Sunday, August 7, 2011

12 Months, Sixty Dollars and a GBA: July

Sword of Mana
from Squaresoft


If you like a good RPG with solid game play, plenty of depth and a LOT of story, you can do no better than Sword of Mana for the GBA.  I kid you not.  For $5 this game is an absolute steal.  I am not a big Secret of Mana fan (I know, gasp all you like), and when I saw this game in the case at Must Have Movies and More (they changed their name, don't look at me like that) I was curious, but not hopeful.  Word of mouth had confirmed my fears and said that the game wasn't very good.  So I hesitated.  For 6 months, I looked at this game in the case and passed.  I passed it up for winners like A Sound of Thunder.  I was an idiot.

Sword of Mana is an incredible RPG that follows the adventures of a pair of youths whose fates are inexorably intertwined with the Mana Tree.  A great evil is trying to bend the power of Mana to its own dark purposes and it is the destiny of these two adventurers to prevent that from happening.  It's an old story, but it's tried and true.  When your adventure begins you may select from either the male or female character and your story will unfold accordingly.  Right off the bat, this means you get two games for the price of one.  I selected the girl story because I'm like that.  As the game unfolds you do normal RPG stuff, traveling from town to town and battling various enemies.  The battles are real time action battles, not turn based, which is kind of nice.  Turn based battling can be tedious if not properly executed.  As your adventure progresses you'll build experience and obtain different weapons.  You'll also befriend mana spirits that will enable you to use different kinds of magic based on the weapon you are wielding. 
It's all fairly standard RPG stuff, but it is a lot of fun.  There is also a surprising amount of depth in unexpected places.  Around the world, you can find different materials with which you can forge and temper your weapons and armor to improve them and give them different elemental properties.  You can also grow and harvest special fruits and vegetables that will change your weapons' attributes.  Exploring the powers and abilities of each weapon and mana spirit makes the normal grinding associated with RPG's much more enjoyable. There is plenty of fun to be had just toying around with this aspect of the game.
I will warn you, however, Sword of Mana is very story heavy.  There are sections of the game where you will spend upwards of 15 minutes just pressing A to advance the plot.  While this isn't terrible, there are a couple of places where you spend this time, enter a boss fight, lose and then have to repeat the button pressing to get back to the battle.  A save point would be nice after long swaths of story like that.  If you are into story-driven RPG's, then I can imagine no better game for you.  I did my best to follow the plot along, but it is very dense and I get the sense you cannot casually observe and get the full story.

Overall, Sword of Mana is an incredible steal for only $5.  There are easily 40 hours of game play here(80 if you play both stories) and pretty much every bit of it is engaging and fun. The story runs a bit long in parts, but this game has the good feel of a Square product (you know, pre-FFX) and promises to be a good time for RPG fans.  If you see this game for $5 like I did, do not pass it up, like I almost did!

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