I know, I know. I am supposed to hate it because Square Enix is not releasing it for PS Vita in the west, only for mobile devices. And mobile gaming is the devil, I know, I know. Here’s the thing, though: My love for Seiken Densetsu is stronger than any sentiment of gamer elitism that might dwell in my heart. Stronger than the cynicism that seems to power the gaming community these days. However you might feel towards the PS Vita, towards mobile gaming or Square Enix as a corporation, this is an amazing remake of a great game and it is making me happy.
I played the original Final Fantasy Adventure – or Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden in Japan, or Mystic Quest in Europe – not too long ago, on a real Gameboy using a real cartridge, because that’s the way to go. It’s a vastly different experience than playing it on a smartphone, of course, using touchscreen controls and with supercrisp, super-colourful graphics instead of the monochromatic Gameboy aesthetic. But Adventures of Mana is still essentially the same game, an incredibly faithful remake that is really just the original game with modern graphics, modern sound and – yes – improved controls.
This is my first time playing a videogame on a smartphone. I mean, at all. I never even played Candy Crush or whatever. Therefore, it took me a bit to get used to the touch screen controls, but I think I got the hang of it after an hour or so. The right hand (buttons) isn’t a problem at all, but I am still a little unprecise in my movements (left hand). This isn’t tragic, though, because like its original, Adventures of Mana is a really forgiving game. It’s just not very hard. Your HP and MP is refilled whenever you level up, which happens frequently, you can let yourself be healed without restrictions when the female main character is in your team, there’s plenty of healing items … so you’re not being punished for mistakes. It’s an easy, fun game.
(I hear you can use an external gamepad with this game, too, which sounds like a cool option for people who really can’t deal with touchscreen controls, or want a more original flavour experience. I don’t think I will need this.)
Adventures of Mana actually improves the controls of the Gameboy original. The game requires you to select an item from your inventory and assign it to a key before you can use it. Which is a little clunky on the Gameboy, especially because you have to switch between weapons and items a lot to get through a dungeon. Adventures of Mana adds shortcuts and gives the item menu a more dynamic look and feel – a ring menu reminiscent of Secret of Mana. It’s a good change.
At various points in the game, an ally joins your hero on his quest. But the thing about allies is that they just randomly wander around the screen and sporadically attack an enemy. Their A.I. is not very … hm. I don’t know if they have any? It’s the one thing that could have been improved for the remake, but this doesn’t seem to have happened at all. There are enemies in the Marsh Cave that can only be killed by magic, and the “Mysterious Traveler” is the only one who knows magic at that point. But have fun waiting for him to actually remember that he’s a mage, because he’s just a lazy bastard. (To be fair, he did kill the Hydra in the boss battle, while I was hiding in a corner of the screen …) But like I said, the game is pretty easy, so the allies’ idiocy doesn’t really hamper your progress.
I am not joking when I say that this game has one of my favourite videogame soundtracks of all time. Even in the minimalistic Gameboy sound quality, the themes are just wonderful to listen to. Melodic, engaging, powerful. In Search of the Holy Sword is perfection. It is the best.
Adventures of Mana offers brand-new arrangements of the old soundtrack, and stays very close to the original feel and energy of the songs. It is plain wonderful music. I can’t wait to hear the more dramatic songs later in the game …
Now the real question is: Do I feel loved by Square Enix? Yes, I do. I’ve seen cynical accusations that this game is a money-grab and bla bla bla. It’s not. There’s an attention to detail here that shows it is a labour of love. (Like … the shopkeepers do their familiar, bizarre little dance. Remember it? So fun!)
I’ve seen Sword of Mana brought up a lot, to complain about Square Enix’s alleged greed. “There already is a remake”, they whine, “we don’t need yet another remake they just want money whiiiiine”. But Sword of Mana did a lot of changes to the original game, in a misguided attempt to make it more similar to the later Mana games and to downplay the series’ origins: It was a Final Fantasy spin-off. It had a chocobo! Sword of Mana removed the chocobo, Adventures of Mana is keeping the chocobo. That alone justifies Adventure of Mana‘s existence.
So … my first impression of Adventures of Mana, after playing it for an evening, is absolutely positive. I don’t know how they could have done it better. It stays true to the original in style and feel. It’s a joy to play. It’s a little bit more dynamic than the original. The music is fantastic. The controls took a bit to get used to, but I did get used to them, despite being a mobile gaming newbie.
Basically, this is a great alternative for everyone who wants to play the first game of the Mana series, but can’t get ahold of a Gameboy. Or who wants to re-experience a classic in an updated, but very faithful version.
Yes, it would be nice if it was released for a proper gaming console, but I’m happy we’re getting this game at all! Because it is really, really good and it would be a shame to miss it. :)
Further bla bla:
- Poking around through Square Enix’s mobile releases, I noticed a lot of Dragon Quest titles. Good to know. I also saw that several (German) reviews for the original Dragon Quest complained about the English dialogue having “so many misspellings” that it was unreadable. A few people pointed out that those aren’t misspellings, but just … Early Modern English. Heh.
- Seriously, In Search of the Holy Sword is an amazing piece of videogame music. It makes me wanna go out on an adventure and … search for a holy sword.
- I have to admit that I haven’t played many – no, any of the newer Mana games. I would really like another game in the series that is more like Secret of Mana: a large world to freely explore, multiplayer, catchy music. That is my dream.