Sword of Mana
The Mana action-RPG series has had its highs (like Secret of Mana for Super NES) and its depressing lows (steer clear of the clunky Legend of Mana for PS1), but this latest installment falls into a more nebulous "pretty good
Visually, it's one of the most stunning games on GBA--beautifully painted backdrops, fluid animations, and cool effects fill the screen with life and color. Sword also delivers suitably epic sounds, with a quality soundtrack packed with rousing fanfares and catchy melodies. And the story line, while not terribly original, is interesting enough to keep you questing.
So really, it's the gameplay that drags the experience down. Running around thwacking enemies feels fun enough, but poor A.I. renders your other party member nearly useless--you'll often have to switch between them just to keep them from getting killed. Also, many events and puzzles are tough to trigger (due to the seemingly random day/night cycle), and upgrading equipment requires a Master's degree in metallurgy and botany. Worth a look for fans, but overall, it should have been better."]
The rewarding action and story that made previous Mana games great return, but they're nearly drowned by this pre-quel's ridiculous complexity. Get out the graph paper: Eight weapons and eight types of magic do varying damage (sometimes zip!) to each of 120 enemies. Upgrading weapons is a five-step process that involves dozens of items and even the current day of the week in the game. Sword's monster thumping and epic story line are sometimes sublime, but honestly, it makes you work far too hard for them.
Sword is a functional and attractive action-RPG that works well as a multiplayer game--it's quite fun to link up and run through lavish environments while engaging in simple hack-n-slash combat. But if you don't have a human being to team up with, you're screwed. The CPU pathfinding A.I. is lousy (read: your pal gets stuck on everything), and the weapon management baffles with an unintuitive, inefficient menu-heavy system. It's better to stick with Zelda for action-RPG thrills.