Old RPG Review #14: Sword of ManaNuMetalManiak Sword of Mana is an action RPG developed by Brownie Brown and Square Enix for the GBA. It is actually a remake of the GB game Final Fantasy Adventure. It plays rather similarly to Secret of Mana, but it actually is the first game of the series. Final Fantasy Adventure was the first game of the Mana series, and Sword of Mana is essentially its remake.
Gameplay: If you ever know anything about the somewhat popular game Secret of Mana, then the gameplay is very much similar, in that enemies are in the area and you attack them with weapons and attack spirits. Running is allowed, and is great for evading attacks. There's also jumping for going up ledges, but that's probably its only purpose. Weapons and magic spirits can be means of attack, and the type of spirit attack varies with weapons. Status ailments are alright to deal with, some are pretty stupid though (like snowman, which immobilizes you but the enemy could never hurt you either, also petrifying enemies apparently kills them outright). When it comes to your partner, you only have one, and can set the NPC behavior to how it should be, and also switch active characters. The overall action RPG feel is there, so it feels rather good. I do have to complain the apparent linearity, at least until you get the ability to use the cannons to transport you to places. Also, after a certain point (Dime Tower) you CANNOT EVER go back.
Now, there's a lot of stuff in Sword of Mana. A large chunk of it is optional, in the form of sidequests. First of all, the days and times change as you move from place to place (except in towns), and certain things happen on certain times and days. You can get extra elemental spirits, monsters in your bestiary notebook, accessories, as well as smelted armor. Treasure chests that appear after slain monsters have some sort of roulette that decides if you're gonna take a booby-trapped chest, and it's rather ruthless. Your characters are not the only ones that level up either, your weapons and your spirits also can be leveled up by using them. It's a good idea to do so, as well as use some variety with your weapons and spirits, as some enemies are completely immune to certain weapons and spirits. As for the characters leveling up, there's several classes you can put your character under, and it's quite complex. I'll just say that once you enter a certain character class, you can't go back.
When I said Sword of Mana had a ton of side stuff, I mean it. Throughout the world, there's a place where you can build what's called a Hot House and do a few things. The cactus at the beginning writes in his journal about your journeys, and fulfilling some sidequests also adds to his journal. There's the orchard where you can combine seeds you find into fruits and veggies for, tempering your equipment?? Yep, the other area is a smithy where you can forge new equipment which might help. Very interesting, with a boatload of combinations to use.
I've found getting 100% in most RPGs to be extremely difficult. In Sword of Mana, it's definitely impossible. I've attempted the following: fill up the monster album, fill up Lil' Cactus' journal, getting all eight of each element spirit, and all summons. The last one is truly impossible to achieve because you must have 100 friends that also play Sword of Mana connect with you. This game's not too popular, so that's never gonna come by. Your gonna have to put A LOT of time into the game if you insist on getting close to 100% completion.
Gameplay grade: B
Characters: Not a whole lot to note as far as main characters. The two main playable characters are a main hero and a main heroine both of which need to be named at the start, and both of them have very similar stories of running away from the Granz realm. These two often intertwine in their journeys, and team up at certain points, all the way to the end of the game. Other helpers exist though, including the knight Bogard, the spunky kid Willy, the mage Cibba, the robot Marshall, the dwarf Watts, the prisoner Amanda, and her brother Lester (I swear he looks like a girl). There are a number of other named characters: Count Lee, Isabella, Medusa, Devius, and a few villains like Dark Lord and Julius. Grade: B
The spirits are Wisp (Light), Shade (Darkness), Luna (Moon), Salamander (Fire), Undine (Water), Dryad (Wood), Jinn (Wind) and Gnome (Earth). Your characters can have one of eight weapons: sword, staff, bow, flail, sickle, knuckles, axe, morning star (mace), and a lance (spear). Each weapon has a special attack when the gauge is full which can be done by holding and releasing for some good damage.
Plot: The plots for the hero and the heroine only differ so slightly, but they are for the most part same because they tend to cross paths often in the game. The main difference would have to be what partners each will have. Hero for example has Lester while Heroine has Willy. I've played only the Hero story though. I will say, that this plot didn't strike me as memorable.
So the start of Sword of Mana for both characters is a flashback, to where the hero and heroine are just kids. Some guy called Dark Lord (who's not really that dark of a person by outfit and also doesn't seem to have another name) is a dictator of the town of Granz has ordered them to be killed. Their parents are killed and they flee. Heroine gets kidnapped while Hero gets imprisoned somewhere. After Hero breaks from prison, in an attempt to defeat Dark Lord, he finds Heroine and they pair up.
At some creepy house, there's apparently a thing where women are kidnapped, but all is sorted out over there. As they journey, they find Bogard who tells of what happened in the past, and how he was an instrumental part of it. Also, the hero and heroine reveal their intentions. Julius, who is Dark Lord's assistant, kidnaps the heroine. The hero attempts to save her but fails. He then journeys to Jadd and finds the prisoner Amanda. Together, they find out that Medusa, who lives at Devius Manor, has lost her sanity. In a boss battle, they accidentally kill her, then Devius and Dark Lord come in, and Amanda comes down with something. She then also dies, and the hero and heroine return to Devius Manor. Obviously Devius is pissed, because Medusa was his mother, and you end up killing him in another boss fight.
All of these deaths seem to make the hero feel remorse for them. The heroine had a pendant, but it was stolen by Dark Lord, so the two confront him at Granz Castle. Although slaying him, again they feel remorse, especially after Julius revealed himself as the actual villain all along. The hero and heroine split up, taking Lester and Willy, respectively, with them. They quest to get the Sword of Mana, only to find it's rusted up. The two rejoin and storm up Dime Tower to reach the Mana Sanctuary, and there, they along with their friends confront Julius in order to defeat him. The heroine's mother was actually the sacred Mana Tree, and at the end of the game the heroine takes the place of her mother. Grade: B
Music: I'm not sure if it is because Sword of Mana is a GBA game, but the music seems a bit off in places, or at least what I hear in the reverb. There's quite a few cool tunes though, like some of the overworld themes. I know that the main desert theme has a very arcadey theme, which is very cool. I also like the serenity in the Mana Sanctuary theme. Overall, music is okay at most. Grade: B-
Overall grade: B
The only reason I considered Sword of Mana to be an above average game is that I quite enjoyed the many little things in it, as well as it being a rather fun action RPG to play simply. There's so much content though, while the plot and music is pretty average. The fact that you level up weapons, spirits, and have character classes, as well as a wide range of monsters to defeat and sidequests make it a rather daunting RPG. Some are really difficult to find! Lots of items, equipment options, so much to cover that I can't do it all. If you're interested, check it out. But good luck if you want to REALLY complete it.
Shining Force 2 is probably the only actual RPG game I've played. I've just read this series and it's so good, although I'll probably never get to play these games. - visitor
You can download an emulator via CoolROM or something, like in the case of this GBA game, you can download Visual Boy Advance. And then you can find a ROM of the game you want on a site that has them. This is the only way you can download ROM hacks and translations as well. Of course, I'm pretty certain this is all illegal somehow.
On a personal note, I don't really own most of the games or even the systems, excepting the GBA. - NuMetalManiak