No one saw the Vita release of Adventures of Mana coming. The original version of the title was a mobile remake of a Game Boy title that was released in the west as Final Fantasy Adventures. The Game Boy original is considered a classic, true, and one that many players have been wanting to revisit in a form not called Sword of Mana. Square Enix heard them, and released it (yay!) for phones (boo!). Still, porting titles between mobile and Vita isn’t considered too heavy of a job for accomplished coders, hence this release that took everybody by surprise. Based on the state of the game, “everybody” includes Square Enix.
As a game itself, the title holds up as long as the player goes in expecting a retro experience. The title centers around a young gladiator who escapes captivity and soon runs into a young woman whose fate is tied to the Tree of Mana. The crux of the story revolves around this player named hero rescuing, escorting, and then re-rescuing this young lady while preventing the Dark Lord of Glaive from destroying the deciduous deity. As the framework for a retro title, this is fine. It tells a story short on frills and puts the emphasis on puzzle solving. Through smart design, the player is shuffled from place to place in a specific order, only able to access the next needed story event when the proper equipment is found. In practice, it feels somewhat like a Zelda game, where a found tool is required for progress. It’s a bit more spread out, though, in that the overworld acts as part of a proper dungeon, as opposed to a more discrete area that would be found in Nintendo’s series. The title has received a graphical facelift that gives it an appearance similar to the DS versions of Final Fantasy III and IV. The lines are sharper, and the appearance on the Vita screen is more colorful, but the look was designed to not tax older phones while still giving it an appealing appearance. The redone music adds to the atmosphere as well.
When saying this is a remake, this is meant in the truest sense of the term. While there are changes in the looks, everything is laid out just the way it was in the early 90s. So much so, that walkthroughs for the classic games are perfectly valid, easing the reviews process. This is good news, as the “puzzles” haven’t aged well. Ignoring the switch puzzles that aren’t too bad, progress is often impeded by unknown means. Random rocks might cover a stairway to the next required area. Random trees will need to be chopped down with an ax. Most will leave an impassable stump. Some are stump free and required chopping for progress. This isn’t counting some areas where random walls need to be broken with a mattock to progress. At least those have a subtle mark and give a telling sound when hit.
While the old-school trappings can be annoying, they were in the original. It would almost be heresy to change these, as it would pervert the entire experience. Still though, there are ways to make it more palatable for a gamer coming into this new, ways that Square Enix ignored. The game controls make it obvious that the Vita version was a quick and dirty port of the mobile game.
In the Vita version, the stick controls the character, ‘X’ attacks, ‘O’ uses an equipped spell or item, square opens the equipment menu, while triangle opens the system. Using the left bumper does open up a few more options. The thing is, the misuse of the input options drag this game down. Anytime a different weapon, item or spell is needed, the player must pop into the menu and scroll through the nonsense to get the correct one. This breaks the flow of the game in ways that were necessary in the past, but pointless and frustrating now.
It’s not as though mapping the controls for the Vita would have been difficult. One possible alternative: keep movement, attack and spell items the same. Map the extensive status and equipment screen to triangle, as it is a Square Enix game. The system menu would be mapped to start. Holding the right button in tandem with the control cross of left stick would cycle through either weapons, spells or items, with ‘X’ selecting the proper option. Using the other face buttons while holding the bumper would switch the category. This suggestion would be infinitely more useful for the Vita player and improve the game. Admittedly, this system might not be the best; I conceived of it on the fly as the words were appearing on the screen. Still, this idea has already had more time and thought put into it than the developers invested.
The fact that Adventures of Mana was originally a phone game does not automatically mean it is bad. It’s a new version of a classic game and designed around a platform that only has a touchscreen for an input. The solutions to bring the game there were smart. The issue with this Vita version as that the publisher just decided to bring that same exact version over without tailoring it to fit the platform. Many can look past this and enjoy a better looking, but faithful recreation of Final Fantasy Adventures, but we as gamers should expect better.