Adventures of Mana Review
When Square Enix announced a mobile remake of the original Seiken Densetsu at Tokyo Game Show 2015 (known as Final Fantasy Adventure in NA), I decided try out the original title, which released on the Nintendo Game Boy way back in 1991. As a classic Zelda-like game on a handheld, FFA worked well enough as a simple introductory action RPG with a nifty weapon switching mechanic and a charming story.
In 2003, Square decided to remake the game entirely for the Gameboy Advance with Sword of Mana, which was generally met with mixed reception. It took away the simplicity of the original, embellishing the game's story in strange ways while adding awkward new mechanics like armor crafting and fetch-quests. Sword of Mana wasn't without some merits, but it was largely a miss.
Adventures of Mana is another remake of Final Fantasy Adventure, then, and this time it stays much more in tune with the original. In fact, it's basically a 1:1 recreation of the game using new 3D assets and music. The maps are laid out in the exact same way and items are gotten in the same places (for the same prices). It's a very familiar game, which in this case I'm going to take away as a positive....mostly.
You play as Sumo, a gladiator for the Glaive Kingdom, who escapes his imprisonment and sets out on a quest to stop the schemes of the Dark Lord. Along the way, Sumo learns of the legend of the Gemma Knights & Mana Tree, and ultimately rises to become a hero to the world. Sounds pretty simple, right?
Adventures of Mana relishes in its simplicity, and always keeps things comfortably straightforward. Considering the iffy changes made in the earlier remake attempt, I am pretty happy that things stick to the foundation this time around. Everything moves at a brisk pace, from narrative beats to world traversal.
It's still a Game Boy game at heart, meaning nothing is too ornate or intricate. Enemies mostly wander around the map screens, hoping that some of their attacks and movements land every once in a while. Boss battles only requite some basic pattern recognition on order to be surpassed. Overall, this is a simple, laid back experience most of the way through.
Adventures of Mana's most significant improvements come in the form of quick item-switching through the touch interface. You see, in the original game, you end up with a half-dozen or so weapon types - such as a sword, a chain, and a spear. Each of these weapons are effective against certain enemy types, and originally the player needed to jump into the menu to switch between these. Now, you can assign a couple armaments to an on-screen button to instantly swap between weapons on the move. This addition serves well to make thing flow even more naturally as you roam around the game world.
The touch controls aren't perfect, but they certainly aren't unusable either. I got used to the virtual d-pad relatively shortly after the game's introduction. The settings offer a few different control types which alter the sensitivity, which can help in making the game more comfortable to control. The menu interface uses a sort of Ring system resembling Secret of Mana, which is largely intuitive to navigate around when looking for certain spells or healing items.
The new art-style for the game is serviceable, featuring 3D models instead of sprites. I don't take too much issue with it, but I can't help but wonder what this remake could have looked like with imagery more akin to something like Secret of Mana. The new music renditions are largely great sounding, and don't deviate too far from the nostalgic melodies of 25 years ago.
Adventures of Mana is extremely faithful to the original ... almost to a fault. All the things that made Final Fantasy Adventure a success are still there ... as are the more annoying things that could have easily been adjusted.
For example, inventory limits are still in place, although a little more lenient, and it's still bit of a pain to have to stop and organize items when bags get too full. You also always have to keep some item slots stocked with keys and mattocks in order to navigate through the various locales in the game. Run out of keys part way through a dungeon? You either have to go all the way back to a shop, or hope an enemy drops some.
I want to note a particularly egregious missed opportunity too. Some of the puzzles require Sumo to freeze enemies and to place the frozen baddie onto a switch. However, only certain enemy types can be frozen, and the rooms are filled with random spawn patterns. This means at more than one point throughout the game, you have to cycle through rooms hoping you get the right enemies to spawn in certain rooms. While I'm okay that the game feels still 'feels like a Game Boy game' in some regards, there are cases like this that warranted a tweak that got overlooked.
All-in-all, it's the same Final Fantasy Adventure you remember, on your phone, warts and all. The UI enhancements make weapon switching easier than ever, and this remake avoids the bloat of Sword of Mana. However, while faithful, there are clearly some missed opportunities that could've made the experience even better. At around ten hours of playtime, it's great that a classic game like this is now easily accessible to newer audiences.