Adventures of Mana
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If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

Square-Enix’s Seiken Densetsu (“Holy Sword Legend”) franchise, known as Mana outside Japan, began as a spinoff, albeit loosely-connected story-wise, of the Final Fantasy series, indicated by the first game’s Japanese subtitle Final Fantasy Gaiden (“side-story”) and its English name Final Fantasy Adventure. Though it would receive an enhanced remake called Sword of Mana in North America, one of the main criticisms of it was its vast deviation from the original game, given significant variations in the gameplay and plot. However, 2016 saw the worldwide release of a more faithful remake, Adventures of Mana, which retains the classic gameplay of the GameBoy version with some contemporary enhancements.

Players control Sumo, a gladiator forced to fight for the Vandole Emperor’s amusement, until he escapes and encounters the main heroine, Fuji, an on-and-off companion throughout the game, with other adversaries in the form of the enigmatic Dark Lord and Julius, alongside the eventual goal of preserving the power of Mana. The narrative has a few twists, some backstory revealed later on, and a few sad moments, although many characters lack development such as the Dark Lord, and there are no variations in the plot, with death, for instance, not indicating what exactly happens if the player dies; the poor direction at times on how to advance the story itself is another burden.

Adventures is mostly ably-translated, given its comprehensible disposition and lack of spelling or grammar errors, although some of the name choices are unusual and indicate the game’s Japanese origin, such as Sumo and Fuji. Furthermore, the name of the villain Dark Lord would have been better off as the Shadowknight, his original Japanese name. There are, moreover, some unusually-translated lines such as “You fell to the ground” whenever you lose all your life. Overall, the localization is by no means bad, but isn’t anything particularly special.

Like Final Fantasy Adventure, its second remake features top-down action-oriented gameplay, Sumo using various weapons, with many enemies throughout the game having invulnerability to certain arms and thus necessitating he change them sporadically. One improvement over the GameBoy version is that the player can choose up to three weapon, magic, or item shortcuts, in addition to whatever they have equipped to Sumo’s main extra slot alongside his current weapon, which somewhat lessens the need to navigate the menus. However, more shortcuts, possible given the PlayStation Vita’s touchscreen capabilities, would have been welcome, particularly a segregation of weapon, magic, and item shortcuts since there are many moments the player will need to traverse the menus to alter their setup.

Fortunately, fights with the various enemies, including bosses, tend to be quick, and acquiring enough experience promotes Sumo a level, which will happen frequently, further fully restoring his health and magic points. In these cases, the player can choose one of four different “classes” that increase specific stats a certain amount. The hero can also use magic gained at fixed points throughout the game that players can assign to his main secondary slot and which consume magic points. Perhaps the most useful of his spells is standard healing magic, whose effectiveness increases with his levels.

Throughout the game, Sumo might occasionally receive an A.I.-controlled ally, although unlike in Sword of Mana, his allies are immortal, with no micromanagement necessary, and he can occasionally ask them for supplemental abilities like healing. Moreover, unlike in contemporary three-dimensional action RPGs, Adventures doesn’t suffer from the camera problems said titles tend to have, given its total retention of a top-down perspective. Pretty much the only other real issue aside from the limit of shortcuts is the inconsistent hit boxes, Sumo sometimes able to attack aerial foes and other times not, and his attacks sometimes affecting enemies but at other times being deflected by the same monsters.

The second remake occurs with an explorable overworld connecting towns and dungeons, true to Japanese RPG convention being toroidal (where, while going east or west off the edge of the map takes players to the opposite end, the same going for when they venture past the north or south side, something that doesn’t happen in real life). Some dungeons, furthermore, require that Sumo has consumable keys and early on, mattocks to break vulnerable walls, although in the latter case, the ball-and-chain weapon ultimately serves the same purpose and significantly frees up inventory space.

Players can record their progress anywhere 99% of the time, a supplemental quicksave feature allowing exit to the main menu, good since putting the Vita into sleep mode while in gameplay mode doesn’t pause the game clock. Some dungeons and occasionally the overworld have puzzles that necessitate certain magic and weapons, ice spells, for instance, able to freeze foes and allow their placement on switches to open doors, and the flail conveying Sumo to distant poles. In-game dungeon maps can also be useful and do a good job preventing the player from getting lost in them, and Sumo eventually obtains the Final Fantasy franchise’s avian horse substitute, the chocobo, for rapid conveyance.

However, warp magic would have also been welcome, since many parts necessitate the player revisit areas, and as mentioned, the remake sometimes does a poor job telling players how to advance, some characters that do give directions not repeating them when talked to again. Some of the puzzles are also a bit annoying, but mercifully solvable without a guide, and the player actually has to equip keys to use them rather than being able to use them automatically if they do have them in their overall inventory. Finally, inventory space is limited, which, while adding to the gameplay’s effectiveness by limiting Sumo’s item use, creates the issue of having to discard consumables to open chests enemies drop.

Perhaps the high point of Adventures is its aural presentation, composer Kenji Ito providing the bulk of the soundtrack and former Final Fantasy regular Nobuo Uematsu contributing his signature chocobo theme. Ito’s tracks, beginning with the central theme, are simply magnificent, made more poignant by the top-notch orchestrated quality. Notable tracks include those played in dungeons, the peaceful town themes, the energetic boss themes, the two overworld tunes, somber pieces that accompany sad moments, and the awesome endgame music. Pretty much the only real issue is the rare silent moments.

The game’s graphics are fully three-dimensional despite the top-down perspective. While the character models don’t show much emotion during story scenes where interacting luminaries occupy the screen, the animation is fluid, with no framerate drops. The environments also look nice, with believable colors and little blurry or pixilated texturing, but some dungeon scenery can get repetitive. However, there’s a deficit of palette-swapped foes, and the boss models are a far cry from those in the original version. The only real blights in an otherwise-pretty game are models sometimes lacking collision detection with environs and that different equipment doesn’t affect Sumo’s appearance.

Finally, the remake is short like the original, taking from six to twelve hours to complete, with Trophies adding some lasting appeal, although there is no New Game+ like in other Square-Enix RPGs.

To conclude, Adventures of Mana is an enjoyable remake that hits the right notes regarding its quick and tight combat, gorgeous aural direction, and nice visuals. However, some areas leave room for improvement like its control issues, the lackluster nature of the narrative itself, and lack of replayability. Those who consider Sword of Mana a superior remake to Final Fantasy Adventure probably won’t take joy at the second remake’s faithfulness to its source material, but players yearning for a nostalgic experience will appreciate the fact that Adventures doesn’t take many risks regarding its execution.

The Good:
Quick, tight combat; excellent sound; nice graphics.

The Bad:
Average story and translation; various control issues; not much replayability.

The Bottom Line:
A faithful remake that doesn’t take many risks.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Mechanics: 8.5/10
Controls: 5/10
Story: 5/10
Localization: 5/10
Music/Sound: 9.5/10
Graphics: 7.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 5/10
Difficulty: Easy to Medium
Playing Time: 6-12 Hours

Overall: 6.5/10

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