unfortunate thing is that the action is so poorly executed. There is nothing wrong with an action game with a strong storyline but CoM’s action elements are by far the weakest portion of the game. The action is boring and juvenile.
Overall, unless you are a serious Mana aficionado I would suggest avoiding this title. Children of Mana is not going to live up to your Secret of Mana expectations. One would think that the series would have covered some ground since the early 1990s but apparently it hasn’t.
In the end I gave up on attempting to play CoM. I found that just by attempting to force myself to work through this game it made me no longer have any driving desire to play the Nintendo DS and it was keeping me from playing games that are much better.