Game review: Adventures of Mana for PS Vita

I know what you’re thinking. “Where the hell have you been, Zoe?” I’ve been here, actually, and I’ve been busy writing. How busy? I’ve written 100,000 words in two weeks, and averaged about 9,000 to 10,000 words per day. That kind of dedicated work doesn’t leave much time for anything else, but as I’ve gone three seasons without writing anything new, I had to take advantage of this sudden productive streak and hold onto it for as long as I can.

But I did spend a few minutes here and there gaming as a reward for meeting chapter goals, and my game this time around was Adventures of Mana, which was ported over to PS Vita from the iOS/Android version. At this point, that makes it a port of a port of a port, and the game itself is fairly old. So, how does it stand up after the passage of time? Not well at all.

My experience with the Mana series stops with the SNES title Secret of Mana, a game I liked so much that a few years ago I got a ROM and emulator to play it back through. In playing Adventures of Mana, I can see the story attempting to hit some of the same notes, and it doesn’t do a very good job of it.

Right off the bat, the hero (who you can name or go with the default choice) is a slave gladiator who after fighting one exotic beast is told by another slave that the tree of mana is in danger, and that he must seek out the last of the Gemma Knights to learn how to SAVE THE WORLD. Rrrrrrrriiiiiight. Additionally, someone a room over from this trite death scene totally heard this guy’s last gasping whispers and suggests that the hero can escape during his next fight because the gate the fighting animals enter the arena from leads directly outside to the front of the castle. (Which has no guards or traffic to notice an escaping slave.) I don’t care how generous you want to be, this is a level of stupid so powerful it generates its own event horizon.

And it never gets any better. I know JRPG writing is more a method of getting you from one dungeon to the next for the XP grind, but this story is just shit. You meet a girl meant to be your companion, walk her through five screens, and then she vanishes. Then you meet another companion and quest with them to save the first, who is promptly kidnapped again. And then you save her….aaaaaaaand she’s brainwashed and kidnapped again. All through this, you’re given other companions to fight with, a couple of which die, and the hero is going “NOOOOOOOO!” like we’re supposed to feel anything over the death of someone we spent all of five minutes traveling with.

In Secret of Mana, when my heroine gets kidnapped, I’m upset because I’ve been fighting with her for the better part of the game. I’m invested in her. In Adventures of Mana, I’m expected to have the same level of investment even though zero effort is given toward making me give a shit. So, big surprise, but I didn’t.

The combat in Secret of Mana let you use any of your weapons and level them up for better attacks. Certain weapons were used to overcome obstacles, but you could use any weapon on any enemy, and so long as you didn’t mind grinding to level it up, you could still do decent damage.

In Adventures of Mana, weapons don’t level up. Your character does this by choosing among different pre-configured stats categories. (Warrior, Monk, Mage, and Sage, I think. I’m too bored to open the game and check.) If they’d kept the rest of the weapon system consistent, this might not be a problem. But no, they made it so that some enemies are completely resistant to most weapons, and it’s not always consistent about who is resistant to what. This means that sometimes you end up scrolling through a wheel of all your weapons looking for the one damn thing that will get this stupid enemy out of the doorway you need to go through.

And there’s puzzles that require a specific weapon, but you might have to travel in a long, LONG loop for a while before sorting out what the weapon you need is, and then you’ll do even more loops trying to get that weapon to connect with the one little target you need to trigger an event. Oh, and because enemies randomly spawn, it’s entirely possible that the one time out of a hundred that you finally have the weapon lined up with the target, an enemy will walk up to block the shot. And they’ll do it on every single circuit after that for a dozen loops, just to mock your growing anger.

The random enemy spawns can break other puzzle rooms by not giving you enough enemies to trigger the floor switches, or by spawning enemies resistant to the one spell you have to use to safely immobilize them. If you kill the enemies in the room before seeing the puzzle, you may have to go all the way out of the dungeon to reset the enemy spawning, or else the room just remains empty.

Oh, and half the time, the enemies don’t seem to be able to recognize walls or barriers. They wander around passing through stuff like it’s not there. With the ghosts and flying monsters, I’d give them the benefit of the doubt. But way too many walking, non-flying creatures also ignore borders, so I feel like this was yet another issue that slipped past QA without being addressed.

The boss fights are all laughably pathetic. I can’t think of a single boss who I was worried about facing, and I never died fighting any of them. I compare that to Secret of Mana, where the bosses were nightmares even after grinding up to raise my hit points and weapon strength. But this is just a lazy, dull design, with one crap encounter after another all the way up to the final pathetic boss.

I really can’t think of anything to praise here. The story is crap, the combat is a joke, the level design is terrible, the controls are meh, and the bosses are pathetic. Hhmmmmmm…oh, okay, the music is nice. Peaceful and relaxing. But also kind of forgettable; so not great, just nice.

I have to give Adventures of Mana 2 stars. It’s not a game that’s aged well over the years, and I regret spending my money on it based on my nostalgia for Secret of Mana. I’d much rather play Super Stardust Delta for the millionth time than suffer through this again, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone except the most die-hard JRPG fans who would look on its many, many flaws as features.