Final Fantasy Adventure
Genre: Action Role-Playing
The history of the Final Fantasy series in North America is a convoluted one, especially in the early entries. The mainline entries were numbered in difference to their actual positions in the series due to our only receiving half of them before Final Fantasy VII, and there are a variety of games that had the Final Fantasy brand stapled to them upon release here. Due to a number of reissues and adaptations, however, most of these have been ironed out.
Most fans of the series know that Final Fantasy Adventure is not considered a part of the actual series. For a bit of history, the game was released in Japan as Seiken Densetsu (translated as Legend of the Sacred Sword): Final Fantasy Gaiden, indicating that while the game was related to the Final Fantasy series, it was meant to be a side-story. The game’s origins become even more confusing when you factor in that this entry was released as Mystic Quest in Europe. As Mystic Quest in North America was actually Final Fantasy USA in Japan-
Let’s just say that the name Final Fantasy Adventure is a misleading name in the grand design of Square’s catalogue, and while it has also been fixed with the recent remake- the game was released as Adventures of Mana– for a long time, the Final Fantasy name carried a lot of weight in both reputation and quality at the time that this game came out. Does that mean that this game leaves the same impression that the rest of the titles did, though?
The plot, as an overarching theme without detail, is bereft of originality. Final Fantasy Adventure opens on the hero, a prisoner of the Glaive Empire forced to fight in gladiator style combat to live. When his best friend, Willy, is killed in a fight, he decides to escape and stumbles onto a plot by the leader of Glaive, Dark Lord, to reach the Tree of Mana. His goal is to harness the power of the Tree by finding a girl who is connected to the power of Mana. This leads the hero into an adventure that will span the known world to protect the power of Mana and stop Dark Lord and his forces.
While the story itself isn’t novel, the beats in the story actually do deliver some sincere moments. Throughout your journey, you will be joined by a number of characters who are invested in your goals. Even when they are not fighting at your side or accompanying you, they will appear throughout the story. Some of them make some sacrifices that are emotional, to say the least, and leave a lasting impression, even in the minimalist presentation of the Game Boy. While the brunt of the plot is standard Final Fantasy style offerings, by the standards of the system and what could be expected, the narrative was surprising in its pacing and depth.The game’s mechanics are a simplified version of those found in Secret of Mana, as would be expected. Your hero will have access to a variety of weapons, and a number of them have functions outside of combat. A sickle, for instance, will swing around you in a circle, but it will also cut through plants in the way. Upon getting a morning star, which attacks the same way as the sickle, you can break down weak walls to progress. At the bottom of your screen, there is a Will Bar that fills so long as you don’t swing your weapon or cast a spell. The higher the bar is, the more damage done by the attack. You can even perform a special attack- throwing your axe or spear across the screen or lengthening your whip’s range- if the meter is full. As different weapons are more effective against certain enemies, you’ll find keeping a wide range of weapons at your disposal to be imperative.
Statistically, you only have four of them to worry about- Power, Stamina, Wisdom, and Will. Upon leveling up, you can choose one stat to raise by two points. This will also add a point to two supplemental parameters. For instance, if you raise your Wisdom (which controls your magic power), you will gain two points in that and a point each in your defense (Stamina) and your magical defense (Will). Your Power, however, will remain unaffected. This does allow you to specialize and create a character with a combat style you enjoy. Admittedly, as someone who prefers magic-users when I can create them, I found that there was never enough magic points to justify trying to create a wizard. More than likely, you’ll find more utility in creating warrior or a hybrid of sorts.
One last feature I found interesting was that you have an option in your menu called ‘ASK’. If you have an NPC with you, choosing this will have them perform a supportive function. Most of these are useful, such as replenishing your magic points, regenerating health, or allowing you to shop whenever you want. A couple of functions are fun but impractical. You travel with a bard at one point who can change the music you’re hearing in the background. Given that the majority of allies also attack enemies with decent AI tactics, even unnecessary support functions can be forgiven.Flaws in the game’s mechanics are more a sign of age than design. Given the frequent amount of weapon and item changes needed to progress, accessing your inventory and weapons can be a clunky process. You can only equip one weapon and one item or magic (they share a slot) which are able to be used through the A and B buttons. To pass through locked doors, you need to have a key equipped, which means you have to pause, go into your inventory, find the key and equip it, then pass through the door before replacing it with the magic or item you want to use. This is manageable, but it slows down the action, especially if you need to use an Ether or Cure potion in battle.
Unlike a number of games of the time, I have to give a fair amount of credit to Final Fantasy Adventure for pushing the player as games of this scope should. You are always presented with the next step of your journey by a helpful NPC, and while the world is large, it is not insurmountable. If you are told that a place is off to the southeast, you should be able to progress there pretty easily. It should go without saying, though, that speaking to everybody in town’s is the best way to continue on smoothly.
As with just about every Final Fantasy game, the score to this game is stellar. It is, of course, set back by the technology of the Game Boy itself, but it is pleasant to listen to. Under Kenji Ito, who is also the composer for the Romancing SaGa series, the melodies most likely sound fantastic in orchestration but feel like they are lacking something at times. The title track “Rising Sun” is a standout track, however, and probably one of the most memorable opening tracks in my recent experience.
The game isn’t tough on the eyes, either. There are a number of assets that look like they would be used a year later in Final Fantasy V, pixel for pixel. Many of the enemies are also progenitors for creatures from Secret of Mana’s bestiary. Overall, the graphics are on par for the system, though some of them do get messy. I had instances of bosses’ death explosions becoming a jumble of tiles used on the boss themselves, and sometimes when attacking invulnerable parts of the larger creatures, the tiles would disappear. Final Fantasy Adventure is pleasant to look at, but it isn’t without its glitches.At the moment, I haven’t played Adventures of Mana, so I’m not sure how that remake stands up to Final Fantasy Adventure. This game was also remade for the Game Boy Advance as Sword of Mana. While most of the pieces remain the same, Sword of Mana felt a bit overdrawn whereas Final Fantasy Adventure felt concise. Even some of the events that could be considered ‘padding’ in other games felt like they were short jaunts. If I had to estimate, the game probably clocked in around 10 to 12 hours, which is lengthy for the little handheld.
If you’re a fan of the early Legend of Zelda or the Seiken Densetsu series’ later titles, you will enjoy Final Fantasy Adventure immensely. I can’t say that I would recommend this to first time action RPG players, as the game can be difficult in spots. It is a solid entry in the Game Boy library, and if you have the chance to experience it, you could do much worse if you’re looking for an emotional and competent RPG that fits right in with the works of Square’s Super Nintendo offerings.