Sword of Mana
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Square-Enix’s Seiken Densetsu, or Mana, series, began as a spinoff of the Final Fantasy franchise, although story connections were minimal at best, as was the case with each mainline FF, before developing a life of its own. North American gamers would only miss out on the third entry of the Seiken series when a remake of Final Fantasy Adventure, entitled Shinyaku Seiken Densetsu (“Legend of the Holy Sword: A New Testament”), hit the GameBoy Advance, retitled Sword of Mana for non-Japanese players, which is a mix of the old and the new that in many instances works, but it’s certainly not without its problems.

When beginning a new game, the player can choose to play from the perspective of the primary male protagonist or the main female one, which makes the game replayable at least once, at least story-wise. Regardless, the plot itself stumbles frequently and very much puts quantity over quality, with many hackneyed story elements such as the hero’s desire to avenge his deceased parents at the hands of Prince Stroud, who dons a party mask and wants everyone to address him as “Dark Lord.” The translation doesn’t help, with weakly-translated lines such as “Will you pray to Mana Goddess?” and “Blast it! BLAAAAAAAAAAAAST IT!” In the end, players shouldn’t expect a well-written narrative.

That leaves the gameplay to shoulder the burden, and for the most part, Sword of Mana actually does fairly well in this regard, with the chosen character able to level various weapons they obtain throughout the game except, in the hero’s case, the staff, or in the heroine’s case, the sword. Elemental spirits also abound, with various encountered enemies having strengths and weaknesses, an in-game journal mercifully tracking antagonist stats. What burdens combat, however, is the frequent need to navigate the menus to change weapons and spirits, not to mention the terrible ally A.I. that renders companions virtually useless. All in all, battles remain generally compelling.

Although the Mana series pioneered the ring icon-based menu system, the remake takes things to a new low, because instead of having separate interfaces between which to toggle, it instead features many submenus that take forever to navigate, which can make simple tasks such as changing weapons or spirits and using items cumbersome. Furthermore, while the overworld has a map, dungeons do not, a step down from Final Fantasy Adventure, with some players possibly needing to reference guides to figure out how to advance at times. Access to the Hot House where players can perform functions such as forge more powerful weapons is also limited at times, and overall, the remake could have definitely been more user-friendly.

Kenji Ito’s remixed soundtrack, however, remains a high point in Sword of Mana, with a mixture of old and new tracks, the former sounding somewhat different than they did in the original game, although the quality at some points leaves something to desire.

The graphics are pretty, as well, with colorful environments that appear lifted from the equally-pretty Legend of Mana and character sprites that mostly resemble their character portraits, with almost all named characters having portraits during cutscenes. Granted, there is occasional slowdown when the screen is crowded, some foes are reskins, and said portraits, along with their respective sprites, don’t show alternate emotions, but otherwise, the remake is easy on the eyes.

Finally, the remake is short, ranging from half to a full day’s worth of total playtime, with endless sidequests to pad out playing time.

Ultimately, Sword of Mana is for the most part an enjoyable remake that hits many of the right notes regarding its addictive and strategic gameplay, enjoyable soundtrack, pretty graphics, and the choice of protagonist making it replayable at least once. It does, however, leave room for improvement in the areas of its lousy A.I., cumbersome interface, and histrionic storyline and dialogue. Final Fantasy Adventure would eventually receive a second, more faithful, remake entitled Adventures of Mana, although the first remake is different enough from its original incarnation to warrant its own playthrough.

The Good:
+Leveling weapons and spells can be fun, with occasional strategy in combat.
+Nice soundtrack.
+Pretty visuals.
+Replayable at least once.

The Bad:
-Artificial idiocy by allies and enemies.
-Clunky interface.
-Story puts quantity above quality.
-Hackneyed dialogue.

The Bottom Line:
Not a perfect remake, but is still enjoyable.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: GameBoy Advance
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 4/10
Localization: 5/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Moderate
Playing Time: 12-24 Hours

Overall: 7/10

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