Review: Final Fantasy Adventure (Seiken Densetsu)
Final Fantasy Adventure. Man, what a blast from the past. All it takes is hearing the opening notes on the title screen of this game and I’m transported back to a much simpler time in my life. I can remember laying on the living room rug with my Game Boy and being completely captivated. I didn’t have a care in the world except for saving the Mana tree and defeating the Dark Lord. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Final Fantasy Adventure is a game that was originally released on the Game Boy. But much like the similarly named Final Fantasy Legend, it isn’t actually a Final Fantasy title at all. If you read my old reviews for the Final Fantasy Legend trilogy, you might remember that those games are actually part of the Sa-Ga series. Well, much in the same way, Final Fantasy Adventure is actually the first game in what is now known as the Mana series. When it was originally released in Japan, the game was called “Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden“, which translates roughly into “The Legend of the Holy Sword: A Final Fantasy Side Story“. For what I can only assume are marketing reasons, when the game made its way to the US it was rebranded simply as “Final Fantasy Adventure“. But wait! It’s not quite that simple! For whatever reason, when the game finally made its way to the UK, the name was changed (yet again) to Mystic Quest – which just happens to be the name of another Final Fantasy game here in the west. To make matters even worse, a remake was released in 2003 for the Game Boy Advance and this version of the game has yet another name: Sword of Mana. But lets not stop there! FFA also saw another remake, this time for mobile devices. This version was called “Adventures of Mana“. Naturally, it’s easy to get confused by all these different names. Personally, I think the Sword of Mana name is probably the most canonically correct title for this game, considering it’s place in the whole “Mana” series. But regardless, the official name for the GB version I’m reviewing is “Final Fantasy Adventure” so that’s what we’ll call it.
I suppose I really should have reviewed this game a few years back when I played through the rest of my Game Boy catalog, but for whatever reason I neglected to do so. Fortunately, I was reminded of the game last year when Square Enix released the Collection of Mana for the Nintendo Switch. This compilation includes the first three games in the Mana series, marking the first time the original games have been made available on modern hardware. For this review, I played the Collection of Mana version.
Final Fantasy Adventure tells the story of a young hero who is held prisoner by the evil Dark Lord. The hero is forced to fight as a gladiator for the Dark Lord’s amusement. During one of these fights, the hero manages to escape the arena but is pursued by the Dark Lord and his agents who force the hero off a cliff in into a raging waterfall. Thankfully, the hero survives the fall and ends up encountering a mysterious maiden. She explains that she is on a quest seek out a powerful knight who holds the key to defeating the Dark Lord. Together, the two of them set out on an adventure that will change the fate of the world.
In truth, the name Final Fantasy Adventure is actually a pretty great description for this game. To start with, the game does include a few nods to the original series. For example, both Chocobos and Moogles make an appearance in the game. Plus, the word “adventure” is actually a great description of the gameplay itself. Unlike most games that bear the Final Fantasy name, this game is very much action oriented. In fact, it plays a lot like the original Legend of Zelda. The game is presented in an overhead “screen-by-screen” format and the player controls the character from a bird-eye-view as they navigate around obstacles and whack enemies with a variety of weapons.
Even though the majority of the game is very action oriented, there’s still plenty of RPG elements under the hood. To start with, the main character has a number of stats (Stamina, Power, Wisdom, and and Will). These stats affect things like physical and magical damage. As the character defeats enemies, EXP is earned. Once the character levels up, the player can determine which stats are improved. This allows the player to customize their character to match their play style.
Other RPG elements in the game include a variety of weapons and armor that the character can find and equip. A number of the game’s weapons also have alternate uses as well, for example the sickle can cut down brush, while the axe can clear trees. These abilities allow the player to access areas of the overworld map that were previously inaccessible. Like similar games, exploration is a big part of Final Fantasy Adventure. Players are pretty much free to go wherever they please at any given time.
Even though the world is largely open to the player, this game is very task oriented and story driven. Attentive players will always have pretty good idea what their goal is and where they should go. But if you’re the type who speeds through the in-game text, it is very easy to lose sight of what’s going on. This may result in hours of wandering around trying to figure out what it is you’re supposed to be doing. So for all you scene-skippers out there – you’ve been warned.
These days, it’s easy to look at old Game Boy titles like these and assume that there’s not much to get excited about. This game is a prime example of how such an assumption is downright wrong. Don’t let the simplistic graphics fool you. Final Fantasy Adventure contains one heck of an epic story. Not to mention some pretty impressive gameplay. If you’re a fan overhead action games, this is one retro classic you should check out.
Version Reviewed: Switch
Difficulty: Medium – When playing this game for the first time, it is easy to be a bit overwhelmed. For the inexperienced, this game may seem a little tough at first. This can be especially true when it comes to some of the boss fights. But, as is the case with many RPG style games, a little patience and grinding goes a long way. Players willing to grind out a handful of levels early on will have a much easier time with the majority of the game.
Story: For whatever reason, many gamers seem to think Game Boy classics are always light when it comes to storytelling. Nothing could be further from the truth and this game is a fine example of it. Sadly, limited screen space and poor localization does seem to blunt the storyline a little bit in this version of the game. But even so, the tale told in Final Fantasy Adventure is still nothing short of amazing.
Originality: Overhead adventure games were nothing new by the time Final Fantasy Adventure hit the scene. But this may be one of the earliest marriages of an overhead action game and an RPG. This combination makes for a pretty exciting experience.
Soundtrack: I’ve said this in other Game Boy reviews, but for such a simple sound chip, it’s amazing just what some game developers were able to accomplish. The Game Boy doesn’t really have much of a sound system. Regardless, this music found in this game is well composed and extremely memorable.
Fun: Overall, FFA offers a lot of entertainment. There are some parts that feel a bit repetitive, especially if you decide to do some grinding early on. But for the most part, this game is a pretty fun ride from beginning to end.
Graphics: This is always a tough one to gauge when it comes to Game Boy titles. The Game Boy isn’t known for its graphical prowess. But considering the hardware, the graphics for this game are more than acceptable.
Playcontrol: The controls are pretty basic and easy to master. I’ve played this game on both the original Game Boy and now the Nintendo Switch (using the Joycon) – I’ve found no issues whatsoever on either system.
Downloadable Content: None
Mature Content: None
Value: If you’re playing the Collection of Mana version of the game, you’ll actually end up with three full games for only $40.00. All things considered, that’s a pretty great price. If you’re looking for a copy of the original GB version, prices can vary anywhere from $20-$100 depending on what you’re looking for. In my opinion, the Switch collection is the way to go.
Overall score (1-100): 80 – Final Fantasy Adventure is not a perfect game. It suffers a bit from translation issues and it can be a little grindy for some players. But all things considered, it’s a pretty solid title. If action/fantasy is your cup of tea, you owe it to yourself to give this classic a look. It’s epic enough in scope to scratch that JRPG itch some of us get from time to time, but it’s also casual enough to enjoy on long road trips or in short bursts.
Original System: GB
Available today on: Switch – (Updated as of Spring 2022)
Best Experience: Switch – (Updated as of Spring 2022)
Other Games in this Series:
Final Fantasy Adventure – Secret of Mana – Trials of Mana – Dawn of Mana
Legend of Mana – Children of Mana – Heroes of Mana
Sword of Mana (FFA Remake) – Secret of Mana (Remake) – Trials of Mana (Remake)