With the considerable power of the Game Boy Advance hardware, it's no surprise that remakes of classic games from the days of two dimensions have been very common on Nintendo's latest handheld. Now Square Enix has gotten into the act with Sword of Mana, a newly redone version of its original Game Boy title Final Fantasy Adventure. If you're unfamiliar with that little-known action adventure game, you might be interested to know that in Japan it was released as Seiken Densetsu, the prequel to a game for the Super NES called Secret of Mana. The new old-game is a pretty solid hack-and-slash adventure that's fun but not without its flaws. Those gamers hoping that Sword of Mana would rekindle the magic of Secret of Mana probably won't be wholly satisfied, but that doesn't mean they won't have fun with the game anyway.
Sword of Mana casts you as a male or female protagonist who's attempting to--surprise--save the world.
Sword of Mana's storyline will seem both familiar and quaintly simplistic to veterans of 8- and 16-bit RPGs and action adventures. Malevolent forces led by the evil Prince Stroud, who's rechristened himself Dark Lord, are attempting to eliminate those citizens of the kingdom who are in tune with Mana power, the magical life force that pervades the world and all living things. It'll be up to you, playing as one of two characters, to stop Dark Lord and his allies and restore peace to the world. You'll choose your character at the outset of the game. The hero character is strong with weapons and physical attacks and is the son of a prominent politician who was murdered by Dark Lord. The heroine is a member of the Mana clan whose village was razed by Dark Lord. She is naturally stronger with magical attacks. The two characters' storylines are intertwined, and their quests follow the same general path, while varying noticeably during some specific events. Sword of Mana's story has an appealing naivetÃ© about it that recalls the early years of video game role-playing and presents an honesty that you won't find in the multilayered complexity of more modern epics.
As you've probably guessed, the gameplay in Sword of Mana is typical of the action adventure genre, replete with weapon-hacking and spellcasting. You'll gain a wide assortment of weapons throughout the game, each of which has different attack styles and one of three attributes (slash, jab, or bash). Furthermore, you can pull off rudimentary combos with your weapons by properly timing your button presses, and your proficiency with a given weapon will level up as you use it. Your available spells are determined by the spirits you've met along the way, and each one has an offensive and defensive spell attached to it. These will also level up with use, and the spells even vary depending on which weapon you currently have equipped. Overall, there's a lot more to the combat mechanics here than you'll find in less RPG-like action adventures.
Compared to a more action-focused adventure game like The Legend of Zelda, Sword of Mana has some pretty complicated RPG elements going on behind the scenes. You level your character up by fighting enemies, and when you gain a new level you can select from several classes--like magician, thief, and sage--to improve your stats with. The right combination of class levels awards you a new title, like fighter, that subsequently affords you some slight statistical bonuses. You can also temper your weapons or forge new ones by keeping track of a really large number of extra items that are scattered throughout the game (some of which you actually have to grow yourself by combining seeds in a garden). Throw in a number of trivial side quests and you've got plenty of small diversions that take you from the main task of saving the world.