"Fortunately, Adventures of Mana is able to tap into what made the yesteryears of gaming so unique and memorable, and gives you an experience that's sprinkled with genuine nostalgia—sadness and all."
Nostalgia is a powerful thing. In a moment, it can make us remember good moments from our past, and can even cause a sense of sadness that these moments can never be experienced for the first time again. It's not uncommon for games to try and evoke something as strong as nostalgia, but it's a hard thing to capture; most games end up recalling a sense of déjà vu instead. Fortunately, Adventures of Mana is able to tap into what made the yesteryears of gaming so unique and memorable, and gives you an experience that's sprinkled with genuine nostalgia—sadness and all.
Adventures of Mana is an updated remake of Final Fantasy Adventure, originally released for the Game Boy in 1991; it is not, however, the first time this game has been remade. That honor goes to Sword of Mana, released in 2003. It should be clarified that this is not a remake of Sword of Mana, as that version included new mechanics.
Being a 1:1 remake of a game from 1991, Adventures of Mana's plot is rather standard: A young Hero sets out on a quest to save a girl with magical powers, all while trying to protect the world. In the process, the Hero meets several allies, and though some accompany you in dungeons, they don't really help you out. These side characters are never truly fleshed out either, which leads to moments of some deaths and revelations to be more dull than they are dramatic—it's a story that's positively rife with cliches and dei ex machina.
Thankfully, while the story does little to convey emotion with its subpar script, the superb soundtrack does so extremely well. There's an option to listen to newly arranged music, but I much preferred the original chiptunes. The soundtrack by Kenji Ito filled me with genuine excitement, a sense of adventure, and at times, true sadness. What Adventures of Mana lacks in its delivery of its script it more than makes up for with its beautiful score. It's filled to the brim with heart and soul, expressing emotions that text could never capture.
My gripes with the script aside, gameplay is the real draw here. Adventures plays extremely similar to an old-school Zelda game. In fact, it's hard to deny that it's essentially a Zelda clone, but that's okay because it's a damn good one. You move from one area to another, mapping out your location along the way, all while fighting enemies and gaining levels in the process. When you level up, you select what route you want to take for your hero. For example, selecting Warrior will let you deal more damage, while Mage will significantly increase your MP bar. There's not much to the leveling system, though, as being under-leveled is fine so long as you pay attention to what you're doing.
Inside of dungeons you find new weapons that will help you traverse the world. An axe will let you cut down trees, while a flail will let you latch onto and pull yourself across wooden poles. You also encounter some puzzles in the dungeons, some of which sincerely made me scratch my head, resulting in a true a-ha!
moment once I figured out what to do. Although boss battles boil down to exploiting a simple pattern, they're still fun and incredibly satisfying to vanquish, if only for the ridiculous explosions afterwards.
The art direction of the game is well done, too. Rather than redoing the sprites from the GBA remake, Square Enix redid the game from the ground up with 3D graphics. Characters look very much like chibis, while the monster designs are so adorable that I often felt a twinge of guilt for slaughtering them. It may not push any platform to its limits, but it doesn't really need to. This is a game that's unadulterated in its cuteness.
Overall, I enjoyed my time with Adventures of Mana. It's not a relatively long game, meaning it doesn't overstay its welcome. There are poor design choices, such as a lack of direction, which results in you getting lost in the vast world too easily, but that definitely harkens back to game design of the past. Adventures of Mana relies on more than just its nostalgia factor for entertainment, offering a fun and eventful journey for a very reasonable price. Whether you choose to get it on mobile devices or your Vita, it's definitely a title that should be experienced by all RPG fans.