Is it easily available these days/worth its rerelease price? - SquareEnix recently released a remake of Final Fantasy Adventure/Sword of Mana titled Adventure of Mana. I personally cannot recommend spending full price on it though. First off IMO, the new blocky 3D graphics do not look as good as the old 2D sprites. Setting aside that personal bias, the $13 price to me seems hard to swallow considering how cheaply they could have sold a port of the GBA version. Then again, this is Square, so they will always overcharge us! I would suggest spending the $5-$12 on the GBA version though, if that is an option. SoM is not a world changing experience, but for around $10, its worth a play/addition to a retro collection.
I really love li’l cactus: In several Mana games, the heroes gain access to a house at some point. The house has several benefits to it such as a smith and an orchard (used to make fruit to power up equipment). Yet, my favorite part is the one thing that does not increase your power, Li’l cactus! Li’l Cactus is a cute, smiley, little cactus that sits in your house just waiting for your return and to tell him of your adventures. As you complete quests and then talk to li’l cactus, after leaving your home, he will hop out of his pot, run over to a diary and excitedly record your tales. The player can then look at his diary and enjoy the cute/misguided way that a cactus sees the world. This is such an incredibly small addition to the game, but it is one of my favorite parts of both Sword and Legend of Mana.
Several key elements of the game take way too long to open up: Growing seeds and blacksmithing are not unlocked until you are well into the game. By the point they do, they have served as little more than a frustration to Legend of Mana fans for how USELESS this feature is in comparison to its PlayStation 1 brother. It feels like a completely tacked on and not thought out feature.
Too many useless side/fetch quests and HORRIBLE rewards: There are faaaar too many little side quests that reward you with nothing but more story or worthless rewards such as fruit/seeds for the smith/orchard. As I just discussed, it takes a long time before those features become truly useful parts of the game, so giving rewards relating to them throughout the game was silly and infuriating. Many of these quests also do a piss poor job at informing you what exactly is needed to finish the quest! I love the hell out of side quests in games, but SoM’s are little more than tacked on time fillers.
Allies A.I. is dumber than the rocks they get stuck on: In SoM, you will often find yourself with one tagalong to help you out in battle. They have a wide range of different skills and abilities which is nice…but they are all dumb as dirt and you have little control over their actions. Worse, they get hung up on their environment very frequently. To be frank, I found myself often just ignoring them as the game was fairly easy anyways (especially with leveling while getting lost).
While the story shit the bed, I liked the characters: The plot is definitely not a winner. It’s a generic “boy’s childhood home wrecked by evil empire he now seeks to topple, blah blah blah!” Seen it in anime, games and movies a million times! The bright side is that the cast themselves are more stand out. Heroes will come in and out of your party throughout the game and while SoM’s side quests suck for rewards, they sometimes do a decent job of fleshing out characters the main story is already doing a good job of humanizing. These positives are all amplified by Sword of Mana’s beautiful art and detailed character animations, which really help bring the cast to life/feel far more vibrant. Not my favorite cast in the game series, but I can recall many of them and specific scenes revealing their background.
No map navigation: Really, Sword of Mana? REALLY?!?! You are going to demand I backtrack both for story and for side quests and yet provide me no navigable world map? Are you freaking kidding me? I understand Final Fantasy Adventures having this issue, but in this remake it should have been fixed!
The job system is interesting, but not spectacular: Sword of Mana has a really different class system. Every time you level up, you will gain a point that you can put into any of several core classes that you want. As you put points into classes, you can then unlock new higher level jobs that you can change your hero into. The problem is that nowhere in game does it show you the combination needed to unlock these! This means that you can spend several level ups on a fighter, mage and thief, yet never hit a new class because you are not investing in the right combination. This results in myself and many others playing the entire game with a walkthrough open!
You will be forced to level up several weapons: Part of what made this fun in Secret of Mana was that as you leveled up, you unlocked multiple levels of attacks. In Sword of Mana, it’s just the same attack over and over. When you combine this with the fact that some enemies are very/weak resistant to some types of damage and it means you will be switching your weapon a lot, but without the reward of a vastly different weapon.
Enemies tend to be really easy: Solving puzzles and getting past environmental hazards will likely be most player’s largest challenge playing SoM. Enemies are about as easy as it gets in gaming due to their repetitive and easy to avoid strike patterns. Compounding how easy it is to plow right through Sword of Mana is the fact that every enemy has a weakness to a specific weapon.
Sword of Mana pushed the GBA to its audio/visual limits: I LOATHE the GBA's audio! I especially can’t stand the way it butchers classics SNES games like Mario Kart or Final Fantasy VI's music. Sword of Mana is something special though; its music may still not be on par with SNES era classics, but it pushes the audio to some astoundingly pleasant sounding limits. If the audio earns the developers a scoop of ice cream after the big game, then the visuals earn it an upgrade to a banana split with all the trimmings and fixings their little hearts can find on the menu. Developer Brownie Brown somehow manages to on the GBA with pixels pull off a stunning omage to its older hand painted brother on the PlayStation 1.
I have long been a fan of the Mana series, from the first moment I played it in 1993, I was hooked. An action based RPG where you could level up your weapons! SOLD! SOLD! 100x SOLD! Throughout the years though, Mana has been an unreliable rollercoaster of a series. Great games, bad games, games with sunning art but bad gameplay—it’s been a hot mess for a long, long time. Amongst those games, Sword of Mana has always just kind of lingered as forgettable. It is not as bad as the DS entries Heroes of Mana or Children of Mana, but it is not as good as Secret of Mana or Seiken Densetsu 3 nor does it pop with creativity that Legend of Mana does. If I am being honest as a long time gamer, I am not sure if I have ever even finished this game!
Every time I try to play Sword of Mana I just lose interest! The unrewarding side quests, the weapon/job systems being a step down from previous Mana games, the huge map areas with vague puzzles/switches, Sword of Mana has enough issues that combined with a generic story, it just has never sucked me in. Every time I pick up Sword of Mana, I just find that at some point between the 50-70% mark, I just get bored/frustrated and let something else steal my attention away.
Even with all those flaws, I cannot bring myself to give SoM a truly bad score. It is a pixel art masterpiece, it pushes the GBA to its limits as far as sound goes, the tale—even if generic—is presented well and the base gameplay mechanics are still fun. But even if I can recommend giving the gorgeous world of Sword of Mana a visit, it’s only after exhausting the better entrants into this beloved series.