One problem with modern society is that technology is evolving faster than the people using it. Every moment, computers are getting closer to super powered, closer to sentience. Man’s time on this Earth is limited, as we have crafted our own downfall with Basic and C++. Also, we’ve forgotten what makes certain computer games fun, and, while that isn’t as big a problem as the impending machine take over, it’s still kind of a pain.
I refer you to one of my most beloved Gameboy games, Final Fantasy Adventure, and its abysmal remake, Sword of Mana. Sword of Mana, in all honesty, isn’t really that bad, but it makes every mistake that Final Fantasy Adventure, a game that predates SoM by 12 years, didn’t.
I was, a few years ago, very excited about Sword of Mana. As previously stated, Final Fantasy Adventure is one of my all time favorite games, and narrowly edges out The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening as my favorite Gameboy adventure. I must have spent hours in the tiny gray world of Mana with its champion boy. In Japan the hero’s name, in both games, is “Sumo”, so I’m going to just assume that his American name is Big McLargehuge. At any rate, Big and I quested around every little nook and cranny in that game, often stabbing little rabbit creatures into next Tuesday. When I heard that Final Fantasy Adventure was getting a remake in the graphical style of another beloved game, Secret of Mana, I was stoked. This isn’t the movie industry, when something gets a remake in video game land, it’s not just made more “modern” or “extreme”, it’s graphically upgraded, and the gameplay usually gets tweaked to make the whole experience more pleasant. There have been a few major gameplay improvements across the industry since the Gameboy ruled supreme, so FFA’s remake should be perfect.
And then it all came crashing down.
Final Fantasy Adventure, after a very brief legend recital, begins with “Now Fight!” And then, guess what you do? You fight! Granted, it’s against the easiest boss since Guts Tank, but it’s still action, right from the start (button). Then you watch your wee Willy “pass on”, and it’s back to fighting. Immediately afterwards is a quickie establishment of the plot, and then an entire game of McLargehuge exploring caves and forests while thubbing rabites until candy comes out. It’s a thing of beauty.
But how does Sword of Mana begin? Well, first there’s the legend. So far so good. Then it’s “the past” when Big was Lil’ Big, and a whole giant story of Big attempting to protect Girl (we’ll name her… Gypsy), and then his parents get killed by Darth Vader, and then Big completely fails to protect Gypsy, and, poof, it was all a recurring nightmare taking place while Big was asleep because now he’s a monster gladiator, and he talks to his pals Willy and Amanda about dream interpretation and “what it all means”, and then Big has to talk to the right people until an event occurs that finally allows Big to fight the easiest boss since Guts Tank. In short, Final Fantasy Adventure starts with an actual game, whereas Sword of Mana starts with text box after text box. To further illustrate this point…
As you can see, Sword of Mana starts very trim on the gameplay and very big on the reading. It doesn’t get much better. Whereas there is an awful lot of (fun) exploring, adventuring, and rabite whacking, there’s also a lot of very, very unnecessary dialogue As an example, there’s about seventy billion times that Big laments having to kill everything in his path, despite the fact that he’s been a gladiator since childhood and he’s assassinating guys with names like Dark Lord. Need I even mention that Big of FFA has absolutely no problem with killing people who are immediately trying to kill him? I enjoy playing as a character with interesting motivations, but when the dude is getting teary eyed about slaying the guy that is oppressively ruling the country, wiping out villages, and even executed his parents, well, it’s a bit much. On the other side of the coin, sometimes there’s not enough dialogue. While you get to hear about Big’s growing need to become a pacifist every ten seconds, you barely get any interaction with Gypsy. And, somehow, by the end of the game the two are madly in love. In other words, the plot kicking around this game could either use some trimming, or at the very least someone checking out whether or not all those dialogue bubbles popping up actually work toward an ending that’s remotely cohesive.
But let’s ignore the dialogue for now. Is Sword of Mana at least fun to play? Well, it almost works. Arguably, the biggest problem is the weapon system. Much like in Zelda, a game with which FFA shares many similarities, our hero has a variety of “tools”. In this case, instead of always being equipped with a sword and then occasionally swapping your boomerang for a lantern, Big uses each of his weapons as tools. Axes will take down trees, while the chain is used for pulling Big across gaps. Also, in both FFA and SoM, certain monsters are weak to certain weapons, and invincible to others. But this is where the games diverge. In FFA, you would rarely see a monster that was invulnerable to a weapon that you just used on the last monster. Different dungeons often required different weapons, but once you were exploring a dungeon, the only time you were ever forced to switch weapons was for a special puzzle room or in order to cross a gap via chain. Basically once you figured out what you were doing, the weapon menu didn’t have to be accessed every five seconds. And for Sword of Mana? It’s possible to be simultaneously facing three different monsters that require three different weapons. And there’s no “quick” way to switch weapons, like, say, in Mega Man X. No, here you must open the menus and select a new weapon every single time you see a new monster. This wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t occur every three seconds, but, oh well, time to waste some time fishing out your under-used set of knuckles just because a mimic popped up. Hope you have a lot of free time when dungeoning in Sword of Mana.
And the thing that was bound to happen, but we hoped it wouldn’t: The Lester Factor. In Final Fantasy Adventure, Big was often aided by a variety of characters. Watts the dwarf, Amanda the valkyrie, Gypsy the girl, Lester the douche, and Bogard the knight, to name a few. Each of these allies was completely invincible, and with good reason, they walked over spikes and into enemy creatures pretty much all the time. Had they possessed measurable HP, they’d be dead within five seconds. They barely helped at all, but each came with a separate “Ask” command that would heal Big, provide clues, or even change the background music. Big could’ve gone his whole quest without his buddies’ help, but they added a little variety to their native dungeons. Now there’s no mistaking a single one of your partners for handy.
Many of Big’s same buds return for Sword of Mana, but now with limited HP and very limited AI. Lester the Douche, for instance, is my absolute favorite. Tell him to use his magic all you want, he’s got MP and he’s not using it. He’s got a bow and arrow, and he’s not aiming. And, just when you think he can’t get more annoying, he repeatedly attempts to attack an inanimate trap that instantly kills him. And now you’ve got the choice between being followed by a ghost for the next hundred rooms or revive him and watch him find new ways to commit suicide. I swear that moron grabbed some Drano out of my inventory and guzzled it wholeheartedly.
There’s absolutely no point to keeping your allies alive, because they never do anything useful, ever. Very, very rarely Gypsy will heal Big’s hurting ass, but he’s got to be practically concussed before she’ll do anything about all that bleeding. This might all actually work if, like in Secret of Mana, the producers worked out some two player mode where an actual human could control that sprite next to Big running face first into the spikes, but, no a two player mode was just too much for poor ol’ Squeenix. However, there was likely a two player mode planned at some point, as it would explain why you’re stuck with Lester for absolutely no reason for much of the game (“Hm, my sister is dead, so is the guy who led her to her death. Hm, may as well hang around with muscle boy for the rest of my life.”). Final Fantasy Adventure made Big’s allies fun, SoM turns them into walking burdens.
Aside from those gigantic, titty twisting flaws (that didn’t exist in the out-dated version) Sword of Mana is a pretty fun game. When you’re actually playing and not navigating menus or text boxes, it’s rather enjoyable to run around and solve super easy puzzles while trouncing rabites. The new magic system for the game is kind of interesting, if not a little useless, and the graphical updates definitely tie Sword of Mana closer to its sequels/prequels. There’s a good game here, it’s just hiding under a big pile of really aggravating revisions. Play Final Fantasy Adventure, play it a lot, and ignore Sword of Mana; it’s likely not worth the aggravation. Technology marches on, but if it continues to ignore all that is good, well then I welcome Skynet.
FGC #155 Sword of Mana
- System: Gameboy Advance. Will it show up on a Virtual Console somewhere? The world may never know.
- Number of players: This would be the one time I’d like to see a link cable.
- Land of the Rising Fun: Apparently, the literal translation of the Japanese title for this game is “Legend of the Sacred Sword: The New Testament”. Jesus does not make an appearance.
- Hope for the Future: Just recently released, we have another, new remake of Final Fantasy Adventure, Adventures of Mana, a cell phone/Vita game that completely drops the “innovations” of Sword of Mana and goes back to the plain gameplay (and dialogue) of FFA. Mind you, this was likely just because it would be easier to translate FFA to a cell phone than SoM, but… and I hate to say it… with its improved (color) graphics, easy item switching, and generally similar gameplay, Adventures of Mana is exactly what I wanted Sword of Mana to be. Only took thirteen years!
- Favorite Ally: Gypsy, I suppose, because she at least has a .02% chance of being useful.
- Did you know? Sword of Mana dropped as many references to Final Fantasy as it could, leaving by the wayside a number of soft references (and obvious sprite theft) from Final Fantasy (1). Unfortunately, this also meant that FF’s avian mascot, the chocobo, was all but completely annexed from the experience. This is an act of war, and should be treated as such.
- Would I play again: Before Adventures of Mana, maybe. Now? Never again. Interestingly, Sword of Mana was released during a time I tended to 100% games, and it’s telling that I didn’t even wind up touching Gypsy’s side of the story…
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Midway Arcade Origins! Get your quarters, ready, folks, it’s time to take a trip down memory lane. Please look forward to it!