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Beautiful Waste Of Time
Ever seen that show on MTV called Pimp My Ride? Basically this rapper goes around picking up someone's old and worn-down car, takes it to a shop, and the people at the shop give it a new paint job, sound system, and other oddities like - I am not making this up, this actually happened one time - a make-up shelf in the trunk. In the end, the vehicle's owner goes nuts and says "thanks for pimping my ride, MTV!" What does this have to do with anything? I'd like to say "nothing," but that's not the case here - one Squaresoft's old, long-forgotten rides just got pimped. Big time. But was it worth it? I took Sword Of Mana for a spin to find out.
The presentation of this remake is one huge mixed bag. Visually, the game looks pretty decent. The environments, characters, and monsters are beautifully designed. You'll notice an occasional tear or slowdown, but it's never enough to justify a major complaint. Those used to hearing the unique flair that Hiroki Kikuta brought to the 16-bit installations of the Mana series should expect something of lesser quality here. While there are a couple of songs here and there that you'll find yourself whistling to, much of the soundtrack is forgotten five minutes after you turn the game off. Some of the instrument samples sound like what you'd hear on an NES - and listening to the game through a decent set of headphones uncovers some pretty annoying 'clicking' noises that you'll probably miss just listening through the system speaker.
The game's implementation of the Ring system was pretty cumbersome. For example, in order to use a piece of candy, you have to open up the menu, go to items, go to recovery, and then select your candy. They were thoughtful enough to include shortcut keys on the shoulder buttons that go straight to your spirits and weapons, however as those options are available on the main menu I'd have preferred the chance to customize those keys. In addition, there are certain sections of your menu that are completely locked out unless you are in combat. Let's say you're in town and you want to know if you have enough Wind coins to go unlock a spirit - you have to leave town and go get into a fight just to find out. It's a minor inconvenience that I stumbled over repeatedly.
Now for the biggest problem ... the AI. Artificial intelligence? More like artificial stupidity. Your ally will, among other things, continually throw useless spells or attacks at enemies that are immune to them, chase pretty lights all over pits of lava and killing themselves in the process, and continue swinging wildly at the spot your last enemy stood for several moments after you've killed it. More often than not I let my ally get their misadventures out of the way up front and just keep them dead for as long as I'm running around dungeons or whatever.
A lot of times the quality of the story line and the quality of the dialogue go hand-in-hand. Bad storylines usually come with bad dialogue and good stories usually come with good dialogue. Sword Of Mana is an exception to the rule - the story isn't all that hot (as are most stories where one of the bad guys is called "Dark Lord"), but the dialog is outstanding. If you're a completist or you just want to see both sides to the story you'll probably want to go back and do the game over with the character you didn't pick the first time.
Between all the new artwork, gameplay, music, extras, and the problems, I'd say if Final Fantasy Adventure was an old clunker on that TV show it would have come out with a sleek paint job - with "BADD DAWG" written in gothic print on the rear windshield, the number 69 printed on the doors, and the front passenger seat replaced with an combination umbrella stand and cat litter box. In other words, you should probably skip over Sword Of Mana unless you really, REALLY want to play it.
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