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.