Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Despite the fact I've been gaming for nearly 30 years, I've never played a Final Fantasy game. I've had the Final Fantasy X and X-2 remasters sitting in my Vita backlog for years, and I've preordered World of Final Fantasy because it looks interesting/I'm a PS Vita completist, but, somehow, I've yet to play a game in the FF franchise — or its extended universe, which, according to Wikipedia, includes the Mana series.
I mention this as a prelude to talking about Adventures of Mana because the whole time I was playing it, I felt like I was missing something. Characters would be introduced who seemed like they had some history with the protagonist. Plot points would happen that seemed to refer to things that happened before the game started. In general, I felt like I was getting hints of a broader story, without having any clue as to what that broader story may be. I'm all in favour of starting off games in media res, but Adventures of Mana seems like it takes that to an extreme.
Alternatively, of course, it could just be that something — or several things — got lost in translation, and confusion is the end result.
If this latter explanation is, in fact, the case, it wouldn't be the most shocking thing in the world, since Adventures of Mana seems to be fond of cutting corners here and there, often for no discernible reason. It hides its controls buried several layers beneath the settings menu (though, admittedly, the controls are generally simple enough that you'll be able to figure them out with minimal trial and error). Your character is told to go to such-and-such a place, but then the game doesn't give you any map outside of your immediate area, nor does it give you much of a hint as to where the new place might be. Like the controls, you'll figure it out through trial and error, but you'll constantly be feeling like you're stumbling a little blindly.
Yet, despite these flaws, I still enjoyed Adventures of Mana. Considering how fond some RPGs are of explaining every single detail, it was kind of refreshing to have the freedom to figure some things out on my own. Sure, the lack of direction was a little frustrating, but considering how straightforward so much of the game is, I was able to get over it. Further, because the controls were so simple, it meant that the combat was simple hacking and slashing — something I can always get behind. Compound that with a leveling system that's possibly the easiest to understand that I've ever seen, and it's clear that even if some important info was left out, Square Enix were at least kind enough to also overlook a lot of the extraneous nonsense that goes into RPGs, too.
To be sure, I never fully understood the end goal of what I was doing in Adventures of Mana. But, for whatever reason, that didn't bother me all that much. I can't say that the game has given me any insight whatsoever into why Final Fantasy — or even the Mana franchise — has endured for so long, but I can definitely say that if I'm looking for an easy-to-pickup RPG to play on the go, this is a game that's right near the top of my list.