SWORD OF MANA / Squaresoft / GBA

Sword of Mana, I tried to love you. After all, you are a Mana game, and a remake of the very first Mana game (Final Fantasy Adventure) - a game I never liked very much to begin with, and thus a fitting choice for a total Seiken Densetsu 3-style overhaul.

You have gorgeous background graphics, some of the best on the GBA. Your music isn't bad either. And you're frequently pretty fun to play, nearly as good as Seiken 2 and 3. There's even a pretty good amount of replayability - your main quest is only about 15-20 hours long, but the two main characters you can choose take significantly different paths through the games, and there's a ton of side stuff to do.

But it's just that absolute laundry list of little niggling flaws you have, one piled on after the other, that makes me have to reject you in the end.

The biggest problem is your muddled, confusing plot. It's poorly developed, the dialogue is just weird at times, and the characters are so lacking in presence and personality that I forget who they all are if I leave off from playing for more than two days in a row.

You've also got a bizarre and broken level-up system. So I change into different character classes depending on where I allocate my points, but you won't tell me in advance what point combinations lead to what character classes - and the upgrades are automatic, and once I'm on a particular path I'm stuck with it even if I don't like it.

I'm also usually not one to complain about things being too easy, but seriously, the enemies are mostly a joke and you level up so fast you're overwhelmingly powerful all the way to the end of the game even if you're not trying to level-grind. You've got a few neat, almost-epic boss battles, but you've also got a bunch of dumbos with predictable patterns that die in a handful of hits.

Oh, and while I'm thinking about confusing upgrade systems - what is with your weapon/armor upgrade system? I have to find seeds to combine, which create a certain fruit depending on what day it is, then I use that fruit in conjunction with random raw materials to raise the stats of a weapon. Were you trying to come up with the most off-the-wall idea you could think of here?

You also have deliberately confused a lot of people into thinking this game has two-player capabilities, when it doesn't. It's even in bold print right on your box! How is that not false advertising? And then the AI characters the game saddles you with have such horrendous AI and pathing that they can't figure out how to go around corners, and happily walk right into every trap, damage tile and enemy attack they possibly can. It's a good thing you never actually need to use them, because they end up spending most of the game dead unless you go to great effort to keep them alive.

What else? Except for healing and certain buffs, magic is virtually useless in the game and there's no point in bothering to raise it. The dungeons are also mostly limp affairs, small and short and lacking in any detail or anything of real interest, just a bunch of respawning monsters to hack through on the way to what is usually a disappointing boss showdown. Your menu system is also annoying, and being forced to constantly switch weapons and magic just to kill one little niggling enemy who is blocking the way is very irritating.

It's a shame, Mana - I'm still waiting for a proper follow-up to Secret of Mana and Seiken 3, and amidst the sea of crap that's come out since then you were the closest to actually being that game. You had the basic engine and formula in place, but it seems Square and it's designers still couldn't manage to give you the treatment you deserve. Maybe somebody will remake this remake eventually, and give it a thorough ironing, but until then I've got to bid you adieu.

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