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Sword of Mana disappoints in the end.
Square-Enix has shown it's readiness to expand beyond the realm of Sony, and as a result we Nintendo product owners have been treated to some games developed by the RPG behemoth. One of those games, released late in 2003, is the Gameboy Advance's Sword of Mana. Yet another remake of a classic, Sword of Mana is one of many updated versions of those RPG's that we have come to love from the past. My philosophy though is to not compare it to the past, because while many of us have played this game before, the release of this game comes at a time when a new generation of gamers will be able to enjoy it. Therefore, I never find it useful to compare when many people who may be considering buying this game have never even played the original release. So let's get right into it then.
Sword of Mana does not seek to challenge you, that much I should make clear from the start. A perfect example of this is the battle system we find in Sword of Mana. This game can be completed by simply hacking and slashing your way through it. While it is really not meant to be that way, that's what it turns into. There is no strategy to the battling, and if you ever find yourself in a dire situation, it's simply because you're not leveled up enough, not because you need to work on any skills of any kind. Sword of Mana tries to make you think that is more than that, but don't be fooled. Despite a magic system that plays into the storyline, and a wide variety of weapons (both of which gain power through their own leveling up) it doesn't really matter. The magic portion is really a joke, since you definitely do not need it on a regular basis. You only use it to get past certain obstacles and hurt a small percentage of enemies invulnerable to all weapons. Other than that, you can easily get by this entire game with your weapons alone. Now, in Sword of Mana you can either play the Hero or the Heroine. Depending on which you pick, the other (at various point of the game) will be your partner and controlled by the game. I don't think I've ever seen a more useless AI system ever. Seriously, it's pathetic at how little they help you, not that you really ever need it. Still the bottom line is that the battle system in Sword of Mana could be figured out by a child, it's that simple. I never once felt overwhelmed by the enemies, and when I beat the game, I truly was left with an empty feeling because this game is as easy as it gets.
Graphically; however, Sword of Mana does deliver, as you would expect from a game from Square-Enix. The most impressive visual achievement of Sword of Mana are the backgrounds. Everyone of them is very detailed, and suit the mood and emotional tempo of the game perfectly. The outside areas are lush, vibrant, and very bright. They contrast perfectly with the darker caves, houses, and castles that give off an aura of mystery and complexity. The characters also are very good looking, sprite wise and portrait wise. Every character, large or small, had a nice amount of detail put into them, and I definitely appreciated that effort, even if great graphics are something we have all come to expect as a given from a company as well known as Square-Enix. The sound delivers as well. I really did enjoy most of the themes throughout the game, and never felt as if any of them dragged or lessened the game play experience. At the very least the sound and visuals of this game provide a distraction of some small degree from the appalling lack of depth or challenge this game provides. I suppose it all depends on what type of gamer you are then when you are presented with this dilemma. Unfortunately for me, a game can not win me over with graphics and sound alone. Despite a decent story and the good visual work, the overall feel of Sword of Mana is a bit disappointing.
As for the story, it really is pretty good though. You fight against Dark Lord, who for the first half of the game seems to be the main villain. Ultimately though the true main villain is Julius, also known as Vandole. Your mission is to stop them as they seek to gain Mana power for themselves. Ultimately though even Dark Lord ends up as a puppet of Julius. The heroes of story also go through many doubts and death surrounds them, and the people they have to go through ultimately never deserve they death they get. In the end, it becomes clear that Julius has pulled all the strings since day one which drive the story along. It's not the most original plot you'll ever see, but its fun, and it definitely is better than most of what you see out there today in the RPG market. As a remake, you can't dock Sword of Mana in the originality department. It's a remake, so therefore you can't call it original in any real sense of the word. But, to be fair, it's not meant to be that way in the first place.
Overall Sword of Mana doesn't give you enough reasons to keep going back to it. With little replay value of any actual worth, once you play it through, there is no reason to go back again. With a battle system designed for chimps, and a story that is good, but not great, I can't really give Sword of Mana a great recommendation. There are simply too many better RPG's out there for the richest RPG system out there, the GBA. Unless you are a diehard of the series, or a faithful follower of Square-Enix, keep your money in your pocket and get something better. My score is an accurate reflection of the overall experience. The battle system kills any kind of fun you try to have with Sword of Mana. If your looking for a game that you can do in your sleep, then congratulations. But if not, once again, I would recommend staying far, far away.
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