Adventures of Mana is admittedly a somewhat odd choice to have gotten a 3D remastering, especially given the relative strength of the Square Enix back catalog. Originally called Final Fantasy Adventure and released for the Game Boy Color all the way back in 1991, the game that would become Adventures of Mana now was well-received but is remembered more for being the genesis of the Mana series of JRPGs rather than a stand-out title in its own right.
To be fair, however, Adventures of Mana was initially conceived as a 3D remake on mobile platforms with a special Japan-only PS Vita release. Unexpected fan support changed plans post-release, however, and one of the weirder entries to ever be associated with Final Fantasy has been localized and brought to western PS Vita consoles too. After ten hours with the game, it has become pretty clear that Vita owners got lucky – this is a game that’s a perfect fit on the handheld, and is the kind of simplistic joy that had previously been thought lost in an era of increasingly more powerful pocket machines.
To begin with, everything that made Final Fantasy Adventure a charming game has been retained or otherwise enhanced in Adventures of Mana‘s 3D adaptation. The story is short and to the point, the kind of narrative that players who enjoyed some early 90s JRPGs will be familiar with. A princess is kidnapped off-and-on, a hero from humble beginnings is tasked with saving her, and there is an evil lord without much motivation outside of being as nasty as possible to everyone running around making the world a generally worse place. Standard fare, to be sure, but sometimes less is more, and the bare-bones story works here because Adventures of Mana is clearly designed to be a trip down memory lane.
Despite the simplicity, however, the characters are actually compelling. The main characters, whose default names are Sumo and Fuji, form a strong bond not out of a complex situation, but rather in spite of it – Sumo is tasked with protecting the princess because it is his friend’s dying wish, and Fuji must protect the world because she is the daughter of the last woman to do so. They are united by their desire to honor the wishes of those they care about, and for a game as short as Adventures of Mana, that is enough.
That shortness, too, is a boon to the game. Adventures of Mana plays a lot more like an old-school Legend of Zelda title than anything gamers would associate with the Final Fantasy series, and that means its limited gameplay mechanics could potentially wear out their welcome if the game was, say, double the length it actually is. At just around ten hours, however, and with six different weapon types that contribute to puzzle-solving and combat in noticeably different ways, Adventures of Mana manages to stay just fresh enough to never become repetitive or annoying in its presentation. The game is helped by the Vita’s touch screen, which lets players successfully navigate through what would be a cluttered, messy inventory system by simply tapping what they need rather than holding the control stick up or down until finally getting to the item they need.
In speaking of Adventures of Mana‘s gameplay, it is the kind of straightforward, easy-to-master combat that can only be expected from a faithful remaster of a game from 1991. Admittedly, the combat with common enemies can become pretty grindy and unexciting once players begin to get accustomed to the game’s controls and exploration, but the boss fights more than make up for it. Each boss has attack patterns and weak points, and although these fights aren’t as mentally exhausting or challenging as something like Dark Souls, they manage to capture the fun that tussles with boss characters in older NES or Game Boy games elicited in fans.
The music that accompanies these battles is also worth noting – 25 years after its initial release, both the original soundtracks and the new musical renditions alike are gorgeous. Adventures of Mana really is, on all fronts, a callback to all the things that made JRPG games memorable entries into that storied and polarizing genre in the early ’90s.
Of course, the approach Square Enix has chosen has some issues as well. Remaining completely faithful to the original game in basically every regard means that Adventures of Mana also shares some of the problems that Final Fantasy Adventure had back in 1991. These things are to be expected – Adventures of Mana would have to totally restructure the way the game works in order to avoid some of these issues – but they are drawbacks nonetheless, and prevent the game from being a must-own on PS Vita devices, even as they become portable, third-party RPG handhelds with each new release for the system.
The biggest issue comes with the way the puzzles in each dungeon are laid out. Although it was commonplace in the era the original game was produced, dungeons and the problems they present players with have evolved greatly over time to become more innovative and nuanced. Adventures of Mana‘s puzzles are often the kind of obtuse conundrums that simply ask players to smash a bunch of rocks or cut down grass until players find the secret stairs.
At other times, players are tasked with freezing creatures using a spell to place them on a floor-switch to progress, but only some enemies can be frozen. This wouldn’t be a problem if those enemies were guaranteed to be in the room where the switch is, but enemies are randomly generated as the player progresses through each area, meaning gamers will have to backtrack and jump between rooms multiple times to spawn the enemies needed to go forward. It’s not game-breaking, but it’s certainly distracting and something that could have been easily avoided.
The other major issue is Adventures of Mana‘s inventory system, which has limited space. Although that inventory has been graciously expanded in the remake from its original size, it’s still too small, and too often players will find themselves running out of a key item in the middle of their progression through a new area and have to go all the way back to a town where they can purchase more pick-axes or keys. It’s a feature that is certainly traditionalist in JRPG-style presentations, but there’s a reason games have largely thrown this element out of their modern designs – it’s more frustrating than challenging, punishing players for not getting the right loot drops from enemies once they’ve run out of a specific item.
All of that being said, however, Adventures of Mana is still a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It’s like one of the better classic Legend of Zelda titles somehow snuck into the Final Fantasy universe undetected and made itself a home there, eschewing a green tunic for a suit of armor and swapping the name of its titular princess.
That’s high praise, though, considering the pedigree of the games Adventures of Mana draws comparisons to. It’s not perfect, but it isn’t trying to be. Adventures of Mana is a short, enjoyable, and addictive little trip back to the humble beginnings of handheld gaming and the wildly popular Mana series, and the improved graphics and dedication to reproducing the original game’s feel are evidence of this. For fans of either Legend of Zelda-esque games or old-school handheld gaming, Adventures of Mana comes highly recommended, and is worth checking out even if players aren’t familiar with the game it honors.
Adventures of Mana is available now for PS Vita, iOS and Android mobile devices. Game Rant was provided a PS Vita code for this review.