Nothing screams fantasy epic more than mithril swords, bronze axes, spells, potions, vampires, arcmages, and the fate of the world resting on the shoulders of an unlikely hero. Adventures of Mana has them all and more.
Adventures of Mana
Developed and published by Square Enix
Available on the PS Vita.
*Review code provided by Square Enix
Adventures of Mana is an action-adventure role-playing game produced and developed by Square Enix in which you take on the role of Sumo, a young, courageous gladiator who escapes the arena and encounters a mysterious maiden whose fate is entwined with that of the Tree of Mana and the world’s. Though Adventures of Mana is a remake of the 1991 game of Final Fantasy Adventure (the first game in the Mana series) that came out for the Gameboy, it gives us the chance to revisit it with upgraded graphics, color, interface, and music attracting nostalgia-ridden and new gamers alike.
You start the story as a gladiator fighting a massive, tiger-like beast until you and your fellow gladiators decide to make a run for it. In the escape you eavesdrop on a conversation between the Dark Lord and his court mage, Julius, and learn that they plan in finding the Tree of Mana in order to harness its power to shroud the land in darkness and evil. Julius explains to his master that the key to finding the Tree of Mana is a young maiden, and the Dark Lord orders him to find her and bring her to him. Then, the Dark Lord discovers you and throws you off a cliff to die, but you survive. As you continue on your quest, you meet the young maiden, Fuji, who is later revealed to be a seed of the Tree of Life in charged with its protection.
Your quest to help Fuji protect the Tree of Mana and fight the Dark Lord is full of perils. The world teems with enemies such as treacherous vampires, hungry hydras, and snake-hurling medusas, but you also find allies in unusual places. Villages are populated with good-hearted people that feed you information to help you on your way; shops are stoked with useful items and weapons, and there are even inns where you can rest to regain your strength. The little information you acquire from villagers is very helpful, because if you are new to the game, you will do a lot of running around wondering where on earth you are supposed to go. This is a remake of an old game, so there are no quest logs or waypoints in the game. All you have to go on is whatever you get from the characters, information that you have to commit to memory if you want to avoid having to double-back to the NPC that gave you the quest to refresh your memory.
Weapons in Adventures of Mana are extremely important, not just because they give you the ability to rain havoc on your enemies, but because they usually have other uses that give you access to otherwise closed-off or inaccessible areas. For example, you might need a certain weapon to deforest an area in order to advance to parts of the map, or need something that allows you to jump over rivers or chasms. Even in small areas you might find yourself desperately slashing at the walls trying to find hidden doors. You are told that you can find them by listening for the peculiar sound that breakable walls make when you hit them, but I found it hard to hear the subtle difference while playing on the go with my PS Vita. It wasn’t until I discovered that hitting a hidden passage also caused a different visual effect, something close to a yellow spark, that I found it easier to know which walls could be broken. Also, breakable walls look a little different that regular walls, but this visual cue can also be easy to miss in a rush.
Combat in Adventure of Mana is okay. Weapons and spells are varied and give you options in how to approach a situation. The only thing that I found a little off was how the character responded to the direction I was imputing on the joystick. It wasn’t unusual to find myself doing a combo or using my weapon’s ultimate ability while hitting nothing but air because I was facing the wrong direction. I believe that this is mostly because you can’t move and fight at the same time, which makes fighting moving targets a bit tricky. Another thing that you might want to be careful with is the inventory. I found it easier to navigate through my items and gear by using the PS Vita’s touch screen rather than the buttons. Also, items don’t tell you what they are for. For information on any item you have to press and let go the magnifying glass at the bottom left hand of the inventory screen and then select the item you want to find out more about. Because this same process is required to delete an item (the trashcan icon is in the upper left corner of the screen), I felt it was easy to get them mixed up, causing me to delete items I wanted to investigate. This is one of the worst things that can happen in an RPG. After it happened a few times I managed to stop making the mistake by being extra careful when using these options.
Adventures of Mana’s story is a little cliché. This is not a surprise if one bares in mind that this is a remake of a 25 year old title, a different era of gaming. You have a bad guy who wants to take over the whole world and captures the maiden in distress, which you have to rescue, etc. It’s not that it doesn’t work, as in fact, it works perfectly, but in today’s video game industry, the game can come off as having stereotypical characters and recycled story elements. Many people might not mind this but I found myself shaking my head and rolling my eyes when Fuji gets kidnapped, not once, but multiple times. Maybe we’ve gotten used to female characters being given more active roles in the past years, but I felt Fuji was put in the role of the helpless maiden way too many times for my taste. On the positive side, the story does keep you hooked with its many twists, turns and surprises.
Overall, Adventures of Mana is a great facelift to a beloved title that embarks players in an epic adventure to save the Tree of Mana and the world. Though it has clichéd story elements, the story is interesting enough and provides good incentive for the player to care what happens in the narrative. Combat is not as smooth as one would like, but considering that it’s a remake of an old game, this remake is a great updated 3D version of the original.
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