Sword of Mana

A totally different game from "Final Fantasy Adventure"


The Lowdown

Pros: Multiplayer support, artistic graphics, awesome gameplay, two separate quests, epic story

Cons: Poor second player AI, slightly easy difficulty

Purchase at Play-Asia
During the reign of the Game Boy "Final Fantasy Adventure" or better known as Seiken Densetsu in Japan was Square's action RPG experiment. However, it lead to an entire "Mana" series that redefined the action RPG genre. Time passed and many improvements were made from future games, such as the ring menu system, classes and even mutiplayer support. In Square Enix's second collaboration with Nintendo they remix a classic adding what they've learned from the future.

First of all Sword of Mana isn't a low budget remake like Link's Awakening DX. They didn't slap color on and an add an extra dungeon and call it a new game. This game got a massive overhaul, even larger than the one found in Final Fantasy Origins. You'll notice the graphics changed first if you're familiar to the old game. Gone are the simple four gray-shaded sprites from the original game and out comes lush artistic graphics that are reminiscent from Legend of Mana. The actual in game graphics are close to Secret of Mana and retain the super deformed cute cartoony look of the Super Nintendo mana games. The enemy sprites look like they were lifted from Seiken Densetsu 3 ("secret of mana 3" which was never released in the US) and put straight in the GBA. While this isn't a technical feat, the sprites and animations will seem new to US gamers.

All the "mana" trademarks are present in the game, even ones that weren't in the original. The ring system makes a return, its interface (love it or hate it) is pretty much the same as any other mana game. You spin the ring around to select what option you want. While the menu is cool, it does get frustrating in intense battles when you're trying to select "candy" to recover your HP. The class system makes a return as well, but not as clear as it was in Seiken Densetsu 3. At each level up you can choose a style of leveling up. The options are warrior, thief, monk, sage, magician and random. When you level up your stats are altered depending on which option you choose. The game keeps track of which level up you take and you will get a title after so many level ups. For instance, 5 warrior level ups nets you "fighter" title and you get a bonus while attacking and 5 magician level ups yields "magician" title and gives you a bonus for magic. There are a wide variety of titles to obtain, but you could miss on getting titles for a long time if you don't concentrate on one or two level up types.

All the familiar weapons (sword, sickle, axe, and lance) return from Final Fantasy Adventure with the addition of the bow, knuckles and rod, which only the heroine can use. Weapons can be upgraded at the Cactus Blacksmith to gain additional power and even status attacks. Magic also returns, but it isn't in book form like the original game. Instead the familiar elements from the Mana series (wisp, shade, undine, salamander, sylphid, luna, dryad and gnome) deliver magic. There is a wider range of magic over the original game, you can heal, deliver elemental damage, and even turn into a moogle. More options can arise if you choose to do an optional side quest to upgrade your spirit.

All these upgrades make the game feel like a traditional Mana game. If you haven't played an of the mana series here's what you can expect: a quality action RPG with a deep story line. Speaking of the story there are two entirely different stories (even though the characters come together). If you remember the original Final Fantasy Adventure the main character was a gladiator/slave forced to fight. In the Sword of Mana rendition they actually explain how he got into his predicament with a lengthy flashback in the beginning. The heroine has a less dramatic story where she escaped capture in a town and has a dream about her childhood friend that was captured. Eventually, you will have control of both the hero and heroine when they meet up in a chance situation.

The music in the game is remixed music from the original game. While that music has its own flair to it, it would be nice to see some new tunes. The sound effects are also lifted from other mana games, which isn't too bad since those effects were well done. Overall, the sound is well done, for a GBA game.

The only thing we didn't get a chance to test was the multiplayer support, since that requires two copies of the game. Hopefully, it'll turn out well since that was one of the hallmarks of the mana series too.

Import Friendly?

Even if you've played Final Fantasy Adventure you won't recognize this game and if you don't read Japanese you'll miss out on an excellent story...

US Bound?

A US release is currently scheduled for December 1, 2003

Overall

With two different quests, multiplayer support, awesome graphics, and rock solid gameplay this game is a hands down winner.