Review by Combat Crustacean
"Saving anonymous pendant-bearing women with healing powers since 1991."
Final Fantasy Adventure, more appropriately known as Seiken Densetsu, was renamed in order to ride on the success of the wildly popular Final Fantasy for the NES. Despite being the true first game in the similarly renowned Mana series, Square instead opted to release this Gameboy gem as a Final Fantasy title, ensuring far more press and attention statewide. It is sad that a title as quality as FFA had to fall victim to such commercialist tactics, because the gameplay itself is so excellent that it should really have not had to sustain itself on the lineage of its NES grandpappy. That, and the fact that they're very different games fundamentally.
Those familiar with the gameplay of Secret of Mana (or any other Mana title) know that it is action-based, using all the typical RPG conventions but eschewing turn-taking combat. Instead, the player swings their weapons at the enemy in realtime -- usually there is also some form of charge bar, which if the player waits patiently enough to reach 100% will do increased damage to the foe. Final Fantasy Adventure bears all of these trademarks, which demonstrates how this title is far more pertinent to Mana than Final Fantasy. The gameplay is surprisingly advanced for a Gameboy title, and a whole lot of fun to boot. Level-ups are conducted in what must have been a very new system at the time: upon reaching the next level of experience, you get to increase one of four stats. There's Power for your weapon swings, Wisdom for your MP, Stamina for your HP and Will for how fast your charge bar goes up. The stats are not mutually exclusive, however; the one you select gets two points, but two other stats will get one as well. This creative system will have you balancing your points so that you don't (or do) get really strong in one stat and weaker in all the rest.
Combat mechanics aside, the rest of the game manages to stay well above average as well. You get to slaughter your way through dungeons and dungeons worth of unique enemies and interesting bosses, many of which are prototypes for foes that you face in other Mana titles. The locales you travel through, from a coral reef to a Medusa's lair and even an inn crawling with evil (who knew they had Motel 6 in video games?), are full of variety and highly creative for their time. And interestingly enough, there are plenty of devious puzzles to break up all of the dungeon crawling, so the gameplay never gets too stale.
Unfortunately, if you want to talk stale, you don't really have to go much farther than the plot and writing. Back in the early 1990s, localization was not really a priority for developers bringing games over to the states, and so many plots and dialogues were completely butchered in translation. Final Fantasy Adventure is one such casualty. The scattered foundations of plot that we get from time to time seem relatively interesting, but the game does very little to actually support them. Thus, all we really get is a basic idea of the plot and then running around and falling out of airships a whole lot. And the dialogue is a nightmare. It's not even funny bad...it's just bad. Final Fantasy Adventure is lucky that the game itself is so much fun, because all of its writing is basically trash.
The last aspects, graphics and sound, are both handled with notable competence. Animations and sprites are executed very well, especially for a Gameboy title; this could easily stand on par with a few lower-scale SNES games. You know, despite the lack of color and stuff. The music tends to get a little annoying, but there's only so much you can do with a GB synthesizer. Sound is interestingly used, such as the vocal cue that determines if a wall is breakable when you hit it, something unseen in games of that decade. Other than that, there's no real standouts in that department.
An exceptionally enjoyable Gameboy classic, Final Fantasy Adventure may be misnamed, but it still doesn't change the fact that the game is incredibly fun. Any Secret of Mana fan owes it to themselves to check this out, and even if you're not, you'll probably still love the game regardless. For a portable title, this one is absolutely bursting with entertainment.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 04/13/06
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