Review: Sword Of Mana (Game Boy Advance)

Wow. It’s been a long time since I picked up this game. And this is by far my favorite Square series. I first picked this game up on a flight to my moms when in the winter of 1991. This was before Final Fantasy had the big “overrated pile of crap’ label I have placed on it since FF6 aka FF4 but with less characters, less development and prettier pictures. So I was kind of excited to try this new action version of Final Fantasy.

But the more I played it, the more I realized this game wasn’t Final Fantasy in the slightest. Yeah, there were Chocobos, but other than that, this game had nothing in remotely in common with Square’s main series. And later as I grew more aware of “insider’ video game hoodoo, I learned in fact Final Fantasy Adventure was in fact NOT a Final Fantasy game. It was Seiken Densetsu aka the “Mana’ series here in America. Square was afraid it was a one trick pony at this point and decided to label both this and the god awful rip my eyes out and shove them up my anus series that is SaGa, under Final Fantasy names here in the US in hopes people would buy and play them. Sadly I did get Final Fantasy Legend and this game made me so bitter and angry towards Square it’s no wonder FF 6-8 & 10 made me grow to despise with such a furious hatred I scare my fellow Kliq members.

Although Final Fantasy Legend was dogsnot, Final Fantasy Adventure was…WONDERFUL!

And the Mana series managed to rid itself of the Final Fantasy name and left the Game Boy and it’s massive battery eating for the Super Nintendo where Secret of Mana and Secret of Mana 2 (Seiken Densetsu 2 & 3) lived out their happy existence as games that were beautiful to look at as well as play. And then it moved from the land of Nintendo, like every Squaresoft game, to the Playstation.

And Legend of Mana became one of my most favorite games of all time. Yes. That’s right. One of Alex’s favorite games is Legend of Mana. A SQUARE game. Get over it.

Although a lot of people lambasted that game, it was a perfect RPG experience. The graphics were better than any PSX game had any right to be. The characters were amazing and almost alive in terms of personality. And I loved the concept of dozens of miniquests that eventually made up 4 big ones instead of the usual Big Quest with tons of sub plots. It was the first game I ever saw my girlfriend at the time actually want to play (other than DDR and Space Channel 5) and seemed to be the game everyone I dated since gravitated towards as well. So fellas, you want to get a girl to play games with you that aren’t in the bedroom, pull out Legend of Mana. It’ll be well worth it.

And now, everything old is new again. Square has totally remade Final Fantasy Adventure and labeled it as Sword of Mana. An added playable character (with slightly different plot!) Some of the changes however, make it feel like a sequel to Legend of Mana and thus the latest game instead of the very first Mana game. But we’ll go into that in a little bit.

Let’s Review

Story

In fact this is the story of two characters; a man and a woman whose lives have been intertwined since the beginning. It is also the story of over a dozen NPC’s that interact, befriend, and despise your character. Some will change alliances, some will grow close to your character. Others will die.

One thing I do need to warn you about the MANA series is that it’s not happy. It is somber, and angsty. It is beautiful, but I can never remember a time playing any Mana game where I was happy and excited. The mood is nostalgic and melancholy and a sweet sad level of enjoyment and empathy that can’t be described as happy, or bouncy, or the like. The tales will not make you laugh out loud or grin from ear to ear like Lunar. The Mana games are beautiful in their grief and pleasurable in their misery. It may sound like a bad goth poem, but it’s true. And you need to be warned of that before you start playing the series.

The male and female characters meet as young children. As children, both sets of parents were killed by the mysterious Dark Lord. The female gets away, but the boy is captured and sold into gladiatorial combat where he spends a decade brooding with hate and revenge on his mind for Dark Lord.

Eventually he escapes and the story begins…

The crux of the story is both characters meeting ten years later, interacting and learning about each other. But most importantly the story is that of self-discovery and reflection on the concepts of good and evil and if life can ever be that black and white.

Some excellent comments on morality in the game. And a wonderful ten year old story refurbished by showing it from the girl’s point of view now as well.

It’s also excellent to see some characters from Legend of Mana return. Niccolo, the greedy scheming salesrabbit. Lil’ Cactus, Trent, Gaeus, and Watts the dwarf. These additions make Sword of Mana feel like a sequel to Legend instead of being the first game in the series. However, Watts is younger, bearded, and a lot less senile in this game, showing that yes, it still comes before Legend of Mana. And yes, Watts was in the original Mana game as well. He’s the only character truly there from the beginning. Which is an odd choice to make…

Sword of Mana’s excellent story is marred only by the English Translation. Brownie Brown has made the dialogue laughable in certain places, which is a true pity. When a major character dies, the hero calls out for example. “Blast it! BLAAAAAAAAST IT!’ Ugh. Who actually would say Blast It having spent their life killing for the amusement of rich people and politicians. I guess they just wanted the E label that badly…

Overall, Sword of Mana’s plot changes have made the game even better than it was before. And also keeps the game feeling fresh and original. I miss the completely open ended nature of Legend of Mana, but Sword of Mana managed to keep a very linear game interesting and entertaining with the story it has to tell.

Story Rating: 7/10

2. Graphics

Heh. I wonder what THIS game is going to get for graphics? Even for a Square Enix game, the graphics in Sword of Mana blew me away. It was as if they took the graphics for Legend of Mana (which were groundbreaking enough for a PSX game) and transposed them onto my little GBA SP screen. Indeed, Niccolo looks exactly as he did in Legend of Mana, as do many of the monsters. Complete and total rip from LoM.

The backgrounds are lush and vibrant and appeared to be painted, not computer generated. Their beauty is in every way the opposite of the sadness contained within the story.

There is no better looking game on the GBA. None. And I don’t know how any game can top the inherent beauty in Sword of Mana. Division 4 could learn a lot from Brownie Brown about how to make a game look beautiful and live up to the Squaresoft reputation.

Graphics Rating: 10/10

3. Sound

The music isn’t bad. But it doesn’t grab me in any particular way. I own the Legend of Mana soundtrack. But I wouldn’t own this.

As always the music is slow, melodically soothing and sad in theme, but it doesn’t grab me the way LoM did. Often I would just turn the music off and listen to something else. There wasn’t as much variety. The sound affects were okay. Again, in terms of audio, the game fell far short compared to plot and graphics. It disappointed me greatly as I was hoping for another great soundtrack from the Mana series. Again, it’s not bad. It just wasn’t what I was looking for musically in a video game of this caliber.

Sound Rating: 5/10

4. Control

Hmm. Well, A is for Hitting, B is for running, L is for jumping, R is for the two types of spells for each elemental spirit that joins you. With the type of spell being cast dependent upon how long you hold the button down, and L and A at the same times lets you recover magic.

Sound confusing? It’s not really, but sometimes you will hold down the Magic button too long, or running won’t kick on right away, or your combo attack won’t work. Try casting a spell on a meatball that is at the top of the stairs when you are at the bottom? I promise you, swearing will occur in SECONDS

The menu options are bulky and time consuming as well. A very poorly designed interface that makes switching weapons and magic or using items an annoyance rather than fun.

If you can get over the menu system and the sometimes unresponsive, the game is just fine to play. After a 2-3 hours of play the controls become second nature and you can play just fine. Still, the game does play better on the GBA rather than the GBASP if only for the design of the system.

On the positive side, each weapon does have its own distinct feel. See? I can always find something positive.

Control Rating: 5/10

5. Replayability

Unlike Legend of Mana, which was as nonlinear as a game can get, and also had a nifty world building aspect, Sword of Mana’s straight forward linear gameplay makes it hard to be enthusiastic about playing the game two times in a row. Especially with the crappy menu interface.

However, Sword of Mana does a lot to draw you back into playing again and again. Not only are their two distinct characters to play as, but you also have an exceptional customization package to work with each time you level up.

Every time you level up, your character gets a level in whatever class you choose for him from Warrior, Monk, Sage, Thief, Mage, and Random. After you have gained so many levels in one class or a few levels in specific classes, your permanent Job type is chosen. And once you start on one path, you’re going to have to follow it to the end. No if ands or buts. I ended up for my male character with a Warrior Monk, combination Monk and Sage. With my female character I ended with a Starlancer, which is a mix of everything.

Although not as infinitely replayable as its sequel, this remake of Sword of Mana has ensured it is far more enjoyable than the original release, and guarantees you will play the game more than once while it is in your possession.

Replayability:7/10

6. Balance

Hmm. Let’s leave it at this. When minor random monsters are harder to kill than the boss characters, there is a distinct problem with the difficulty level. An example. Specters can only be hurt by certain magic spells. According to the book your character has, Holy magic does the most damage. But in practice, it does a mere 1 point of damage. Ugh. Then the boss you face in the same mansion you encounter the specters dies after 5 or so hits from your knuckle attack. The entire battle was under 30 seconds. Even though you are on a spinning disc which is supposed to make it harder.

As well, there are these damned meatballs. A meatball is a thing that blocks your progress and unless you use the right weapon or spell it will do some damage to you. A good deal of damage. Especially as you play guess and check. Want to know why I picked a Warrior Monk to become? HEALING SPELL BONUSES. Healing in this game is good. Very good. And these things are the most annoying part of the game. Profanity inducing are the meatballs.

Yes, I’m afraid there is no real balance to Sword of Mana. It’s downright sad how easy the game is and how it requires no strategy. Aside from said annoying meatballs and a few programming errors, the game could be played with your eyes closed and just hittingt A over and over again until the monsters are dead.

Balance Rating: 4/10

7. Originality

It’s a remake of Final Fantasy Adventure. It’s prettier and cleaned up, but it is essentially the same game. Sure there are more weapons and spells and a new character class system and a new playable character and the plot has changed but it’s still the same game.

Wait a minute…

Sword of Mana feels and plays very distinctly from Seiken Densetsu. It is the same game. But yet it is not. As I said, the changes make it feel as if it is a sequel to LoM instead of the first game in the series. It’s a very weird feeling playing this remake. But one can’t deny Square loves to do remakes and sequels rather than anything new and original.

Originality: 5/10

8. Addictiveness

It’s a fun game, but I can’t play it for long periods at a time. Maybe an hour so and then I have to go put it down and try something new. It’s a decent game, but it can’t hold my attention due to the repetitive fights and the fact it’s far too easy. I love the plot, but this game can’t hold my interest very well. 15 minutes of playing feels like an hour. And an hour of playing? You can’t believe time slowed down THAT DAMN MUCH. Sword of Mana is not a game I can see anyone truly getting obsessed with, as the previous mentioned problems with this game overshadow the story and beauty of it at times.

Addictiveness Rating: 4/10

9. Appeal Factor

Hmm. Well, it’s Square. Big Plus. It’s a GBA RPG. Big Plus. But at the same time, marketing has been low, and the Mana series has never truly taken off in America as more than a cult thing. To make matters worse, it’s going to be overshadowed by Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, but also rightfully overshadowed by a lot better RPGS that are out there such as Ogre Tactics and Lunar Legends. I’d like to see this game get more play by the average gamer so that we can get some real sequels to the series going, but it will mainly be hardcore Mana or Square fans picking this up. Or people looking for a new non tactics RPG. Remember when those were RARE people?

Appeal Factor: 6/10

10. Miscellaneous

Sword of Mana does give us a lot of neat things to consider. They took an old game most of us haven’t played and gave it an amazing graphics overhaul. Added a new leveling up system, a new storyline and even hid a few things for us to discover, such as when you kill a thousand of the same monster, a new black version of it will appear that is far tougher than the original, but drops better items.

I had a lot of fun seeing all the changes and what had been changed and what was left the same.

Overall, Square did a good job in making this feel like a new game instead of a remake.

Miscellaneous Rating: 7/10

Short Attention Span Summary
Sword of Mana is an odd contradiction. It has some great aspects to it that make it a lot of fun. But at the same time, there are some real problems with the game and how it plays. It’s a better than average game. But it is by no means a game you should rush out to buy. The Story and Graphics will lure you in, but the play control and the fact it is just too easy will make you wish you could rent GBA games to see if it’s your cup of tea or not.