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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 March 2017 Issue  Volume 18  Number 3

Product Evaluations and Guides

A Review of Manamon, an Audio-Based Role-Playing Game by VGStorm

The Windows operating system has a long history of accessible games stretching back to the time of MS-DOS with accessible text-based adventure games. A recent addition to the Windows audio game landscape is the role-playing game Manamon by a company called VGStorm. Manamon is heavily inspired by the Pokémon series of video games as well as other role-playing games such as the Final Fantasy franchise or the Dragon Quest series of games. The game operates on computers running Windows 7 or later and requires 1 gigabyte of RAM, 300 megabytes of disc space, and a computer with at least a 1.2 gigahertz dual-core processor or a 2.0 gigahertz single-core processor. The game retails for $40 but provides a lengthy demo that includes several hours of gameplay. Audio games are not generally given an age rating, but I would consider this game suitable for ages 12 and up for frequent but mild swearing as well as dark themes and violence in the game's cutscenes. Now, let's dive into the world of Manamon!

Game Premise and Overview

Manamon takes place in the nation of Tangeria, which is home to many different magical creatures that are all classified under the umbrella term of Manamon. Some people trap Manamon using specially designed nets (Mananets), and train them to compete in gladiatorial combat. These trainers are known as Manamon tamers. Tamers can take part in the Stadium Challenge, which requires that they first travel throughout Tangeria and challenge various stadiums in different cities. Whenever a challenger successfully overcomes a stadium, they are presented with a stadium key; these are required to unlock the Master's Stadium, where a challenger can attempt to defeat the current Manamon Champion. You take on the role of a prospective Manamon tamer, who, with another classmate, will forsake his education, against his father's advice, and attempt to become the champion.

Because it's an audio game, Manamon only uses sound to communicate all game information; there are no graphics. In addition, textual information in the game can either be presented using Microsoft's SAPI 5 speech engine or by using a screen reader. The game developer recommends using SAPI speech, however I have found that using the NVDA screen reader provides a very good experience. I tested the game using JAWS and Window Eyes as well. Because JAWS intercepts the Arrow keys, I was not able to use JAWS to play the game, though it seemed that game text could be read. When I attempted to launch the game with Window Eyes enabled, the game would not load at all. I tested the above screen readers on a device running Windows 10; you may have different results on a machine with a different configuration.

Documentation

Manamon is a fairly complex game with many hotkeys, so it is beneficial to read the documentation before starting the game. Manuals for the game can be found in the game's folder in Program Files and in its Start menu folder. The game has a manual in HTML format, with a linked table of contents and headings for each section. The documentation is fairly complete in that it describes nearly all of the aspects of the game. If an item is not described in the manual, an in-game description will be provided. For example, in one of the towns that you can visit there is an arcade where you can play various minigames for rewards. Instead of having each game described in the manual, there is a More Information option in the menu for each game where you will find instructions.

In addition to the manual, players have access to a Type Effectiveness manual, which describes the interplay among the various Manamon types, described later in this article. This document describes the types for which each type has high effectiveness, low effectiveness, and type immunity. This is an invaluable document, as there are 20 different Manamon types, all with their own distinctive weaknesses and strengths. In addition to the provided information, I would have liked to see each entry provide the same information about other types against the given type. As it is, if I want to, for example, see which types are highly effective against the Sound type, I have to search through the document for mentions of it.

Starting the Game and Main Menu

When you first launch the game, you will be presented with the VGStorm logo, which you can skip by pressing Enter. You will be notified when the game begins to load. While the game loads you will hear an elaborate introduction sequence. While this introduction is playing you will be notified when the game has finished loading. From here, you can either continue to listen to the intro or press Enter to continue. In the main menu, you will be presented with these options:

  • Load Game (loads a saved game; only available if you have saved a previous game)
  • New Game (starts a new game)
  • Options (allows you to adjust various game options)
  • Learn Game Sounds (allows you to listen to some of the sounds used in the game)
  • Exit (closes the game)

The Load Game option will list the amount of time you have spent playing as well as when you began the current saved file. Manamon only allows you to have one saved file at once. You can find the saved game data at the following file path: C:\users\(user-account-name)\AppData\Roaming\VGStorm.com\Manamon. The data file is called "Data.dat." With access to this file, you can make copies of it for backup purposes or move it to another location so that you can create a new saved file without deleting the previous.

Navigating the World

Manamon uses a top-down perspective for navigation. This means that your perspective as a player is from above your character. You can move north, east, south, and west. As you move, you will hear your character's footsteps, which change depending on the terrain. In addition, you will hear various objects, people, and structures around you. Manamon uses continuous sounds to indicate objects. For example, the bookshelf in your character's bedroom sounds similar to someone closing a paperback book. This sound repeats in a continuous loop so that you can always tell where it is when you are near it. If you are to the left of the shelf, the sound will play from your right speaker or headphone. The closer you move to it, the closer to the center of the stereo field the sound will play. If you are to the right of an object, the sound will play from the left speaker, getting closer to the center of the stereo field the closer you are to the object. In addition, if you are either directly east or west of an object or somewhere to the south of the object, sound will be played at normal pitch. If you are to the north of an object, the sound will be slightly lower. The closer you are to an object, the louder the sound. Most objects such as people, doors, and treasure chests are one step in size. Others, such as beds and gates, are several steps wide. When you are moving either east to west or west to east past an object that is more than one step wide, the sound will continuously play in the center of the stereo field to indicate that you are still in front of it.

Manamon includes a system that indicates your character's orientation to and distance from walls. A tone is played as you approach a wall, getting louder the closer you come to it. Four tones of different pitches are used to identify north, east, south, and west walls; these sounds resemble a cross between a single tone and a rushing wind. There is also the option to use tones that are clearer and more digital. When the wall ends, the sound cuts off abruptly to indicate that there is now empty space in that direction. North and south wall tones will play in the center of your stereo field, while walls to the east or west will play from the right or left speaker respectively. Similar to objects, when you approach an east or west wall, the tone will begin playing from the far side of the stereo field and move closer to the center the closer you come to the wall.

In addition to specific terrain such as stone, tile, wood, gravel, and grass, each area has its own distinct theme music as well as an ambiance. For example, when you are in a prairie, you can hear the wind in the grass as well as various small birds singing. Sometimes, you will encounter hazards in an area. Some of these are stationary, while others either move about or are only present at certain times. If you touch one of these hazards, the first Manamon in your party will take damage.

The Game Menu

The game menu allows you access to many features of the game and offers quick access to the Options screen found in the main menu. You can open and close this menu by either pressing X or Escape. The game menu contains the following options:

  • Party (offers information about the Manamon that you are currently carrying and allows you to interact with them in various ways)
  • Inventory (allows you to view and use the items that you are carrying)
  • Manapedia: (displays the Manamon you have seen and captured; offers you information about where various Manamon can be found in the wild; allows you to filter and sort your seen and captured Manamon to assist in completing the Manapedia)
  • Save Game (saves your progress)
  • Exit Game (closes the game)
  • Unknown Gifts (unlocks at a certain point in your journey; allows you to collect gifts from the VGStorm website)
  • Options (opens the game's Options screen; this screen is also accessible from the game's main menu)
  • Cancel (closes the menu)

Manamon and Combat

A total of 158 Manamon can be collected. These are then broken down into 20 various types. Any given Manamon can have between 1 and 4 types. Types include classical elements such as Earth and Air but also more nebulous concepts such as Holy or Shadow. Each Manamon can have access to a total of five different techniques that can be used in combat.

Techniques are generally given to one of the Manamon types but in some cases a technique will have more than one type. For example, the Holy Water technique is both Water and Holy type. This means that if a creature is a type that that takes high damage from water techniques but takes low damage from holy techniques, it will only take normal damage from the Holy Water technique.

When you travel outside of cities and some manmade structures you will randomly encounter Manamon that you can defeat for experience and gold or capture to be added to your collection. As you travel you will also encounter other Manamon tamers who will challenge you to combat. Combat is turn based, this means that you and an opponent take turns choosing actions, in your case from a menu. When you are in combat, your Manamon will appear in the right side of the stereo field while the opponent's will appear on the left side. Manamon have a distinctive call when summoned for combat, when they are struck with a technique, or when they are defeated. When a damaging technique is used, a sound will play to indicate if the attack was of normal effectiveness, high effectiveness, or low effectiveness. This indication is useful as you may not always know the typing of a Manamon if you have not seen it before, so this can provide some guidance for which techniques you may wish to use against a new opponent. Manamon techniques all have a distinctive sound effect that plays when they are used. These can be turned off in the Options menu for faster game play; this is particularly useful if you would like to quickly train against Manamon in the wild. In most cases you will be using one Manamon against another, but in some cases you may have a battle with anywhere from 2 to 6 Manamon on each side.

As your Manamon gain experience from combat, they will raise in level. This will raise their statistics nominally but also provide them with opportunities to learn new techniques at certain levels. When a Manamon gains a level, they will also accumulate Training Points that the player can spend on the Manamon's statistics. Applying points will generally provide more long term benefits as the Manamon raises in level, but they can also raise a statistic immediately as well. Many Manamon can also transform into stronger creatures. Most do so when reaching a specific level, but other actions can also cause a transformation.

Each Manamon has a physical description. When you obtain a Manamon, information about the creature, such as folktales about the Manamon or details on its habitat, is added to the Manapedia. The height and weight of the creature is also given. Manamon includes several hotkeys for learning the Manamon's name, hearing a human recording of its name, and a hotkey for having the name spelled letter by letter.

Compliments, Critiques, and Resources

Manamon has very few bugs or errors in its operation. The only true bug that I have personally encountered while playing on Windows 10 and Windows 8.1 systems is some significant lag while walking in a specific part of an area at the very end of the game. Also, after the game was released, the developer was very quick to look into and correct any bugs that occurred. The navigation system may take some getting used to, but can provide fluid movement through areas. The use of different terrain sounds while moving and different high quality ambient sound throughout the game's areas makes it quite immersive. The sound design in general is very well done. I mentioned that the navigation system allows for fluid navigation; other game features extend this fluid operation to other aspects of the game. For example, it is possible to set items to the number row for quick use, and in some long lists it is possible to move through items in increments. Gathering information about a Manamon is intuitive and flexible across various contexts. For example, any time you have focus on a Manamon, you can gain information about that creature. As was described previously, it is possible to view a description of a Manamon and read its name in various ways with hotkeys. These hotkeys can be used in almost all contexts when the Manamon has focus. Additionally, if the Manamon is your own you can view information about the specific creature, such as its statistics, health, and level information on the fly.

The most common critique in online discussions of the game is the lack of customization for Manamon techniques. Manamon learn many techniques as they gain levels, but aside from three items that a Manamon can hold to grant it that item's technique, there is no way of teaching a Manamon moves that it doesn't naturally learn. This can become a problem in cases where a Manamon can only learn techniques that an opponent is immune to, making it impossible for that Manamon to harm its opponent at all. In some cases, a Manamon will learn techniques that operate from its weaker statistic, lowering the technique's effectiveness. The developer of the game has already released updates that have changed some techniques to make them more effective, so balancing of the game appears to be ongoing. It is also possible for Manamon to equip different accessories that provide stat or technique boosts, which does allow for some customization.

There are some external resources that can be beneficial when playing the game. The forum topic for the game on Audiogames.net currently has over 3,400 posts and is an excellent source of information. The topic contains discussion about the game along with answers to most questions that can be asked about the various aspects of Manamon. There are also links to several recordings of people playing through the game buried somewhere in the topic. Jade's step-by-step guide to the game can be downloaded from the Audio Games Archive. The guide provides instructions for navigating the game areas as well as instructions for completing various puzzles. Information on game bosses is also included.

The Bottom Line

Manamon is an excellent game for those who enjoy turn-based role-playing games. The game plays smoothly and the sound design is top notch. Manamon customization is limited, which can make some of the minor balance issues problematic, but the developer continues to make small changes and the equipment system in the game can make up for some Manamon's shortcomings. The demo version of the game provides access to the first two Stadiums, which is the equivalent of several hours of gameplay, so if you're interested, it's definitely worth a try. If you enjoy playing the demo you will more than likely appreciate the full game.

Product Information

Product: Manamon
Developer: VGStorm
Price: $40

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