Friday, January 31, 2020

Final Fantasy Adventure (GB) Retro Review

A new year means out with the old and in with the new, right? Well, that's not entirely the case with SuperPhillip Central, as together we're going to take a look at 2020's first retro review, part of the lead up to the remake of Trials of Mana, releasing in April. 

The subject of this first retro review of the year is Final Fantasy Adventure, as it's known in North America, and it's the first in the Mana series. This Game Boy classic mixes Legend of Zelda-style gameplay with RPG systems. Let's take a look at Final Fantasy Adventure with the SPC review!

Legend of a game name with a bit of an identity crisis

The Game Boy was a behemoth in sales and possessed as a strong library of terrific games and countless classics. One such game is known as Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden in Japan and Mystic Quest in Europe. Despite its name in North America, Final Fantasy Adventure is the first in the Mana series of games. Later ports and remakes would drop the Final Fantasy portion of the name and call the full title "Adventures of Mana". You can check out my thoughts on the mobile remake here.

As for Final Fantasy Adventure, it's a game that takes some patience to play, as it is firmly rooted in a bygone era of gaming. There's a lot of obtuse design present, perplexing puzzles, a devilish-at-times difficulty, and some quirks that make for a tedious experience. However, with enough patience and perseverance, you'll find a game with enough charm and entertaining qualities to make for a worthy game to spend some time with.

Final Fantasy Adventure plays like a cross between the original Legend of Zelda and an RPG. You move around single screen areas, facing off against enemies and avoiding their attacks, all the while gaining experience and levels to grow stronger and more resilient in battle. However, while The Legend of Zelda was more open in its exploration, Final Fantasy Adventure begins as a more linear romp that slowly opens more and more as you progress. Things open up considerably once you gain access to a Chocobo and are able to ride it across water.

When you're not exploring the overworld, you're inside towns, and these have an annoying quirk to them. Instead of pressing a button when next to a townsperson to talk to them, you automatically begin to read their dialogue if you so much as brush up against them. This results in a lot of mistaken moments where you're forced to sit through the same slow-scrolling dialogue again and again to a point of mild frustration. That notwithstanding, towns are an invaluable place for resources that are required for dungeons, such as keys that unlock doors, mattocks that break open certain walls, and ethers that restore your magic.

Part of the old school design of Final Fantasy Adventure is that you can easily run out of a required resource mid-dungeon, resulting in having to trek back to a town or overworld shop to buy more. There are sections of the game where you can be stuck without keys or mattocks to progress with no shops in sight or available to you. In this case, your only real recourse is to defeat enemies and hope for they drop the resource you need.

Final Fantasy Adventure's combat isn't too elegant either, as the hit detection is a bit off. However, the mechanic used in combat is clever and would be used in future installments. You have a power gauge that steadily fills up. The more filled the gauge is when you execute an attack, the stronger that attack will be. When you perform an attack, the gauge empties. This encourages you to play smartly and not just flail your weapon around with reckless abandon, as you won't do much damage this way.

Weapons comes in a variety of forms with more uses than just for offensive capabilities. They also are used for traversal and progression. Axes can cut down trees with ease, morningstars break through rocks as if they were nothing, and whips allow you to attach them to poles to pull yourself across chasms and rivers. Much like different weapons have different uses in the environment, different weapons have different effectiveness against enemies. Some enemies will practically laugh at you for trying to damage them with a sword, but will be no match for a sharpened ax.

While there is plenty of old school sensibilities and design within Final Fantasy Adventure--and that's to be expected considering the game is almost 30 years old now--the game does have a helpful feature that is great for portable play. That is the ability to save anywhere in the game. Though with the lack of identifiable, tangible save points in the game, I found myself forgetting to save quite often, resulting in dying and having to replay significant sections of the dungeons and areas over again. Even then, when I did remember to save often, I sometimes found myself in a sticky situation where I was on death's door without much in the way of healing items. Thus, I would need to tread extremely careful to get back to a safe spot, essentially save-scumming with each ounce of slow progress back I'd make.

For those who wish to seek out the humble yet impressive-for-the-time origins of the Mana series, Final Fantasy Adventure is that game, warts and all. It's obviously a product of its time in more ways than one in its design, but there's something to be said about how fun the game is to this day that shows, in some ways, how timeless it is. Then, you start running into townspeople, being forced to read through their slowly scrolling dialogue each time you do so, get caught in a dungeon without any keys or mattocks remaining, and then realize that perhaps Final Fantasy Adventure isn't completely timeless. Still, there's a good amount of enjoyment to be found with the Mana series' premiere title, and I think anyone fond of the series should seek the game out to play it, either through an original Game Boy cartridge, through Collection of Mana for the Nintendo Switch, or other [hopefully legal] means.

[SPC Says: B-]

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