The early ’90s were a bit…awkward…for Western fans of the Final Fantasy franchise. The surprising success of Final Fantasy led Square to marketing some subsequent releases in similar fashion, regardless of whether they were true Final Fantasy games or not. The first example of this came in the form of the Final Fantasy Legend, which was rebranded from its original SaGa title in an attempt to cater more towards this newfound market. Shortly thereafter, we received Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden, or Final Fantasy Adventure in North America. Unlike Final Fantasy Legend though, Adventure actually started off as a true spinoff of the Final Fantasy franchise before going off on a completely separate path – one that would ultimately lead the trailblazing the title into establishing the Mana series that many know and love today.
Final Fantasy Adventure originally released on Game Boy in November of 1991 in North America and, to my knowledge, has never been released again (save for the Sunsoft version) in its original form outside of Japan until the Collection of Mana, which was finally localized and released on Nintendo Switch back on June 11, 2019. I’ve been eager to dive into this game for a while, seeing as my last outing with it was way back when I had to share a single Game Boy with my siblings. Thank goodness I don’t have to share a console anymore because today, this nearly 30 year old title has surprised me in more ways than one.
In Final Fantasy Adventure, you assume the role of a destined-to-be hero right from his very humble beginnings. This man spends his days fighting against vicious creatures solely for the entertainment of the Dark Lord, a vile being hellbent on seizing the powers of life-sustaining Mana Tree for their own gain. The hero learns of these dastardly plans from a fellow dying inmate, whom also urges him to warn the Gemma Knights, protectors of the Mana Tree, about the situation.
Along the way, the hero saves a girl that, coincidentally, also seeks the Gemma Knights for similar reasons. Through these initial events, the two discover that they play integral roles in securing the livelihood of the Mana Tree – a task that will ultimately trickle down to all facets of life. Only through brains, brawn, heritage, and a holy sword, will they be able thwart the plans of the wicked and restore balance to the world.
Final Fantasy Adventure is not afraid to get its handy dirty. In the beginning, the hero kills both out of necessity and for the pleasure of the powers that be. He witnesses not one, but two deaths within the first 20 minutes of play, and his heroine companion is kidnapped multiple times – one case being a vampire that literally stores her in a coffin. The struggle is real, but it helps bring to realization both the dire straits of the ultimate task, as well as the accomplishment of achieving milestones along the way. Many of these events are but a speck in the overall plot tapestry, but do a wonderful job setting up the tone of the narrative that persists throughout the rest of the adventure. This was originally a Game Boy game though, so temper your expectations a bit when it comes to the quality and length of the writing itself. Conversations and exchanges are kept short – as per the standard of that time period – but provide enough context to keep things interesting enough.
Final Fantasy Adventure combines action adventure elements, similar to traditional 2D Legend of Zelda games, with character progression and themes from JRPGs, including Final Fantasy. The hero will scour a grid-based map, traveling from one screen to another (ie. Zelda) in order to fulfill his quest. The overworld itself is relatively large, though it is presented rather linearly for the majority of the adventure. Sprawling dungeons are a huge part of Final Fantasy Adventure, and start out fairly simple in design but can quickly become a navigational headache to those that are, let’s say, of the directionally challenged variety.
Dungeons feature lots of twists, turns, and secrets that literally have to be excavated in order to traverse. The hero may also run into some locked doors, which often require a consumable key to open. This is one of my biggest gripes of Final Fantasy Adventure, because you’ll constantly be playing the inventory management game for smooth dungeon progression. Keys are cheap, but can only be purchased in shops that are, often, a ways away from any given dungeon, though you will occasionally luck out and receive them from monster drops as well. Regardless, I found the dungeon presentation and execution, in general, to be enjoyable. Just be sure to bring plenty of keys and pickaxes – you will use them all.
There are numerous and towns and safe havens tucked away within the game world, but all of them are impeded by one common problem: NPCs. Non-player characters are an essential component of any RPG, but Final Fantasy Adventure handles their text activation by way of a “bumping” system. In other words, if you come in contact with an NPC, you will strike up a conversation. Neat, right? Unfortunately, there are too many scenarios where you have to share a small walkway with multiple NPCs, meaning you’ll be bumping into them constantly, repeating strings of dialogue for no good reason.
The hero has access to numerous weapons that will make his adventure a lot easier, and in more ways than one. Although you start out with only a mere broadsword to your name, eventually, you’ll build out an arsenal of weaponry that includes axes, sickles, flails, spears, and maces. The interesting thing about this gear is that many of them double as tools in the field. For example, the axe can cut down trees blocking a distant area while flails can serve as a bridge between two impassable points. While only one weapon can be equipped at a time, you can change them on the fly, even in combat, and you’ll want to change your weapons out frequently to best suit the situation, as certain enemies are susceptible to specific weapon types.
Not only that, but you may find yourself leaning towards a certain weapon in general, and that is okay too! They all look and feel a bit different from one another, so find what works best for you. There are some clear winners in certain scenarios of course, but their scaling attack power means that many older weapons will stay somewhat relevant throughout your journey.
Prefer slinging magic? Final Fantasy Adventure includes spells for aspiring wizards too. The hero will learn multiple types of offensive and defensive magic over the journey, including some special commands that are key in solving some puzzles in dungeons. Depending on how you build out your character stat-wise – more on that later – you can become the spellcaster you always wanted to be, but it can prove to be a bit expensive at first. Not only that, but the story progression is designed to utilize the skillsets of both melee and magic users, meaning you should dabble in both arts for optimal results.
Final Fantasy Adventure, essentially, uses a talent point system in regards to level ups. After achieving a level, you are able to commit to one of four categories that directly impact your stat growth: power, stamina, wisdom, and will. Most, if not all of these categories, when selected, will boost two to three of your base attributes. As a result, I found only the power and wisdom categories to be really useful, seeing as you still get a few points into the secondary stats when choosing them. Still, I appreciate the freedom of choice available for those that want to try something a bit unorthodox.
Over the course of the adventure, the hero will be accompanied by various companions that will aid him in combat. These guest party members cannot be controlled, save for a single, unique command thats function varies across the cast. Although they don’t always make the best decisions in combat on their own, their immunity to damage means that they don’t require constant micromanagement either. As a whole, the mechanics provided in Final Fantasy Adventure are simple enough for all ages, but also deep enough to keep the more battle-hardened players entertained – quite the feat for an early Game Boy RPG, if I do say so myself!
Graphics and Sound
The average Game Boy aesthetic is not going to appeal to everyone these days, and Final Fantasy Adventure isn’t the poster child from that era either. However, its distinct simplicity lends itself to the easy identification of characters and villains that would eventually become iconic to the franchise. Recurring characters, like Watts, and enemies, like the Mushboom, Mad Duck, and Rabite, make their debuts triumphantly here despite their rudimentary design and animations. Unique weapon animations make up for this a bit though, and also helps make each weapon feel different from one another.
Composer Kenji Ito proves with his inaugural solo composition under Square that he means business. Taking full advantage of the limited Game Boy hardware, he composed an engaging, varied, and exciting soundtrack that is sure to capture the hearts of musical enthusiasts everywhere. From the exhilarating overworld themes to the unsettling dungeon tracks, there’s something for everyone to enjoy here.
The Collection of Mana not only brings the first three Mana games to the West (as a package) for the first time, it also comes with some useful bonus features, including save states and a jukebox mode, the latter of which allows you to listen to the entire soundtrack of each of the games from their respective title screens.
I’ll be honest – when I decided to play Final Fantasy Adventure again, I did not know what would come from it. Would it match the memories of three fat kids driving in the back seat of a car to the mountains for a family weekend getaway, or would it fail to live up to that hype? Now, having completed the title in about 10 hours, I can honestly say that it is better than my near 30 year old memories had me believe. I feel it holds up more than well enough for a newcomer to jump in and see just how the Mana franchise was born. The aforementioned bumping system and key mechanics are sure to be annoying to some, but otherwise there is a really enjoyable journey to be had in the Final Fantasy Adventure.