When most people think of the Mana series, their minds inevitably focus in on the well known and widely renowned Secret of Mana. With good reason, as it was the defining game that established the series as we know it today. But as is apparent from its Japanese name, Seiken Densetsu 2, this is not where the series began. That honor is given to the 1991 Game Boy action RPG, Final Fantasy Adventure, known as Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden in Japan. Beginning as a portable side game to the Final Fantasy series, this game paved the way for the Mana series to become its own entity separate from the rapidly growing, monumental RPG that it initially branched off of.
The story for Final Fantasy Adventure is fairly simple; you are a young warrior enslaved by the evil Dark Lord, forced to fight as a gladiator against monsters for entertainment. Before your close friend and fellow gladiator perishes, he warns you that the world’s Mana is in danger and that you must find the Gemma Knight, Bogard, of this oncoming threat. While making your escape from the castle, you encounter Dark Lord and a man named Julius plotting to reach the Mana Tree at the top of a nearby waterfall for unknown but clearly sinister reasons. After being discovered by Dark Lord, he shoves you off a cliff to your death, though you miraculously survive. Shortly after you recover from your fall, you find a young girl who also happens to be looking for Bogard, so the two of you set off on your journey together to get the aid of Bogard and save the Mana Tree.
There won’t be many points won for originality or compelling story compared to more recent works, but what is there is solid enough to get the game going and to keep it consistent until the end. It’s your usual big bad trying to seize the greatest power in the world, which we’ve seen many times already. However, this wasn’t as extreme a case for video game storytelling in 1991 as it is now. It was more enjoyable back then, and I tried to keep this in my mind as I played so as to not judge it too harshly. Ultimately, it is enjoyable for what it is, but it’s not much to write home about.
Final Fantasy Adventure is honestly a rather fun little action RPG. In most cases, it aged well, which I was not expecting from a game of its genre on the Game Boy. I was anticipating a rather janky mess that would be barely enjoyable, but the game was mostly pleasant. With that said, there are some aspects that reflect the limitations of the platform and bog down the overall experience, but I found that these are things that you get used to after awhile.
An almost immediate apparent flaw in the combat is that the hit detection is a little off. You’ll think you’re standing in a spot where you can hit the enemy, and it definitely looked like your weapon hit them, but they’re still completely unfazed by your attacks. You really have to stand in just the right spot to hit them in their small hit boxes. This can actually get incredibly annoying with certain enemies in the second half of the game. You’ll try your best to hit them but end up falling just short of the hit box, then end up getting hit by them and possibly a status ailment. It isn’t so bad if it’s Poison or Stone, as you can typically heal through those. But heaven forbid if you get hit by the dreaded Moog, an ailment that turns you into a Moogle for a short time and raises the damage you receive. Your best bet is to run to safety until it wears off, as around the first time this ailment appears, you are very likely to be one-shot a moment after it is placed on you. The invincibility frames simply don’t last long enough to save you in most situations.
One of this game’s biggest flaws is its inventory system. Throughout the game, you will need to use various weapon types in different situations in order to proceed through a dungeon or to even be able to deal damage on an enemy. Constantly having to open your menu to switch these out can get tedious, but it is worse with items and spells assigned to the B button. You may need keys, potions, offensive spells, or healing spells, but you can only assign them to this one button. While this concept isn’t bad and is still used to this day, the way the menus are laid out prevents switching items and spells from being smooth. It’s clear why the Ring Command system was implemented into Secret of Mana, as the flow of selection is quicker and easier. Couple these issues with the fact that your inventory is limited and there’s no option to discard anything other than weapons and armor, it just makes managing everything a pain. You can only use or sell items, so if you’re knee-deep in a dungeon and run out of space, you won’t be able to open any more chests until you find a means to clean up a bit, which usually means unnecessary item use. Because of this, it’s good to remember which items are dropped by which enemies.
Graphically, Final Fantasy Adventure hits the spot for what it should do and ends up a rather good looking Game Boy game for it. The animations are decent and the environments are well detailed without having too much on the screen at once. Character sprites are attractive and eye pleasing. A number of character and NPC sprites are based on sprites from Final Fantasy III, though Final Fantasy Adventure also has its own unique enemies, most of which become largely iconic and reoccurring throughout the series.
Kenji Ito does a great job with the composition of Final Fantasy Adventure’s soundtrack. Most of the music is memorable and fun, fitting to the game’s overall mood. There are a few exceptions, however, in a few very repetitive dungeon themes that can get grating after hearing them so often. At first they aren’t so bad, but the longer you have to experience them, the more annoying they get.
The localization is about what you would expect from an early 90s RPG on a handheld system with very limited text box space. It’s standard, and some sentences here and there don’t quite form a proper English sentence, but it does what it needs to. Because of the limitations, however, certain parts of text from the Japanese version were regrettably removed from the English translation, thus removing small bits of characterization in a game that already had so little.
Considering myself a Mana fan, I feel like it’s a bit of a crime that it took me so long to actually play the first game in the series. But now that I have, I can honestly say that it was worthwhile experience. When the game wasn’t having its few frustrating moments, it was genuinely enjoyable and I feel that it is a solid and a worthwhile play for any Mana or action RPG fan. If Final Fantasy Adventure looks too dated for you, but you’d like to experience the first story in the series, I recommend the 2003 GBA reimagining, Sword of Mana. It takes liberties with the story and characters, but I find these changes a step above the original. But if you want something that is closer to the original, the 2016 iOS/Vita remake, Adventures of Mana, is a good replacement. Although I haven’t played it yet myself, so it is hard for me to completely back that suggestion.
Pros & Cons
+ Simple but enjoyable story
+ Endearing soundtrack
– Dated controls and combat
– Clunky inventory management
A good start to a legendary series that is a worthwhile experience for fans of Mana and older RPGs alike.
SquareSoft (Square Enix)
SquareSoft (Square Enix)
Nov 1991 (NA)