Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Review: Final Fantasy Adventure (Gameboy)

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ffa_coverConsole: Gameboy
Released: 1991 (1993 in Europe)
Developer: Square
Publisher: Square/Sunsoft
Instruction Manual: Link for manual, link for map (both helpful)
Difficulty: Moderate
Played as a child? No
Value: $14.49 (used), $77.49 (new) on pricecharting.com
Also Known As: Mystic Quest (Europe), Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden (Japan), Sword of Mana (GBA)
Digital Release? No

To fully understand the mystery and headaches surrounding Final Fantasy Adventure, you must first understand the massive differences between the names, although not the content, around the world. Times have changed and these days for uniformity (and the much more widespread import scene) most games retain their original title or some semblance of it. Square in particular was very forward thinking in terms of translation and localization, which resulted in games being renamed and more properly translated in different regions. Enter the portable debacle with the Final Fantasy name. On Gameboy there was a single title named Final Fantasy Adventure, this title, and another trilogy called Final Fantasy Legend (I, II, and III); Adventure is in fact the first entry into the Mana series (known as Secret of Mana Zero for a while and now officially renamed to Sword of Mana) and Legend is better known as the SaGa series, which has continued like Mana outside of portables. Legend wasn’t very widely regarded, SaGa has always been a bit of a so-so series, because it didn’t do anything new and was a simplified RPG by all accounts. Final Fantasy Adventure was a bit more interesting because it took the RPG-like elements of a Final Fantasy (the term “gaiden” in Japan relates to a “side story” so the title is fitting over there) and combines it with the action/map/exploring elements of Legend of Zelda. In short, it’s a hybrid of the most popular RPG and adventure titles on the NES now moved to the portable. It was popular then, too, spawning a long running series and the sequel, Secret of Mana, is an SNES favorite to most gamers.

ffa_1Final Fantasy Legend involves a story about a boy, you name him, and a girl, also named by you, that are brother and sister. Bound by an interesting connection with the Mana Tree, the adventure begins with an evil presence named, get this, the Dark Lord, and his plans to destroy the world. In order to prevent it, our duo sets out on a quest to eliminate him. You will journey to many towns, meet plenty of people that will either help or inform you, and of course at some point the girl gets kidnapped by a man named Julius, the Dark Lord’s advisor. This is just a simplified version of the first third of an adventure that spans tens of hours, a time hard to pin down because like Legend of Zelda your progress depends on how fast you can navigate the map and know what to do next. Trust me, print up the map in the link above and bring a FAQ with you – there are a few moments where you can get stuck unable to beat the game.

I was immediately hooked to the play style and impressed that so innovative a game came out so early in the lifespan of gaming and on the portable Gameboy no less. Perhaps the low development cycle and simplification of these games allowed something like this to thrive, but it’s a worthwhile blast to the past if you get a chance. Originally the game was to be a Famicom Disk System (FDS) title that would be a whopping 5 disks (you would have to buy the disks blank in Japan for roughly $15 and pay $5 to write a game, so we’re talking a $100 title). There were even pre-orders taken under the name The Emergence of Excalibur (which does play a large role in the game) as early as 1987 and by October of that year they were canceled and recommended to purchase Final Fantasy instead that holiday season (Final Fantasy wouldn’t premiere in the US for more than 2 years in 1990). From what I understand this title is the continuation and completion of that project, which would have been a massive feat back in 1987. What I like most about it, and this is clear to anyone who has played the game, is that unlike Final Fantasy titles that focus around the characters and their story, Final Fantasy adventure is more about one story in a living world. Think of every entry in the Mana series as an extended universe title in Star Wars, the world is established but it’s the characters and interaction with the world that makes up each game. For this reason alone I prefer the Mana series (until it’s downfall after PS1) over the Final Fantasy series of the time, although it’s not quite apples to apples. As with Zelda you will consistently be exploring new dungeons, opening up new enemies and bosses, potentially collecting optional items that assist your journey. Additionally it has different weapons and armor you can purchase, magic spells, stats, leveling, and town exploration just like a traditional RPG.

ffa_2I must admit that the game’s fun is harmed severely by the need for an FAQ. It has flaws such as figuring out where to go or what to do next, like The Legend of Zelda, which can hinder your progress and it doesn’t have the benefit of every kid of the era having played it like Zelda. You can also become stuck in dungeons without the appropriate items, of which you are never told you need, that are found in the various shops throughout. This stopped me from being able to complete the end of the game my first time through, thank god for backed up saves. If you use emulators or save states, these can often be your worst enemy so be sure and combine both the states and the game’s traditional saves for backup. As for the updated Sword of Mana, I’ve heard it’s better than the original, fixing some of the popular gripes in this game, but I always like to see the series at its roots and this holds up as a lackluster GBA title while it’s an amazing one on Gameboy. Since the story isn’t all that complicated, unique, or interesting, trust me when I say the journey is the draw and not the end result. Many played Secret of Mana and if you’re a fan I highly recommend stepping back into the series original to see where those initial ideas from the earliest days at Square stemmed from.

Written by Fred Rojas

July 11, 2013 at 11:00 am

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