Originally envisioned as Final Fantasy spin-off, Seiken Densetsu released in the United States as Final Fantasy Adventure and in Europe as Mystic Quest. Regardless of region, the game became an instant success, giving the Game Boy its first truly great action RPG. Square took notice of the game’s popularity and series director Koichi Ishii was tasked with directing the sequel.
From there, the rest is history. Secret of Mana solidified Seiken Densetsu as an all time great franchise and Dawn of Mana ruined the series’ good reputation. The Mana franchise isn’t so simple, however, and while the series’ quality ebbs and flows with time, each game does have value in and of itself.
Even Dawn of Mana, one of the worst sequels of all time, can boast an incredible soundtrack. That said, that’s really all the game has going for it. What was once a proper action RPG series becomes a weird action-platforming with horrible RPG elements where players de-level after every stage.
The story’s also at its absolute worst, offering the series a terribly framed origin devoid of any tension or nuance. Dawn of Mana is worth listening to, but certainly not playing. If the game wasn’t bad enough as is, Koichi Ishii decided that Dawn, the seventh game in the series, would be Seiken Densetsu 4.
The Secret of Mana remake isn’t as bad as everyone makes it out to be. It’s the definitive way to experience the Secret of Mana story, greatly expanding on the plot, and it even manages to fix some combat issues. Unfortunately, the game’s charm is sapped dry. Presentation is important and Secret of Mana (2018) drops the ball hard.
Cannon travel cutscenes are replaced with black screens, the 3D models aren’t as vibrant as the SNES sprites, and the game has an alarmingly bad frame rate, at least on the PlayStation Vita. There really is no reason to play the remake over the original other than to get a better grasp of the story.
One of the earliest noticeably high quality games to release on the Nintendo DS, Children of Mana should have been a rebirth of the Mana franchise. It was with this game that Square was ushering in the World of Mana sub-series. Unfortunately, these games meant to widen the series’ scope ended up killing it.
Through Children of Mana, the series became more unfocused. Gameplay was suddenly dungeon crawler esque, the story was at its most generic, and Children of Mana kept making reference to a game that had yet to release. The game itself is actually quite fun once in the swing of things, but it doesn’t feel like a proper Mana game.
Of the original World of Mana games, Heroes of Mana is the only one that isn’t an outright bad or mediocre game. All things considered, it’s a perfectly fine RTS with RPG elements. Gameplay is fun, the cast is interesting, and the story builds upon Trials of Mana, otherwise known as Seiken Densetsu 3.
The problem is ultimately that these elements aren’t that great for the series. Trials of Mana is an amazing game, but its lore isn’t all too exciting. The RTS gameplay gets the job done and leads to some interesting encounters, but it also feels totally out of place for Mana.
The game that started it all, Final Fantasy Adventure is a difficult game to recommend. Its age shows in some very interesting ways: a limited map, a difficult to navigate overworld, a shoddy translation, and player unfriendly puzzles. At the same time, Final Fantasy Adventure has wildly addictive gameplay, great RPG mechanics, and the saddest story on the Game Boy.
Final Fantasy Adventure handles its story with a level of maturity that modern day RPGs still fail to replicate. It’s very Shakespearan in terms of pacing and characterization. It’s not a particularly long game either and is paced terrifically, never wasting the player’s time.
Final Fantasy Adventure’s Game Boy Advance remake, Sword of Mana is one of the biggest mixed bags in gaming. On one hand, it’s very mechanically complex, had an in-depth crafting system, plenty of side content, and multiple story paths. On the other hand, it’s a remake of a very simple game with a simple plot that fumbles the original’s pacing horrifically.
Sword of Mana might realistically have ended up the best game in the series had the remake taken more restraint. It has some of the highest highs in the entire Mana franchise, but the game just doesn’t know how to present or pace itself, ruining one of the original game’s best aspects.
Secret of Mana can be a very frustrated and obtrusive game at times. It isn’t always clear what the player should be doing and the script’s shoddy translation leaves much to be desired. At the same time, there’s nothing quite like Secret of Mana, even in its own series. It’s a very methodical game, carefully moving at its own strange pace.
There are nearly a dozen weapons to play with, all of which have their own play style, and magic systems for two of the three party members. There’s a lot of variety present in any given playthrough of Secret of Mana.
Yet another remake of Final Fantasy Adventure, Adventures of Mana chooses to take a far more restrained approach for its remake. It is a 1:1 recreation of Final Fantasy Adventure to the point where many of the same flaws are still present. At the same time, AoM has cut down the tedium and added quality of life features that don’t serve to interrupt how the game was meant to be played.
Better yet, the new script does the story justice without killing the pacing in the process. As far as the first game goes, Adventures of Mana is the definitive way of experiencing Final Fantasy Adventure.
Trials of Mana is one of the best sequels of all time. It builds upon everything Secret of Mana set while cutting away the fluff. There are six playable characters, players can create their own party of three,each character has their own arc that ties into one of three major story arcs, and a massive chunk of the game is non-linear.
Not just that, the game is beautiful, standing out as one of the best looking games on the Super Famicom, and the gameplay loop is fantastic, especially when playing with Hawkeye or Kevin. It’s one of the best games on the SNES so it goes without saying that Trials of Mana is one of the best Mana games.
Legend of Mana is a very divisive game, one that throws players into the deep end to fend for themselves. With a bit of patience, however, it opens up into the single best game in the series and one of the best RPGs ever made. The game is totally non-linear, there’s an in-depth crafting system, a monster raising system, world building elements, and a ton of secrets.
The combat is hard to get used to, but it very quickly evolves into the series depth. Taking place on a 2D plane with a Y axis, abilities, techniques, and combos all play a major role in combat. The game is on the easy side, but it introduces a New Game Plus mode which ups the difficult and keeps the experience perpetually fresh.