Did SquareEnix insult the Mana name with this remake of the original Final Fantasy Adventure?
In my opinion, Secret of Mana on SNES is one of the best RPG games ever made standing right next to Final Fantasy III (aka FF6) and Chrono Trigger. While Sword of Mana is a remake from the classic GameBoy game hidden under the name of Final Fantasy Adventure, it just doesn’t reach its full potential. Nintendo’s second party developer Brownie Brown decided to reinvent the classic Seiken Densetsu (as it is known in Japan) game design. This remake of Final Fantasy Adventure certainly has its similarities, but it also throws many new game play elements into the mix.
The story line pretty much remains the same. The lead male character is haunted by a questionable past and wants revenge for his parent’s murder. New to this remake is the ability to play as either the main male character or a female lead. Depending on whom you play as, the story will slightly change direction from time to time but will remain closely related. Only cut scenes will change depending on which playable character is chosen.
The heart and soul of any Mana game relies on action RPG elements. Fighting takes place in real time similar to a Zelda title. Throughout the adventure, numerous weapons and magic spells will be found. Each weapon is assigned a specific characteristic such as Jab, Bash, or Slash. Certain enemies are vulnerable to a specific weapon trait. For example, if your sword’s slash does not create any kind of damage, then perhaps your glove’s bash will do the trick. The same goes for magic. One type of magic may be more harmful than another when used against a particular enemy. Also, each magic element has two spells, one offensive and one defensive. To cast a defensive spell such as heal or speed up, simply tap the “R” button. However, the “R” button must be held down for a few seconds to summon an offensive magic attack. Also, the spells distance and attack type depends on which weapon you have equipped. For example, if you cast a fire spell with your sword equipped, then a ball of fire will appear right in front of you. However, if the same fire spell is cast when a long ranged weapon such as the bow is equipped, the fire will spread out in front of the player. This magic system makes good use of the limited amount of buttons on the GBA.
Just like any RPG, your character will level up. After experience has been gained, the player can choose which stats to upgraded. Also, each particular weapon and magic element will increase with the more it is used. This will keep players constantly switching weapons and magic to add variety especially since some enemies are only vulnerable to a specific weapon or magic spell.
While Sword of Mana is definitely an above average game, there are many flaws in its design. The most noticeable is the lack of co-op play. For most the game, the player will be venturing with a computer-controlled player. It would make perfect sense for one player to control one player while player two controlled the other. The computer always controls the second player. However, the A.I. behind these characters forces the player to baby sit as opposed to having a battle buddy. The A.I. will always be left behind or get caught behind a tree or a rock. The computer controlled character is some of the worst, friendly A.I. you will ever see. Instead of making a joyful two-player mode, the designers of this game decided to add a weak link system. Two Sword of Mana game paks can be linked up and data can be exchanged. When data is exchanged, each player will gain an Amigo. Once per day, the player can blow his Amigo whistle to create a powerful attack against all enemies. The more Amigos you have, the more powerful the attack will be. This is a rather feeble attempt to get a player to seek out another Sword of Mana player. This is the perfect game to develop a way to use two GC controllers on one GameBoy Player. It is sad that a feature like this was not implemented.
The next biggest flaw lies in the day and night theme. Sword of Mana tries to be unique by adding a Pokemon element in its game play. When the game starts, it is in the daytime. Each time the player passes onto another screen, time changes. Day will gradually turn to night and night back into day. Keep in mind that this game does not contain real world time. The game has its own day and night system. Certain enemies and special events will only happen at one time throughout the day. While this could have been a cool feature, it is put together as an after thought. There really is no big reason this feature was added to the game. This title could have done with out this nonsense.
This Final Fantasy Adventure remake tries to out do the original game by introducing tons of new items, many mini quests, and a weapon/armor upgrading function. Many different types of items can be found everywhere throughout the game but it does not make good use out of any of them. I must have collected hundreds of items throughout the quest and only used about 5% of them. Coins, fruits, vegetables and numerous other items were plentiful throughout the entire quest, but the game does not put them to use. The game never tells the player how to use many of these items. I probably collected dozens of different types of coins, and never used a single one.
Many of the game’s mini quests are also quite ridiculous. I found myself passing out sales fliers to members of the community, traveling back and forth between two towns to mail a series of love letters between two people, and trying to find a man who loves barbequed newt. These are some of the blandest mini quests in recent memory. I don’t want to pass out fliers, I want to save the world and beat up bad guys with my awesome sword. Send me on a quest to slay the demonic dragon instead of helping with your love life.
New to this game is the weapon and armor upgrading. This is one of the most confusing and complicated features in the game. Once you find the proper dwarf to upgrade your equipment, you need the proper items and money. First you must decide which piece of weapon (or armor) you want to upgrade. Then you must decide if you want to forge or temper it. I’m still not completely sure on what the difference is. Then you must find fruit and vegetables to help with the upgrading process. That’s right, fruit! I don’t know about you, but I love upgrading my beast-killing weapon with a tomato. However, in order to gather these fruits and vegetables, you must first find seeds. When you find a few different seeds, you need to mix two different types and plant them. Then you must wait a number of days before they grow. After spending some time with the upgrading process, I realized that it is not even worth it. The game never gives a tutorial on how to upgrade equipment or how to obtain the items needed. Plus, you can only upgrade each piece of equipment a certain number of times. Instead of constantly upgrading the same armor and weapons, I wish I could simply just buy new ones.
The graphics have definitely been upgraded since the original GB game. However, they are not the best the system can offer. Because this game takes place in an over-head type view, depth is present but not applicable. The player can be positioned on a ledge above an enemy and still hit him with your sword due to the 2D game play. Early in the game, the player will gain the ability to jump. Jumping is done with the “L” button and is very unresponsive. Not only does it take a while to register, landing and lining up a jump is very difficult. Like the day and night feature, jumping is an unnecessary part of this game and didn’t need to be put in the final product. The music in this game isn’t as epic as previous Manas, but it is noticeable and enjoyable.
Flaws aside, Sword of Mana is worthy to be played through once, especially for fans of the series. The confusing and complicated equipment upgrading systems needs a lot of work, the link mode is half-assed, and the mini quests are just plain stupid. However, killing enemies never seems get boring even if you are back tracking. Plus, the story will bring back fond memories of the original black and white game. Is this game above average? Yes. Does this game reach it full potential? Definitely not. Instead of making this game, I probably would have preferred a Secret of Mana port with solid multiplayer capabilities.