Sword of Mana
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Brownie Brown
Genre: Action RPG
Format: Cartridge
Released: US 12/01/03
Official Site: Japanese Site

Graphics: 87%
Sound: 83%
Gameplay: 65%
Control: 80%
Story: 70%
Overall: 77%
Reviews Grading Scale
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Fans will remember this classic battle.
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Clichéd plot? Check!
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Prepare to spend a lot of time in the menus...
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At least the graphics are beautiful and colorful!
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Sword of Mana

I never owned a Super Nintendo, so I missed out on what many look back on and consider to be the golden age of gaming. One RPG in particular that I never got to play was Secret of Mana. When Legend of Mana was released, I immediately snatched it up and loved it. So, you can only imagine my excitement when I heard we were going to get another Seiken Densetsu title. Initially I thought the game looked a lot like a portable Legend of Mana, which only served to heighten my interest, seeing how much I enjoyed that title. Having completed the game, I can honestly say I'm no longer interested in this series.

Sword of Mana uses the familiar real-time system seen in past installments, though this technically isn't a new game (it's a remake of the Gameboy game Final Fantasy Adventure, the first Seiken Densetsu game). However, whatever made Secret of Mana such a cult classic--and Legend of Mana a personal favorite--has all but been removed from this one. Unlike its predecessor, the combat offers no challenge and is repetitive and boring. In Legend of Mana, I found myself mastering multiple weapons in order to effectively deal with any threat. Square-Enix tried to stick to that theme in this title but ended up failing miserably.

See, you can't buy weapons; you find them and then make them stronger by tempering or forging a new one out of new materials (you improve your armor in the same fashion). So rather than mastering a wide array of weapons, one could just forge and temper until your weapon destroys literally anything in only a couple of hits. There was one flaw in the weapons that allowed me to clear entire dungeons in minutes. When you fired the bow, the arrow would skip on the target, striking it 2-4 times. What it came down to was that, if you forged a strong enough bow you could dominate any battle in a matter of seconds, usually. This brought the difficulty level down to absolute zero and simultaneously netted me enough experience to level up in only a few minutes.

Then came the menus, the excruciatingly painful menus. In some dungeons you had to switch to the flail so that you could cross certain chasms by linking onto poles and pulling yourself across. These became very common and disrupted the flow of mindless combat that seemed to populate the game endlessly. Occasional puzzles required magic, forcing you to open your menu and choose a certain type, only to have to switch again within five minutes. None of this would be a problem if they weren't so slow. This really shouldn't have been an issue. A real time battle system should flow smoothly, and Square-Enix could have done a better job of making it less clunky.

If there's one thing I did like about this game, it would be the graphics. Though not quite as astonishing as the offerings found in Legend of Mana, Sword of Mana does show off some very beautiful graphics. The character designs were attractive, the monsters were attractive (more specifically the boss designs), and the backgrounds were especially attractive. My only complaint with them is that the sprites seemed a little too big for their environments, but it had no major effect on the visuals. This is one of the few things that Sword of Mana did right.

This game has two main characters, a hero and heroine, each with his/her own storyline. As of this writing I've only played the hero's side of the story, so my impressions are based solely on his part of the quest. The unnamed hero is on a mission to avenge his parents. It doesn't really develop beyond this premise. Not exactly the most original, but from what I understand, Square-Enix decided to leave this aspect alone. This was somewhat of a disappointment because at the beginning, the game seems to be leaning towards a very epic story. This appearance ended when I found myself finished with the game in ten hours. The characters did not help make this better, either. The dialogue seemed really forced and unnatural, and many lines seemed out of place or unrealistic. Even the main characters suffered from a poor script. I honestly would have preferred silent heroes over this junk.

Between the bland characters and short game length, it felt like this plot was really underdeveloped. No matter, though, it doesn't necessarily bring down the game a whole lot. Most Action/RPGs don't usually come with a remotely interesting story. The hero's story weaves in and out with the Heroine's, which only seems to serve as a distraction to the goal of getting revenge for your parents. Though I have heard people say that there is a significant enough difference between the two sides, I don't imagine it'd be worth playing both sides to get the poorly told story in its entirety.

The only other aspect of this game I actually liked was the music. While certainly not the best, it did compliment the game's art style a lot. It usually followed the mood too, despite how poorly it may have been conveyed. The most memorable of all tracks was in the opening video when they were introducing the Mana Tree, a staple of all the Seiken Densetsu games.

Control wasn't an issue with this one. Sometimes there'd be a hard maneuver to make--usually some jump in a cramped area--but it was very responsive otherwise. I was actually surprised at how fluid an action RPG could be on a portable system. I'd say that this is up-to-date with most action games, which is extremely impressive for a GBA title.

In the end, Sword of Mana failed to impress me. The horrible story would have been tolerable, but that's not what ruined the game for me. It was the gameplay that made this game torture. If they just relied less on the menus or sped them up, then it would have been an enjoyable experience. Unless you're a hardcore Seiken Densetsu fan or a collector, I'd advise you to steer clear of this one.


©2003 Square Enix, All Rights Reserved.

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