Ninja fights blobs, ninja loses
Publisher: Nippon Ichi Software
Fri, 7 July 2006
by: Australian Ninja
Email the Author
It was about time for another grand adventure into a two-dimensional world - just don't turn sideways when the wind blows.
Welcome to yet another Japanese RPG with strange monsters, strange humour and some cutesy characters living in a magical house on lollypop lane.
Eternal Mana plays like most traditional turn based RPGs. The game is rather easy overall but with a few challenging bosses. When I say challenging the first hard boss I came across required several hours of levelling up to beat. I had been moving through the game quite fast though, so perhaps the characters were expected to be on a higher level in the first place. Either way it wasn't possible to beat the boss without levelling up.
What does Eternal Mana offer aside from the usual RPG conventions? There's the jump button for one, the action dial, and 'mana' with special abilities.
The jump means that as you move around battling there are also platforming aspects with slight puzzles to the gameworld. The 'mana' are magical sprite like creatures, individuals with their own personalities who help you out. They join your party as you discover them and add to your potential magic abilities. Each is a different element and you may need wood+dark+spirit for example to make some item to use in combat or healing.
In game the 'action dial' is situated at the upper left corner of the screen, from here special commands are used. The stone mana allows you to make a temporary platform to jump to higher areas. The wood mana command gives you direct hints on what you are supposed to be doing in the game; very useful.
The fire mana allows you to fire a projectile destroying certain kinds of obstacles.
All the 'action commands' are purely for the main character Klein to use while wandering around.
In addition to providing magic stock [a bar for each mana, replenished by absorbing plants, stone, berries etc in the game world] and action abilities, each mana can be equipped to a character.
|It's kinda dusty in here, maybe we should sweep together? |
This allows that character to receive boosted experience points at the end of each successful battle.
As you gain the full mana abilities you will be able to reach previously inaccessible areas. A good deal of backtracking is required if you want to find all the 'mana,' personalities, special items and action dial abilities.
Fortunately the map screen doesn't take long to navigate. About a quarter into the game you gain access to a teleporter room allowing easier access to previous areas you have visited.
The main character in Eternal Mana is an alchemist named Klein. Alchemy is the art of turning things into other things, traditionally associated with metals. Klein can absorb elements from things he encounters as he wanders around. See that loveable old crate? Press the button for his staff and he will absorb it, adding to the 'wood' mana's bar. See that stone - add to the stone mana's bar. Each mana has their own bar of magic points. Run out and you won't be able to create items or use spells. Absorbing everything you see most of the time is the way to go in the beginning.
Eternal Mana is one of those RPGs where you collect hundreds of obscure and often useless items. At any time you can absorb any of your item list, again adding to your mana's magic bar. More useful though are the various odd shops around in villages that allow you to create recipes with your oddball items. Having the right items will allow you to create a new useful item that the store will then sell to you.
Choosing Mana Synthesis in the items/equip menu allows you to create items useful for battle. For example you use some of your wood, stone and fire mana to create an item to lower the enemies defence during battle. Or create a firebomb to throw or a strong healing item. However each of the 'synthesis' items must first be found in a special chest first. So once you find it [in a dungeon etc] then you aquire the ability and can make the item whenever you want - if you have enough of the required magic points. Often some of the items you will be unable to make more of due to not having found the correct mana types [yet to encounter] or being low on existing mana points. Here this means more backtracking when there is only one or two places to absorb certain kinds of mana points.
I just made do without, until I got to a hard boss where I had to lower its defence to beat it. So revisiting areas becomes a must and while it didn't bother me - it is a cheap way of forcing extra hours into the game instead of adding more dungeons etc.
Graphically Eternal Mana is a pretty game. While not spectacular, it is very nice to look at with its crisp clean 2-D visuals. The look reminded me very much of another comical RPG called "Rhapsody: A musical Adventure" by Atlus.
Both games use a similar style of 2-D graphics. In battle the art shines especially when it zooms in on a character at the end of a battle. Each enemy in the game is also lovingly drawn with unique attacks. They even say odd bits of speech and growls, adding immeasurable life and charm to even the most cliched enemies such as blobs.
I liked that the humble RPG blob is called a 'Punie' in Eternal Mana. Punie or 'puny' means weak. There is even a stage where you meet a giant Punie God [a giant blob] that you actually go inside like you would with a giant whale.. if you're into that sort of thing.
You never fight the god, just go inside and pilfer all the treasure and fight battles. It's examples such as these that take well-worn clichés - such as the RPG blob or bat, skeleton, etc and make that cliché into something fresh and interesting. Not to mention extremely silly. I mean there are conversations you have with the blob 'heavies' - yes tough guy mini-boss blobs who threaten to do you in. The whole scenario is just hilarious, as all the enemies inside the giant blob are laughably weak. Just imagine a three year old threatening to beat you up - would you feel scared? And so it is with the blob henchmen, or henchblobs.
The battles in Eternal Mana play as standard turn based attacks with spells, healing items etc. Most of the spell effects are quite ordinary but the lush 2-D graphics used for the whole game give a very appealing look to Eternal Mana overall.
Atelier Iris is a fun game but I found it to be 'less than exciting.' Which means that where your Final Fantasy's and Dragon Quests keep you up late at night; wanting to beat that boss, learn that new skill or find out what happens in the story - Eternal Mana maintains a steady - monotonous yet enjoyable - lack of excitement. The story is simple, a band of heroes, some kind of threat yadda yadda yadda, lots of trekking around the continent in search of mystical junk while beating up innocent monsters who were just minding their own business. Nothing new there.
While the storyline itself is insignificant, the character's frequent humorous conversations are often entertaining. The whole tone of Eternal Mana is very casual. There is no sense of urgency in getting things done. The game is often silly at times. The humour while good will appeal to some but not others. If you can laugh at shows like Dragonball, One Piece and Rugrats then you will get the humour in Eternal Mana. It's carefree and whimsical, cute and innocent. If you like your stories on the more dark side, with a brooding loner and a confusing as heck plot - you won't find that at all in Eternal Mana.
The story and easy battles in Eternal Mana also reminded me of Grandia 2. Not so much the details but the way it is told. There are no fancy cut scenes, just in-game dialogue. It's very simplistic and there is never any confusion about what is going on. There is a threat as usual, and a band of wily travellers have decided to do something about it. The feeling with both Eternal Mana and Grandia 2 in storytelling is that - it doesn't really matter. The story is not the reason to play the game like in some of the high profile RPGs. However the conversations are funny and the battles are enjoyable. The story is just the vehicle to get you from point A to point B.
|The mechanical bull was broken , so they went with the next best thing.. |
The game music is pleasant. Some tracks will have you humming along unknowingly. The snippets of speech here and there in the battles are cool. Whoever gets the last hit in to finish the battle gets to say something. Usually smart-ass comments about winning the battle. Norn -the cat girl apprentice Witch- was easily my favourite character.
"We beat them -MEOW!"
I never got tired of her cute speech and funny comments.
Norn was more concerned with making friends, eating food, sleeping and having a good time than combating the forces of evil. Being the youngest female character [she's a kid] Norn has the stereotypical RPG crush on the main male hero character.
She's also the funniest character in the game, causing me to laugh out loud more times than I can remember while playing.
For one of her spells she turns enemies into lollypops and other kinds of candy - "Sweet treats for meow" - which reminded me of Fat Buu from Dragonball Z. I laughed myself stupid when I discovered that ability.
Eternal Mana has decent voice acting. Unlike some games filled with speech, Eternal Mana has speech just for the main storyline conversations, and the battle cries. So the majority of the game is comprised of text balloon dialogue.
While I enjoyed my time with Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana, there were times when playing it became a chore. This was no fault of the game. At times I didn't feel like playing it, but when I loaded it up I always ended up enjoying it.
It's just that when you have more exciting games like Ape Escape 3 and Socom 3 [reviews soon] to play it is hard to get overly enthusiastic about questing for more obscure items. Still,'B' movies and games get made for a reason. As long as you acknowledge that Eternal Mana is a 'B' game then you won't be disillusioned when you play it. KOEI didn't set out to challenge the Final Fantasies, Dragon Quests, Phantasy Stars or even the Shadow Hearts of the world. They just made a quiet, modest little adventure that will take you around thirty hours to complete. It's charming, fun, funny and hey - the Evil Dead movies were 'B' movies - and how fun were they? Sometimes you need to be content with how you are, and Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana is just that. Quietly content playing second banana to the cats fiddle. What does that mean? Your guess is as good as mine, but I'd buy a ticket to that freakshow.
Should you get Eternal Mana? If there are no other RPGs you currently want then go for it, but remember the game is simple and very easy most of the time. Still, it's an amusing distraction until the next big RPG comes along.
One more thing - Etermal Mana is very Japanese. That means anime style mugshots for the characters and plenty of "!" and "………" converastions. So be mindful and ask yourself if you like that sort of thing.
Eternal Mana is funny, cute, charming, pretty - and that reminds me of the actor Claire Danes who I am one step closer to marrying, after having figured out what country she lives in - all I need to do now is dial all the phone numbers until I find hers. Mmmm.. unhealthy obsession.
by: Australian Ninja
Email the Author
More articles by Australian Ninja
Like RPGs? Good for you. Pretty graphics, easy, fun to play, laugh out loud funny, and best of all 'Norn' the cat_girl. !ME-OWW!