Square Enix’s Mana games are deeply loved in the gaming community. The Secret of Mana usually found on many players’ favorite lists and Samples of Mana got a graphical upgrade not too long ago. As such, it may come as something of a shock to fans to realize that they may have missed an entry in the series quite early on.
Sword of Mana was released for the Game Boy Advance in 2003 and was actually a remake of the very first Mana the game, a spinoff of Final Fantasy game called Final Fantasy Adventure. Despite being one of the most anticipated releases at the time, it was almost immediately condemned to relative obscurity in the West. This was due to a combination of relatively lukewarm reviews and release just before the Nintendo DS was to become the focus of the handheld market.
Sword of Mana was retro even for its time
Sword of Mana was changed quite a bit from its original incarnation as Final Fantasy Adventure. Not only were a few quality of life changes like the radial menu added, but the mechanics specific to Final Fantasy were also removed and the player was given the option to play as the heroine as well. Apart from these minor processings, Sword of Mana was still very much an older game at its core. Adding to this is the fact that the player often had an AI companion, the limitations of the programming were on full display as the partner (either the hero or heroine) was more often than not rendered useless.
There is a lot to say about it Sword of Mana were basically two different games wrapped into one. This was much rarer at the time, and the hero and heroine had two different story paths for the player to go through. The heroine lane, in particular, was made specifically for Sword of Mana release and was comparatively a more complex story, as she comes to terms with her fate as one of the last of her kind. The sprite work and environments are gorgeous, pushing the limits of the GBA’s technology at the time.
One of the biggest problems with Sword of Mana was the fact that in the end it didn’t stand out much. JRPGs have a reputation for repetitive gameplay, but that’s usually balanced with either an off-the-wall story or a truly unique style. Sword of Mana didn’t end up having much of either. Compared to later entries in the series, the narrative was relatively simple and the designs had yet to find their own identity. Being released on the GBA didn’t help much either, as the console was soon to be replaced by the more powerful DS, and it had been an uphill battle for Western gamers to see the handheld consoles as more than just for younger teenagers and children. Despite being part of a popular series, Sword of Mana wasn’t really set up for success.
Sword of Mana needed a lot more love to succeed
Ultimately, Sword of Mana became a game that even some of the biggest lovers of Mana series ended up being skipped. It was placed in a very difficult place with its release and was not updated enough to draw players in at the time. On top of all that, the JRPG market in 2003 was a busy business. With Final Fantasy X-2, .hack//Infection, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturneand The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker on the shelves at the time, much of that market was already cornered. Even beyond those games, 2003 was a year packed with beloved classics that would overshadow pretty much anything that didn’t already have a very loyal following, and Mana the series was still relatively relegated to Japan.
Sword of Mana had an uphill battle and would not see another chance at success until 2016 when it was re-released under the title Adventures of Mana, which took it back to its roots and removed much of it Sword of Mana changed. To this day, Sword of Mana is a mixed experience and one that only a few loyal fans of the series have ever given a serious chance.