Sword of Mana


Review by Tyler Willis



Graphics: 9

Sound: 9

Gameplay: 4.5

Overall: 4.5


"Sword of Mana." The name itself seems almost oxymoronic as most RPGers would consider mana and swords to be two completely different ideas in separate spheres of influence. Rarely does one see a mage form a sword out of mana and start hacking away. The idea seems somewhat silly and unfortunately the game does not get much better than its title.

Sword of Mana is a remake of the first Seiken Densetsu title (precursor to the U.S. Secret of Mana). Square originally released this title as Final Fantasy Adventure in 1991, but the company completely revamped the game for this release. Much of the Final Fantasy characteristics (chocobos et al) has been replaced, the graphics and sound have been updated, and the story rewritten to include two storylines for replayability. The result is a game that plays like a combination of Secret of Mana and Legend of Mana, only without much of the originality found in those two games.

The story is rather weak and somewhat far-fetched. The player chooses to follow either the hero or the heroine's path, but much of the game features cross over sequences, leaving few unique story-parts for the two paths. The heroine is one of the last survivors of the Mana clan following a persecution. The hero is the son of a family who tried to protect the heroine as a child but ended up dead except for the hero. The two meet again many years later, remember one another, vow to put a stop to the persecution, and avenge the hero's family. They fight against a dark lord named… "Dark Lord" - really.

Along the way, they separate a few times and discover their own history, the secret of the mana clan, and ultimately fight to make the world a better place. It's a standard RPG story with few twists. Character portrayals are shallow and static with no development whatsoever, and the dialogue is laughable (sadly) at times.

Sword of Mana is a real-time action RPG. The player controls one character at a time and can choose to fight with any one of eight weapons or use one of eight types of sprite magic. The hero is billed as a fighter, and the heroine as a mana user, but the leveling up system allows for a directed build with class bonuses for higher level characters. The weapons vary in traits and usefulness and must be found throughout the adventure.

Sprites are also discovered during the adventure and grant two types of magic: offensive and defensive. Magic is activated by a trigger button, a short tap for defense and a long tap for offense. While this may seem good in theory, in practice offensive magic tends to take too long to kill an enemy and is frustrating because the character can be damaged while charging up the spell. As a result, unless the player is truly patient, offensive magic will be relegated to those situations only where it is necessary.

Offensive magic also eats up lots of MP, but this can be recovered by sitting. Sitting is about as exciting as it sounds, and frequent magic use also means frequent sitting periods in which the player does nothing but watch the character sit on the ground. Some enemies are invulnerable to certain types of attack, so a certain level of proficiency in varied weapons/magic is recommended, but most enemies can be defeated using the player's weapon of choice.

Sword of Mana features a quest system to keep players entertained while not working on the main storyline. However, quests are usually simple or require too much back tracking to be worthwhile since few offer significant rewards. In addition, this quest system adds to the silliness level as almost every townsperson will ask the character for help in performing some random task.

One of the weakest points of the game is the second character. In many areas, the player will have an ally who is there to help fight through that area. This character is AI controlled, but the player can manually switch characters - though this leaves the main character open to AI control. AI may be the wrong term, as the computer-controlled character rarely does anything useful or remotely intelligent and usually gets itself killed. The AI will wander in aimless paths, get stuck behind obstacles, and fight ineffectively against monsters. It also has an annoying habit of using offensive magic until that character has no MP and then not doing anything, not even sitting to recover MP.

A forging system is in place for players to seek out new materials and forge better weapons and armor. This falls apart on two accounts: first, it is never adequately explained so any efforts at forging are trial and error with limited materials. Second, it is not necessary. It is entirely possible to easily finish the entire game with the standard weapons/armor. In most RPGs, this would be considered a heady challenge for the veterans, but Sword of Mana is easy enough that simple hacking at enemies is usually sufficient to kill them even with the beginner weapons.

Visually, the game holds a definite resemblance to Legend of Mana. This is the strongest aspect of both games, and it is obvious that careful detail was put into every area and character. The design is absolutely gorgeous and very detailed, sure to please fans of the old-school hand-drawn backdrops. The audio is also well done and adds to the game atmosphere.

The game does feature two separate paths, but it is the same story with the same ending. Most of the game will be exactly the same, so unless a player wanted to fill all the quests or get the best weapons, the replayability factor is low.

Fans of the Seiken Densetsu series will not want to miss this remake, but casual fans looking to recapture the magic of Secret of Mana will come away disappointed. The game is on the short side, so it can be played through quickly. The gameplay works well on the handheld system and can be played in small chunks. Overall, Sword of Mana is only average at best, and gamers would be better off finding a different action RPG to occupy their time.


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Last updated: Thursday, July 07, 2005 11:30 AM