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...and history repeats itself.
Almost 13 years ago, back when Game Boy was one of the most popular gaming consoles, Final Fantasy Adventure was released. This game was the first part of the Seiken Densetsu series, a series which would in time become one of Square's largest ever. Years passed, and the series' popularity grew as more sequels came. Now, 13 years after the release of the original title, Square-Enix has remade the original game, and released it for the Game Boy Advance as Sword of Mana. This refreshing title features the same plot, but with more dialogue, better graphics, improved battle system and music and a lot more.
When starting up a new game, the player can choose between two different characters; a male sword-wielding fighter who is in search for a way to avenge the death of his parents, or a female magician, a survivor of the sacred mana clan. While these two characters will be together for a large part of the game either way, many conversations and events will be different depending on which character you chose to control in the beginning. The basic plot is about the evil Dark Lord trying to get rid of the sacred Mana clan, claiming that they are heretics who use the power of mana to rule. These are, of course, false accusations, and one can easily foresee that the Dark Lord's plans involve much more than cleansing the world from the clan. As you already might have guessed, the hero's (or the heroine's) main quest is about confronting the Dark Lord and destroy his evil plans.
It's as simple as that, but there are fortunately also a few other things that makes the plot more interesting. The plot is told in an extraordinary way, with many magical moments that stayed in my mind long after I finished it. Every now and then, after the hero or heroine completes an important task of some sort, the game shows a beautiful cut-scene, where the camera slowly moves through places you've visited, and at the same time summarizes what just happened in a beautiful way. It's hard to give an exact explanation of the feeling I got when seeing these cut-scenes, but they gave the overall story of the game a lot more feeling, no matter how simplistic the game's plot actually is.
These scenes are, just as dungeons and towns, accompanied by beautiful music composed by Kenji Ito. Most of the tunes are well-composed and very reminiscent of the older Seiken Densetsu games. The traditional style is there, so players who are fond of the series will not be disappointed. For those who are unfamiliar with the older games in the series, their soundtracks were always sort of light-hearted and happy. However, most tunes are also recycled many times throughout the game, and some of them got really tiring at the end.
The Seiken Densetsu series has always had fast-paced battle systems, and Sword of Mana is no exception. All battles are in real-time (enemies appear directly on-screen), where the hero and enemies can move about as much as they like. Simply pressing the A button releases a regular sword-attack, however, if you tap A 3 times in a row, the hero will perform a fast 3-hit combo. To cast magic, the hero must first choose a certain spirit of some element, each of which has two different spells; one defensive, and one offensive. To cast the defensive spell, simply press and release the R button. To cast the offensive type, hold down the R button for at least 1 second, and then release. This is a very basic and simple battle system, which sometimes becomes a bit too repetitive, but is still enjoyable enough to last through two runs of this short little game.
Unfortunately, the game's interface is somewhat annoying, and could've been improved in many ways. Aiming when casting spells is hard in the beginning, and you'll most likely miss quite a few times before mastering it. The same goes for jumping across certain obstacles, as the characters must stand exactly right in order for it to work. The menus weren't exactly complex, but rather unnecessarily hard to navigate. It takes time to reach what you're looking for in your inventory, and it's hard to see what the different icons are supposed to look like. These are, of course, details that can be overlooked, but I still thought of them as annoying in the long run.
As far as translation goes, it's much improved since FF Adventure. There's a lot more dialogue this time around, and most characters have their special language-style, indicating where they come from. For example, the Dryad spirit pulls off some really interesting word-jokes when you first meet him. These different styles make the dialogue flow much better, and it makes most of the characters you meet up with a lot more interesting and fun. There were, as in most games, some weird sentences that I spotted. Most of them came from the hero in the game, which sometimes annoyed me to death with his way of speaking (as well as his constant use of the word "Drat!", but that doesn't really count off in the localization area).
Comparing the graphics in Sword of Mana with its predecessor isn't fair, considering the huge amount of time between the releases. In any case, Square-Enix has done a good job with these visuals. The graphics can stand up to most other GBA titles, but lacks a bit when it comes to the character models and special effects, which could have been far more improved. I really enjoyed looking at the different surroundings though, especially the snowy areas and the different forests you explore. Dungeon design could've been a little less repetitive, but was still okay, considering how short most dungeons were. It's also worth mentioning that the game constantly switches between day and night as you run around and explore, and the enemies change depending on what time it is.
Overall, Sword of Mana isn't exactly the most revolutionary gaming experience ever. But this wasn't exactly expected either, as this is a remake of a very old game after all. Fans of the Seiken Densetsu series will recognize themselves instantly and perhaps in some cases feel that it's a bit too similar to the other games. As for replay value, most players will probably go through the game with both characters. There aren't any huge changes between the two, but it's fun to experience the adventure from two angles. The game isn't that long either (about 13-20 hours at most), so most players will have time to go through it once more. As for sidequests, there are actually quite a lot of them. Most of them are typical fetch quests between the different towns though, and they quickly become tiring. Some of them are worth it though, as you can gain access to some valuable items. The blacksmith, Li'l Cactus and the ability to plant seeds does return in this title as well, but they are, much like in Legend of Mana, unfortunately rendered rather useless due to how easy the game is.
That's probably the game's largest flaw; the difficulty. While some players might like that the game is easy, I think there has to be a limit there too. While Sword of Mana at least offers a bit more challenge than Legend of Mana (which literally had no difficulty at all), most bosses and enemies can be defeated while watching TV or something.
In the end though, Sword of Mana is a worthy title. It's a fun experience, and that's usually what people are looking for. It doesn't offer anything deep plot-wise, and it doesn't offer the best battle system or soundtrack of the year, but it does nevertheless have quality. Whether you're new to the series or an old fan, you'll most likely enjoy this game, and I advice you to pick it up.
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