SquareEnix is fast approaching the point where they will have release more re-release retro content than new games this side of the millennium, but when a company has such a vast and genre-defining back catalog it’s hard to argue against seeing some of their titles getting a lavish remake. Adventures of Mana is in fact the second remake of the originally titled ‘Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden’ (also known as ‘Mystic Quest’ and ‘Final Fantasy Adventure’ outside Japan) after the less than successful ‘Sword of Mana’ version on the Game Boy Advance, and this version easily trumps it’s last-gen equivalent on all fronts by staying closer to the source material.
In fact what we have here is essentially a 3D remake screen for screen of the original Mana game in all it’s glory. Though there’s been a little story polishing, much of the old game (including it’s flaws) remains intact. It’s a work of love that almost reaches perfection.
Graphically this title scraps the original 2D spritework and boxed environment of the original and implements larger, wide-screen settings and fully rendered 3D models for characters and locations. The camera is still locked in the same top-down perspective as the original, which makes the gameplay feel virtually unchanged, but these graphics are easy to look at and smoothed to show no rough edges. The game actually manages to imply the atmosphere of a fairy tale by the use of this style and a lighter, pastel colour palette throughout its length, which works perfectly with the light story and gameplay mechanics to form a charming visual.
Sound effects are passable, but nothing particularly special and will vary in quality based on the device on which you play. They seem to be pretty much perfect on a handheld but suffer a little on mobile devices. A fault not present in the games music, which remixes some of the the original tracks into fuller and deeper sounding melodies and shines through as one of the games best elements. The Mana series has always has its own sound, and this entry manages to hit that sweet-spot by being suitably different to anything else but noticeably ‘Mana’ in tone.
The story centers around a young man who has been pressed into slavery and lives his life day by day in the arena, battling monsters for the pleasure of a paying audience. At the outset he makes his escape only to run into and overhear the scheme of the Dark Lord and is summarily thrown from the top of a waterfall and presumed dead. Waking in the forest, he rescues a young girl who may be a key element in preventing these plans and restoring Mana to the world. Although there is a ‘we’ve seen this before’ edge to the tale, it does come with its own twists and turns, as well as a solid ending that makes the journey worth while whilst setting the stage for later games in the Mana series. Writing is typo free, though story light for the most part, and characters always come across as likable without being too deep. Evidently Square learned from their mistakes when producing Sword of Mana and knew that delving too deeply into the story would be a mistake.
Gameplay is a simple top-down Action RPG with a few kinks. Unlike games like ‘The Legend of Zelda’ (Arguably and Action, Adventure game) there’s a level-up mechanic that sees the player able to upgrade several key ‘disciplines’ that allow for customization in how you play. Warrior allows for stronger attacks, Monk increases defense and health points, Mage adds to your MP pool and makes magic stronger, whilst Sage builds your weapon limit gauge faster. All of these are important to completion, though an early focus on Warrior and Sage allows for some devastating combos as you can build your special attack meter faster and fire it off for more damage. This is the genesis point of the action gauge as seen in later games and is linked to how much damage each attack can cause at any given time. You’ll collect a variety of useful weapons and items to take with you and aid in both combat and navigation of the map, with Axes used to cut down trees to form new paths and other items employed to similar effect. Unlike most other Action RPGS, the player is also joined by guest characters who have their own skills and will act independently according to their own behaviors. The world map is large and explored once screen at a time, with the monsters loading in a split second later, which can cause from trouble if you happen to be moving into a spot where the monster will appear and causing damage that could have been avoided. This is one of the games bigger sins, in addition to knock back from some foes that switched your screen against your wishes and a point where you can become trapped because a door has locked and you can’t escape without a stock of items to use. Still, none of these break the game and for the most part are totally unnoticeable. The ring menu system has been imported from later titles, and is a pleasure to use on a touch-screen, making some of the more fiddly aspects of the original streamlined nicely. Importantly, dungeons are interesting to play through and varied in nature, keeping the game barreling along at a good pace.
Overall, there’s absolutely no reason not to pick up this game. It’s easy to play and enjoy with no prior knowledge of the series and exceeds most expectations of a remake easily. Unfortunately it’s not a timeless classic like the original, which still holds up and plays well to this day, and does bring with it both a hefty price tag (as a premium game) and a few new troubles of its own that weren’t present in the original. Still, when it comes to producing a high-quality title there’s still no beating SquareEnix for that retro-kick.