reviews\ Feb 8, 2004 at 7:00 pm

Sword of Mana - GBA - Review

Sword of Mana is the second GBA offering made possible by the holy alliance between Square-Enix and Nintendo. Essentially a remake of the original Game Boy game Seiken Densetsu (known stateside as Final Fantasy Adventure), Sword of Mana is the prequel to the excellent Super Nintendo game Secret of Mana and Legend of Mana for the PlayStation. While the game does come from a highly respected pedigree, a host of flaws and problems keep the game from being a truly excellent game on par with most of Square-Enix. However, Sword of Mana is still a pretty fun action RPG that will provide many hours of entertainment.

Of course, Sword of Mana has undergone a few key changes from the original version. The storyline, graphics and some of the gameplay elements have been changed. Sword of Mana gives you control of two different characters: a young man on a quest for revenge against the man who killed his parents, or a young woman who is a member of a special clan living on the run from the evil Dark Lord. You progress through your quest searching for the Sword of Mana, a weapon with the ability to save the land from the Dark Lord and his minions. Sword of Mana is a pretty long game, clocking in at around twenty hours. Unfortunately, the story is not terribly interesting or compelling, leaving it solely up to the gameplay to entice gamers to play through.

The gameplay still falls in line with the rest of the series; basically action gameplay wrapped up in some pretty deep RPG elements with some nice bonuses. When you defeat enemies and gain levels, you upgrade your character’s attributes by selecting from a list of classes, like sage, magician, thief, warrior and so on. By mixing and matching these lists as you level up, you can create new classes (like knight) that will give you an added boost in attributes. This seems pretty simple at first, but it is a pretty deep system, requiring a lot of thought from the player and the direction they wish to steer their character. The weapons each have their own particular traits, making each one important in its own right for progressing through the game, so the player doesn’t get too used to using only one weapon throughout the game. There is also a deep forging system that allows players to add elemental effects to their weapons for an extra kick in their attacks, which is a great touch.

However, the gameplay falls prey to many tragic flaws. The controls are a bit clumsy, as combos (which are pretty difficult to pull off) often fail to hit their mark, leaving the player wide open to attacks. The spell casting system can be quite a pain, as well. There is a pause that occurs right before a spell is cast. It seems that during this brief window, enemies have been programmed to attack, thereby interrupting the spell casting while still costing the character that much magic points.

Another noted irritation is the day and night system. The time of day seems to change at random, with no real reason other than your character has moved onto a different screen. This is annoying given that many of the quests throughout the game are only available at certain times of the day, leaving you to recheck areas that you’ve already explored over and over again just to be sure that nothing new has been stuck in.

Probably the most notable flaw in the game (in other words, the one that will cause the most frustration) is the lousy teammate AI. Although you begin with control of only one of the two main characters, you do gain the other one as a support character at certain points in the game. However, these support characters tend to be more of a hindrance than a help, as they waste magic, get stuck behind objects easily and make stupid suicidal moves during battle. Too much time is spent recovering your support character and getting them out of sticky situations, making the battles more of a chore than is necessary.

The graphics in Sword of Mana are on par with Secret of Mana, meaning that they are really good. The environments are bright and colorful and the characters have a unique look to them. There are a few instances of slowdown when the onscreen action gets a little too intense, but these are pretty minimal.

The sound in Sword of Mana is pretty good, but not a representation of what the Game Boy Advance is capable of. Lush and atmospheric music is countered by tinny, 8-bit sounding sound effects, making the sound a bit of a mixed bag.

Sword of Mana is certainly not a bad game but the many flaws in the gameplay may turn off gamers looking for the next epic game from Square-Enix. It has a lot of depth to offer RPG gamers looking for a good RPG adventure on the Game Boy. However, there are many great GBA adventure games that they should consider first.

Gameplay: 7.0
Sword of Mana has a surprising amount of depth for a GBA action RPG. The leveling system is pretty unique and engaging and the forging system is very deep. However, the controls are clumsy and frustrating and the teammate AI is very lousy.

Graphics: 8.5
Sword of Mana’s lush, colorful graphics look great, and the characters and environments are nicely brought to life. There are a few minor moments of slowdown, however.

Sound: 7.5
The game’s sound is a mixed bag. The music sounds great and does well to illustrate the feel and mood of the game. The sound effects are a little too tinny and sound like they were created for the Game Boy Color.

Difficulty: Medium

Concept: 7.5
The storyline falls in line with other entries in the series, but the dialogue and events are a little too bland to hold anyone’s interest for very long. While the game is a remake, it does score some points for originality with its deep gameplay additions and enhancements.

Multiplayer: 7.0
The Amigo system allows a fellow gamer to upload their data into your cartridge and enable your character to perform a special Amigo attack. The more characters you have uploaded into your cartridge, the stronger your Amigo attack will be. While this is a pretty interesting addition to the gameplay, it’s no replacement for a traditional two-player co-op mode.

Overall: 7.5
Sword of Mana has a lot to offer action RPG gamers with a GBA. Unfortunately, it also has a lot of flaws that prevent it from being a truly worthy successor to the excellent Secret of Mana. If you’re looking for a great GBA adventure RPG, then be sure to check out the many other great offerings on the GBA before dropping down your cash on Sword of Mana.


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