Review: Adventures of Mana (Sony PlayStation Vita)

Adventures of Mana
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: 06/28/2016

The original 1991 Final Fantasy Adventure holds a special place in my heart. Known as Seiken Densetsu in its home country, the title was an action RPG spinoff of the main FF series that eventually evolved into its own franchise. I remember flipping through a friend’s old Nintendo Power and thinking it looked like a Zelda game, only with FF sprites and a large plethora of weapons. The trouble was, the game was out of print and there were no used video game shops near where I lived. Heck, there wasn’t much of anything near my home, and it wouldn’t be until Sunsoft’s 1998 reprint that I’d finally get to try it out. It was love at first playthrough.

Playing Final Fantasy Adventure became something of a ritual during my teenage years, as a single run was short enough that I would just fire it up at random intervals to play through it one more time. Something about the setting just spoke to me and it remains to this day as one of my favorite GameBoy games. I was ecstatic to hear that it would be remade for the GameBoy Advance (where it was renamed Sword of Mana), but despite being able to play as the female protagonist, the game tried very hard to bury its FF roots. It played more like a reimagining than a proper remake and while it was fun, it was a forgettable experience.

Fast forward another decade, and it was revealed that the game was being remade again as Adventures of Mana. Which sounded great until its mobile phone version made its way west without a word about the Vita version. Considering how much the Vita gets the snub from Square Enix, it shouldn’t have been that surprising, but fortunately fans made their voices heard, myself included. And just like that, the game got a phantom release on the PSN with little warning that the game was coming. I bought it that day.

Now I know what you’re thinking. “Enough with your Seiken Densetsu anecdotes, how is the damn game?” In short, fans will be delighted, though some aspects of it will be lost on modern audiences with no nostalgic ties to the original.

The setting should be instantly familiar to those who have played later games in the Mana series, as the world is sustained by a giant Mana Tree. The protagonist (whose default name I learned to be Sumo), is a slave fighting for the amusement of the powerful in a coliseum full of monsters until one day making his escape. He makes the mistake of running into his captor, the Dark Lord, as he discusses his plans to obtain the power of the Mana Tree with one of his underlings. After being sent down a waterfall, he recovers and subsequently rescues a mysterious girl from a grim fate at the hands of some forest creatures. They decide to journey together from that point and unwittingly become embroiled in the struggle to prevent the Dark Lord’s plan from coming to fruition.

It’s a fairly generic setup by fantasy standards, though it was certainly more impressive twenty five years ago. That said, there are some legitimately shocking plot twists, including high profile character deaths years before FFVII was even a thought in someone’s mind. Players, especially new ones, shouldn’t expect to have their socks knocked off narratively. But what’s here should be sufficient for those looking for a retro experience and it’s legitimately interesting enough to want to see it through to the end.

I was impressed by how a 2D experience was translated into 3D, even though it still maintains its top-down perspective. The fact that it even has color is a visual step up from its original incarnation, though the smooth looking character models certainly don’t hurt its case. It also doesn’t go out of its way to cover up Final Fantasy references. On the contrary, it prominently features various classic character classes on the level up screen when choosing stat growth and you’ll eventually get your very own chocobo. There is no voice acting to be found in Adventures of Mana, but the soundtrack is phenomenal. I always felt the music was particularly standout for a GameBoy game, but now you can listen to a more orchestral version as you play. And if you find yourself missing the old audio, that can be enabled as well.

Many of Square Enix’s more recent ports began development on mobile phones and then converted to other platforms such as PC or Vita with some often less than desirable results (Final Fantasy V & VI come to mind). Fortunately, Adventures of Mana adapted rather well to the Vita’s control setup. Not that it was an overly complex game control-wise. The X button is your weapon attack and circle is for magic or items. These two actions are going to be the bulk of your strategy, though considering the GameBoy only had a couple of buttons, this isn’t terribly surprising. Square opens up the ring menu common to the franchise and allows you to change up your weapons and manage your gear. Holding down either of the shoulders and then pressing a face button can fire off additional items or magic if you have some assigned. You can even just tap the icon for the action using the touchscreen if that’s easier for you. Finally, triangle opens up the system menu for saving and adjusting options and the like.

My main beef with the setup is that some of the buttons were wasted. Rather than holding down shoulder buttons to perform some secondary assigned actions, it would’ve been much easier to free up square and triangle for this and assign the menu buttons to be Select and Start. You can adjust the button layout in the options, but all it does is flip-flop the X and circle functions, which is less than helpful.

Adventures of Mana plays very much like a classic Zelda game, though there are some key differences. Namely, rather than just a sword, your arsenal spans everything from axes to flails to spears. Some weapons even serve more of a purpose than just attacking, such as knocking down walls or chopping trees. Defeating foes earns experience and a level up gives you a choice between four different growth paths. A bar slowly charges on the bottom of the screen that will unleash a super attack of sorts when full, but resets any time the player attacks. By the time you reach the end game the bar charges so fast that you can use these techniques almost instantaneously, though this may also be a nuisance depending on the weapon as you don’t always want to shoot across both sides of the screen. Computer controlled allies will assist you during different parts of the story, though very few of them are actually useful. The ones that attack do so on such rare occasions that they can’t be counted on in a heated fight, though you can talk to them to gain free heals or obtain advice about the area you’re in. The game is easy enough as it is though that their abilities aren’t really needed.

While the game remains faithful to the source material, there are a handful of modern conveniences that were added to accommodate new players. The biggest one in my eyes is the auto save, as I can’t count how many times I’ve gone back to older RPG’s and forgotten to save regularly, only to lose hours of progress to an untimely demise. A mini-map helps to track your progress at a glance and a full on world map can be pulled up from the system menu to see where you are in the world. This is especially helpful considering the game can be quite vague in how it wants you to progress, often only delivering a sentence or two from random townsfolk indicating your goal. There’s even one clue that you can only obtain from an NPC that he’ll only tell you by delivering an item to him that’s a rare drop from an enemy. Walkthroughs for the original game match up almost perfectly though save for a few name changes, so it’s not as if you couldn’t find your way if you become hopelessly lost.

Adventures of Mana is truly the definitive edition of the original Seiken Densetsu/Final Fantasy Adventure. It’s practically identical to the 1991 title, for better or for worse, though the visual and mild mechanical enhancements make for more palatable experience for a 2016 audience. I enjoyed every minute of it, warts and all, and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a solid retro experience. And the price certainly doesn’t hurt either.

Short Attention Span Summary
Adventures of Mana is a 3D remake of the 1991 classic Final Fantasy Adventure. It retains all the same quirks of the original, while improving upon the presentation and including modern conveniences, such as auto save and a mini-map. But because it’s so purposely retro, it may turn away prospective newcomers on account of some of the more dated aspects of it, such as the cliche narrative and deciphering vague clues to figure out where to head next. That said, this is the definitive version of the game and those looking for an old school fix at a reasonable price would be well served by picking it up.


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