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have a lot of fondness and respect for the Mana series. It helped define the whole action/RPG genre, and there was a time when Secret of Mana spent several consecutive months in my SNES. I wish I could say that Dawn of Mana is a return to form after years of side-stories and rehashes, but I can’t. It further dilutes the Mana name with loads of mediocre combat and barely a trace of the role-playing elements that once made it popular.

The greater focus on action isn’t an entirely lost cause, since the gameplay manages to integrate cool concepts beyond mashing the square button. The key is the main character’s versatile weapon, which can be used as a sword, slingshot, or grappling rope. Every area is full of logs, rocks, and various exploding vegetables that can be tossed at enemies, sending them into a panic. Then you kill them. It’s possible to take them out by just bullying through, but the rewards (like more power, health, and magic) are much greater if you use the environment wisely.

It may sound promising, but this emphasis on scattered junk is where Dawn of Mana hits its biggest hurdle. Sending a mixed signal, the game says it’s important to use objects, but makes it difficult and frustrating to do so. The controls are laughably uncooperative. Whether you’re using the rope to throw objects or just bumping them around with your sword, wrestling with the physics is far more challenging than any foe.

If you don’t stress out too much about optimizing your performance (which is useless anyway since you lose all your power-ups after each level), the action delivers some casual entertainment. That’s pretty much all there is, though; any remnants of the role-playing genre have been wiped away except for the story. Sure, you use magic and swords in a fantasy world, but the character progression and powering up is pretty much non-existent.

A more refined targeting system and better control over the objects could have made Dawn of Mana something special, but in its current state it feels like several promising ideas held together by purely functional mechanics. It may not be the follow-up that fans of the Mana franchise have been hoping for, but cool visuals and an interesting story elevate it above the level of an everyday mindless button-masher.


If a well-realized art style could dictate the quality of a game, Dawn of Mana would be our Game of the Month. Since it takes a little more than that to make me tip my hat, I have to warn Mana fans to prepare for a disappointment. A combat system that requires you to scare all your enemies before you have a hope of taking them down is bad enough, but why do I have to start over with level advancement and spell acquisition when I beat a chapter? There are a number of other poor design decisions here, from a camera panned too close to poor level layout, not to mention an awkward targeting mechanic. It’s enough to make me question a studio I usually swear by. High production values pull this game up to average, but it’s awfully close to missing even that mark.
Mana goes 3D for the first time, but leaves its RPG luggage behind
The environments are pretty bland, but the characters and enemies look great and are well designed
The music is actually good. I cannot say the same for the voice acting
Cluttered. Every single button does something important, and two different lock-ons (one for enemies and one for objects) add to the confusion
Knocking stuff around can be fun, but the action never draws you in
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