Adventures of Mana has a traditional premise: Save the princess and fend off evil. This archaic trope is reminiscent of a more positive and simplistic gameplay style, focusing more on exploration rather than a deep narrative or complicated problem solving. Seeing Sumo through the trials and tribulations of the world while escorting Fuji along the way proves to be a simple endeavor in its own right, but the game does little along the lines of hand holding, which traditionalists will love.
The only hints in Adventures of Mana are left by the environment, usually in the form of a road block, which indicates that some item or weapon nearby will pave the way to the next area. What works equally well with AoM is the fact that it is engaging in both short stints on the bus or on breaks, and it can withstand longer rallies next to the power outlet once the PS Vita battery has discharged. This over-the-top RPG ebbs the likes of old-school Zelda in so many ways that it’s hard not to want to jump back into one’s childhood once again for a new twist on an old take.
The aesthetic fits the olden bill as well, featuring simple art direction and oversized heads from the days of gaming yore, which fits the mold in stride and to great effect. Upon loading up AoM, I felt a sense of regression, as it were, in how the game took me so far back into my gaming memory. What made it worse was when enemies spawned directly on top of Sumo once entering a new area, causing unfair damage that I always had to account for. Before long, however, I remembered what made those gaming memories so special to me, reminiscing in the beginning days of my life as a gamer, entering new areas as zones slid into the next as I progressed, and taking in that old world sense of exploration once again, when mechanics weren’t as complicated as the scenarios in which I was placed. In my current gaming years, I have tried and failed on many occasions to return to some of the games that graced my childhood for one reason or another, but with AoM being a new adventure in an old, refined mold, I’m able to rekindle a bit of that childhood that I didn’t know I had been missing.
Combat, much like the game itself, is streamlined and simplistic, with all basic attacks bound to the X Button and magic to Circle. With all the spells, weapons, and items needed to progress through the game, navigating the menu constantly in search of these items would prove cumbersome, which makes the way that Adventures of Mana utilizes the PlayStation Vita’s touch screen all the more appropriate. With quick links, players can set any item, weapon, or spell to the five on-screen fields for simple, easy access.
The leveling system has a streamlining sense as well. Broken down between four different “classes” (Warrior, Monk, Mage, and Cleric), players choose between the four on each level up to level up according to parameters beneficial to said classes. In other words, choosing Warrior increases damage output, Monk improves health, Mage amplified spell damage, and Cleric strengthens spell effects (such as healing). Leveling is made easy this way, but it doesn’t give a lot of room to grow without grinding. Even so, the game forces Sumo to use both spells and attacks, because some enemies are impervious to physical damage, so there’s an almost inherent need to progress on all statistical fronts. This ultimately leaves a lack of reason to the system in general, especially since there’s no real way to track XP progress either; so in a game so set on a more simplistic, aged approach, leveling may have been more beneficial to the end result if it were automatic.
The execution of touch screen with this mobile-ported game feels exactly that way: ported. The entire game can be played without touching a single face button. Navigating, button commands, menu navigation, and combat can all be initiated and enacted via touch; and while that may interest a fair few people (and while it helps provide some handy utility as mentioned before), it’s far from an optimized control scheme. Surely, button prompts respond in time with no delay, but the practicality falls by the wayside once fingers are flying across the screen in front of what’s taking place on screen. Again, touch screen support is not required, and in fact parts of it act as a handy utility, but the PS Vita wasn’t entirely taken into account when AoM was ported over, leaving a rather second-hand residue to its conversion.
In short, Adventures of Mana has a lot to offer those who remember the days when things were more about exploration and not about graphics or complicated gameplay; and anyone looking for an on-the-go RPG couldn’t find anything better than the traditional take that AoM has to offer. The price is more than right for anyone remotely intrigued by Zelda inspirations or easily-accessible RPGs. The PS Vita makes a perfect home for Adventures of Mana, even if the game is rough around the edges.