Sword of Mana is a remake of a game for the original Game Boy called Final Fantasy Adventure. Final Fantasy Adventure, though not named as a Mana game in the US, started the whole series. The most popular member of the Mana series is the first one released for the Super Nintendo called Secret of Mana. This game is graphically, as well as in some other gameplay objects, styled off of that game.
Sword of Mana is an Action/Adventure RPG, similar to a Zelda game (with character levels, usable magic, etc.) or other Mana games. In this game you can take the role of either the Hero (as in Final Fantasy Adventure) or the Heroine (which was only a non-player character in the original.) Though the main plot of the game is the same, the perspective and dialog is often different in each case. It\'s an interesting variation, and a valid reason to want to play through the game twice. This review is primarily based on a play-through as Hero.
The game world is based on the idea that a goddess created the world and all life. A current powerful regime is supressing the spread of this knowledge and persecuting all of the believers of the goddess as \'heretics\'. The Heroine is the last of the Mana Clan women, and the Hero has promised to protect her. The Hero\'s parents were killed in the initial wave of persecuting \'heretics\' while he was a boy. The previously Mana-friendly regime has been replaced with the current one, ran by a man named Dark Lord. Since Dark Lord killed the Hero\'s parents, he has promised to avenge their death.. and thus begins the quest (at least for the Hero.)
The storyline is fairly well done, with decent emotional/moral conflicts and decisions made by the characters. Though the general framework of the game\'s story fairly closely follows Final Fantasy Adventure (with a few notable exceptions), a large part of it is expanded upon quite a bit to make a much deeper story overall than its Game Boy cousin.
In Sword of Mana, the Hero starts with a sword, and the Heroine starts with a rod (staff). Throughout their adventure, they each gain seven other weapons, not including the other starting character\'s weapon, which they can never get. They also start with (Heroine) or learn (Hero) magic in their journey. There are eight different types of spirits which they can get in the game, and each one has one offensive spell and one defensive or beneficial spell. For example, Wisp heals, Salamander raises attack power, Dryad raises magic defense, etc. Each attack power is pretty similar; they simply attack with their element. By pressing the magic button for a short amount of time you receive the beneficial effect, and by holding it until a spirit icon appears on the screen you cast the offensive spell. For only three magic points for the beneficial spell and six (minimum) for the offensive one, spells can be used fairly commonly if you like. The game also has a \'sit\' command where you can rest and get magic points back, even in battle. It works fairly well if you choose to be a magic heavy character. Warrior characters also work really well, of course.
Each time you raise a level, you can choose one of six classes to raise your skills in. Warrior, Monk, Sage, Magician, Thief, or Random. The first five classes raise your attributes in a defined way, while Random randomly raises your attributes (with the same total as you would have if you picked a class). This allows you to specialize your character to be very good in certain areas, and to eventually raise to a level two and then level three class. A certain amount of specializing is a very good thing, but too much will not allow you to gain level two or three class. It helps to know what you are looking for before you start, so you can become one of the really powerful classes.
Fighting monsters is accomplished in real time, similar to a Zelda game. Each monster you defeat gives you experience points and money. After a certain amount of experience you gain a level, similar to many other RPGs.
The graphics are fairly good, though with a few minor graphical glitches. They are styled heavily off of Secret of Mana, and it shows. Many of the simpler monsters, like the famous Rabite, look nearly identical. Other aspects seem similar, too. For example, while Final Fantasy Adventure had Chocobo travel for traveling between towns, this game uses a system very similar to Secret of Mana: cannon travel. It also uses eight spirits for the different spells, and you have a party member you can switch to (but unfortunately, you do not have persistent, moldable characters like Secret of Mana, nor can you play any form of multiplayer.) There is also a \'ring\' menu system which is similar as well. Fortunately, most monsters and areas are new art, though appropriately based off of Final Fantasy Adventure. A few other elements from newer Mana games are also borrowed. There are a few minor graphic glitches; for example, when entering the Hot House, some of the graphics have lines running through them for a few frames. Nothing major, but noticeable if you look for them. Overall, the graphics are very good.
The sound effects are just fine, and fairly consistent and expected for a Game Boy Advance game. The music is mostly good, with a lot of it being remixed from Final Fantasy Adventure. There are a few songs/tunes that, while being fairly accurate from the previous game, are kind of annoying. In one area, I found the screech of a certain tone to be irritating.. but most of the game is fairly decent. It\'s just that a few of the tunes feel and sound aged.
Like many fantasy RPGs, this game has common magic use by both the player and their enemies. There is also killing, but no blood or gore. When certain characters are killed, the game has somewhat redeemed itself in this way by moving the character in a direction of repentance; you learn that often killing for revenge gets you in trouble and that people you care deeply about are often hurt (or killed) in the process. For example, at one point you defeat a boss who turns out to actually be the mother of another NPC who was a friend... and another friend dies.. and dealing with the coming mess leaves your character frustrated and learning that killing for the purpose of revenge will get you nowhere other than in trouble and hurting others.
The largest problems in this game (aside from the prevalent use of magic) has to do with the role of the goddess. Right away, in the very beginning of the game, when you approach a goddess statue, the game asks you \'Will you pray to Mana goddess?\' Of course I answered \'No\' the first few times; I don\'t want to pray to any other but God! This was rather disturbing and almost made me no longer play this game. To make matters worse, by answering \'Yes\' it brings you to the save game screen. It\'s the only way to save the game (unlike Final Fantasy Adventure, where you could save anywhere.) After much consideration, I decided to review the game and see what it was about and to help you make a more informed choice.
After playing for a while (and being asked to pray a few more times) I found some rather interesting phenomenon. It seems that the makers of this game (perhaps intentionally?) paralleled a lot of the ideas surrounding the goddess with our own God. A few common similarities include:
1) Created the world and all life
2) Followers mercilessly persecuted
3) Followers have a joy-filled, peaceful attitude
4) Worshiped in Cathedrals
5) a tree symbol replaces where we would put a cross (on a steeple, etc.)
There is even one prolonged monologue from a non-believing character in the game where he goes on about how all the Mana followers are always happier, and are content in calamity, etc. I thought it was curious that so many parallels could be drawn between our God and the goddess of this game. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized the major differences as well. A few I thought of:
1) The Mana goddess has limited power. She needed help from spirits to maintain the world.
2) Humans can access her sanctuary and take/use her power, and she can\'t stop it.
3) Her presence in the world is manifested as a tree, and without the tree, Mana\'s fate is uncertain.
4) Another reason that would spoil the ending too much. ;)
So what does all this mean? Well, it\'s not an allegory for God with a different name, even with the many similarities. As I thought about how to properly review this game, I thought about these things quite a lot, so I thought I\'d share some of that thought process with you as well.
What is my final appropriateness recommendation? Well, this is one of the more difficult reviews I have made in this area. Plusses? decent moral outcomes with proper consequences for unnecessary violence; faith shown in a very positive light. Negatives? Magic use, nature spirits, goddess stuff. I would say the cons probably outweigh the positives.. but it\'s not all black and white.
Sword of Mana is a decent, but not great remake of a great Game Boy game. It adds a lot to the game, and takes away a few other things (can no longer save anywhere, chocobos, and a few minor plot lines.) Adding Heroine\'s storyline is also a big plus. The overall length of the game is only around twenty hours; however if you decide to complete all of the sidequests (in particular the spirit upgrade quests) it could easily double that. And, you could also choose to play through as the other character as well. The major bummer is the appropriateness issues; in particular asking the player to pray to a goddess.. troubling. If that is not a bother to you, then it is a decent game overall.
Sexual Content/Nudity 10/10
Appropriateness Total: 37/50
Game Play 17/20
Game Score Total: 39/50