Square's Seiken Densetsu series may not be as popular as Final Fantasy yet it has a dedicated following. This remake of the original Game Boy title stays true in many ways but is it too old-school for its own good?
Before I begin this review, I thought I should discuss this delightful adventure RPG's history. On June 28, 1991, Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden debuted in Japan for Game Boy. When it was released in North America, it was known as Final Fantasy Adventure while its sequels would later be named as installments of the Mana series. For example, Seiken Densetsu 2 for Super Nintendo was titled Secret of Mana when it arrived here. Anyway, Final Fantasy Adventure combined the already popular gameplay formula of The Legend of Zelda with RPG elements to craft a unique portable gaming experience. Over a decade later, it was remade as Sword of Mana for Game Boy Advance. I still own both the original Game Boy game and Sword of Mana so when I found out that this new version was on its way, I was very excited. On June 28, 2016 (exactly 25 years since its debut), Adventures of Mana finally arrived in North America for PlayStation Vita. With all that out of the way, let's see if this was a game worth revisiting.
Adventures of Mana is a faithful reinterpretation of the classic seeing as everything except the modern graphics is basically the same as the 1991 original. You can even change the soundtrack to the one from the Game Boy version if you want. That being said, the new music with live instruments is absolutely wonderful. The visuals are bright and colourful which suit the Mana series as a whole and contrast well with the often tragic story. Speaking of which, for a game as old as it is, it's surprising how the plot remains deep and emotional even for today's standards. Overall, I'm very impressed with the job they did updating this gem of a portable game.
The journey is quite long considering it's not your standard RPG. It'll likely take you about ten hours to complete which is rather lengthy for a decades-old adventure game. Along the way, you'll meet many helpful characters who join you (including an adorable chocobo). Being able to talk to your buddy and have them assist you in various ways adds an enjoyable dynamic to just wandering around by your lonesome. You'll also encounter a handful of interesting locals that include mysterious individuals, desperate folks in need of assistance, and chums who are eager to please. In the end, this isn't a journey that you'll soon forget.
For the unfamiliar, Adventures of Mana is played by roaming screens that compose a grid-based world map. There are tons of dungeons to explore where you solve puzzles, defeat enemies, and uncover a wealth of treasures. One of the best aspects of the original that is even better in this remake is the incredible boss battles. You'll meet over twenty of them including a two-headed Hydra, the insect-like Ankheg, a giant Cyclops, the electrifying Lich, and an enormous Mantis Ant. To fight these bosses effectively, there's a wide array of weapons that you'll slowly unlock such as swords, sickles, axes, spears, and maces. Each weapon type handles differently so learning how to wield each piece effectively is a must. You don't want to let these dastardly bosses get the best of you!
The biggest problem with Adventures of Mana can also be said about the original and that is the fact that making progress is very frustrating at times. The individual puzzles are usually simple enough, but knowing where to go or what to do next is incredibly difficult. Sometimes, you have to travel far out of your way to talk to someone who gives you a key while other times you have to accomplish something abstract such as push four chests on to switches then attack one of them. It's probably a good idea to keep a guide handy because figuring this stuff out on your own is simply irritating. Thankfully, there are guides for the original that are still handy.
My next issue is that the inventory system is clunky and a pain to use. For starters, you have limited space so you constantly have to make room. Also, being forced to switch weapons and items all the time in order to unlock doors or chop down trees is a hassle. On top of all this, you often require specific items in order to advance so if you run out then you either have to beat a ton of enemies in the hopes that one drops something useful or travel all the way back to town. Finally, this Vita version has noticeable lag when switching screens. It's occasionally so bad that I thought the console froze at a few points.
Complaints aside, Adventures of Mana manages to retain what made the classic Game Boy game special while offering a fresh coat of paint that makes it feel right at home in the modern age.
- + Stays true to the original yet boasts lovely new visuals and fantastic updated music
- + Lengthy adventure takes about ten hours
- + Very cool boss fights and weaponry
- - Progression often relies on abstract thinking that'll leave you requiring a guide
- - Clunky inventory system is a pain
- - Frequent noticeable lag