Dead weekend this time. Nothing in front of the 7-11 or in the Volunteer Center. The space in front of Lotteria was just used to advertise Renault cars, and the plaza at Amupla just had some small booths selling foods like hamburgers and omelet rice. I had to work most of Saturday and couldn't get to Amupla then. Sunday, I got out of the apartment a little late, and didn't get to Amupla until 4:30 PM. At that point, all of the food booths were gone, and workers were preparing to tear down an event stage that hadn't been there Friday night when I'd swung by to see what was going to happen for the rest of the weekend. I talked to one guy I recognized from the Shimamura music store on the 4th floor of the department building. He mentioned that the store had sponsored an amateur acoustic guitar contest that Sunday, but it had ended an hour earlier. On top of all this, it rained pretty much non-stop from Friday through Sunday. So, there wasn't much reason for being outside unless it was for going shopping for food and stuff. The rain prevented me from trying to re-shoot the time-lapse video of the moon rising over the volcano.
Next weekend is going to be more hectic. It's the beginning of the Golden Week holidays; Ohara (the big dance contest) should be on Saturday and Sunday if it's not rained out; there's a beer festival at Amupla Friday to Sunday; and KTS TV is going to have their big outdoor music and educational festival in front of Lotteria and in the Volunteer Center. And I have to work for part of each day during all that. My luck, the rain isn't going to stop, either.
Heroes of Mana DS (Square Enix, 2007)
I think I'm finally burning out on a number of things right now. I've been collecting the capsule ball toys for several months, and I particularly like getting the wood 3D and metal ring puzzles. However, the most recent wood puzzle series only had 2 new puzzles out of the six in the set, and I'd gotten one of the new puzzles on the first try. I hesitantly decided to go for the other new puzzle a few days later, and dropped 3,000 yen on what turned out to be nothing but duplicates of the ones I already had from the earlier series. Then, I got several games for the Nintendo DS that have really long play times with no particular paybacks. These have included Black Cat and Nodame Cantible. I got Golden Sun, but that turned out to be a repeat of the game that I bought 4 years ago (but got by mistake last month). And now, Heroes of Mana.
(Part of the opening cut scene, introducing each of the main party members.)
Heroes was the ninth game in the Mana series, and it features a new approach to the gameplay. This is a strategic RPG, where you don't really level up, and you can't repeat battles in order to build up experience and get stronger. The story is that a soldier, Roget, and some companions on a flying ship, revolt against their own kingdom, which is now invading its peaceful neighbors. Roget helps defend the neighboring countries, and is joined by a group of elemental spirits that increase his attack and defense options as the rebels eventually go face to face against their former leader.
I liked the one game I'd played, Legend of Mana (although, I'm annoyed I can't find the post where I reviewed it), which was more of a real RPG, and centered around collecting mana beasts hidden in various locations on the map. Heroes has a completely different system, and while it is novel, it's harder to play. The idea is that your ship has several power pads, which require gathering fruit from trees (treants), or ore from rocks (gaia), which are hidden on the battle map. On these power pads, you create monster generators to generate specific types of monsters (called MOBs), which again require the same fruits and rocks. One of the MOBs can mine ore and pick fruit, while others are fighting units. As you make MOBs, you send them against specific targets, explore the field map, and try to find hidden treasures. You also have several "heroes" to use for building up your main party for each chapter (the battles constrain how big your party can be at any given time). You can have your heroes fight the enemy directly, or rely solely on the MOBs to do battle.
(World map, with your ship hovering over the next village. From here you can equip armor and accessories, look at new character descriptions, save your game, or continue the story.)
Fighting follows a "rock-paper-scissors-Vulcan" pattern, involving heavy units, flying units, melee and missile units. So, if the enemy is made up mostly of heavy units, you want to pit flying units against them. Different unit types move differently over different terrains, and if you're not lucky, the wrong kind of enemy may attack your weaker forces before you can bring up the slower units to do actual battle. Each chapter has requirements for victory (defeat all enemies; defeat the boss) and for defeat (losing the ship, or losing Roget). Additionally, you're kind of racing against the clock. As mentioned above, you don't really get experience for fighting. Instead, at the end of the chapter you receive a list of treasures, including the hidden stuff found on the map, plus rewards for finishing with an "A" or "S" grade. Grading is a combination of how many fruits and ores you collect, the number of enemies you defeated, how quickly you won, and so on. Treasures take the form of better weapons, armor and accessories. So, you really want to win with max points for an "A" or "S" grade, or else the party is going to go into the next chapter in a weaker position (inadequate weapons or armor).
(Example of a battle map. The top screen shows what you've explored so far. If, on the bottom screen, you click on the ship, you can go inside and make generators and MOBs. Otherwise, you select MOBs or NPCs and direct them to a tree, a rock, or the enemy.)
Initially, I liked the idea of the game, mainly because it reminded me of the old puzzle game, Lemmings. But, I don't like strategy games (I prefer churning and leveling characters up through battles), and I started running into problems with enemies attacking me when I wasn't prepared for it. If you lose, you have to sit through the story again, and then repeat the battle. It would be a lot better being able to skip the story sections, just to speed things up a lot. There are a number of good anime cut scenes, and I like the artwork for the backgrounds and ship interior. On the other hand, the character sprites are too small, and it's difficult to tell which is which. The music is good, the voice acting is ok, and it is fun watching large groups of MOBs fighting it out while the party goes exploring for hidden treasure. The problem is that I got ambushed by the enemy one too many times on chapter 7 (there are 27 story chapters total) and losing because the NPC I'm supposed to rescue had died before I could reach him. That's when I started questioning just how much I wanted to keep playing video games when there are other things I want to do with my time instead (like practicing stage magic and making music). So, I put the game away and don't really expect to come back to it soon.
(The portals inside the ship, with one MOB generator spitting out a fruit and ore gathering unit. At the moment, I've got 1 ore and 4 fruit left to work with for building another generator or more MOB units.)
Summary: I picked up Heroes used at Book Off for 250 yen ($2.20 USD), so I don't feel too bad about not finishing it. It's not a bad game, it's just not the kind of game that I like playing (RPGs). Good artwork, music and cut scenes. The NPC character designs are a bit amateurish, and conversations just consist of static character portraits popping back and forth over the dialog boxes. Recommended if you like strategy games. As also mentioned above, I'm getting burned out, and am considering cutting back on, or eliminating, DS games and capsule dispenser toys for a while.