I have to admit and you must have guessed it while reading the other articles, I’m a sucker for all things RPG especially when they are from Japan but I’m open to all kind of video games experiences. I love Role Playing Games and I’ve playing them since my tender youth (that is now far away now that I come to think of it).
The first game I’ve played to discover the genre (I’m not counting the obscure Castle of the Winds I played on my computer as it was austere and very limited gameplay-wise) was Final Fantasy Adventure or Mystic Quest for the Game Boy as it was known in my home country of France. I later discovered that it was also the very first episode of the Mana series its original Japanese moniker being Seiken Densetsu that we can actually and roughly translate as the Legend of the Sacred Sword. This is also the game that made me discover and fall in love with a then small company from the land of the rising sun, Squaresoft.
I got it as a gift (I was—and still am in some ways—a very spoiled child) for this strange custom of celebrating my “day”. Let me enlighten you for a bit. In France, every day is associated with a Saint as the country was built on catholic religion principles. As my name is Antoine, it was, or so we thought for a long time, on July 5th (turns out the Saint celebrated that day was Antoine-Marie and my “day” was actually on June 13th but that’s another story). On that day parents give a present to their beloved child. On that fateful day in 1993, my father got me Final Fantasy Adventure and I was in for a ride, let me tell you.
First the packaging was amazing. Not only did it come with a bright green box with a side view of an armor (growing up in a country where the Middle Ages were full of knights and castles, it was very well done from a marketing standpoint), it also included a thick manual. Usually it meant that the document was in several languages, the game being sold simultaneously, for example, in France, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland and Luxembourg. But not Mystic Quest! No, the manual was here integrally in French and was big because it explained the rules, different magic spells and ailments you could face. Moreover, it contained a short strategy guide for the first hour or so of gameplay! Perfect for a rookie like me!
The game in itself is Action RPG as dynamic as we could expect with great graphics, set in a medieval-fantasy world, and with an amazing soundtrack by the master Kenji Ito who would go on to sign the entire SaGa compositions (I’ll come back to that series later on). You play as a hero who is a gladiator for the entertainment of the evil Empire Glaive. You even witness your best friend Willy dying before your very eyes. “Look for Bogard, the Gemma Knight” were his last words. Fed up with those ludicrous working conditions you decide to escape. Sadly, as soon as you step outside, you overhear a discussion between the Dark Lord and his vassal, Julius, about the mysterious Mana tree. The Glaive leader sees you and chases you but you face a cliff. Not wanting any witness of his machiavellian plan, he doesn’t hesitate to push you down. After a long and brutal fall you wake up in a mysterious land still equipped with your sword and shield. On your way to look for the mysterious knight, you rescue a girl who was escorted by her friend Hasim to meet Bogard as well. As it cannot be a coincidence, you take here with you and there your adventure begins.
While limited by the small capabilities of the Game Boy, the developers from Squaresoft did an amazing job with Mystic Quest. The adventure is epic and long, the puzzles are smart and make you feel smarter when you understand how to resolve them. The controls are ridiculously simple, once more because of the hardware. You attack with A and use an item or a spell with B. That’s it.
It’s not an easy quest though and if you don’t pay attention to your HP very often, you could be in for a nasty death. One of the many great features of the game is that you can save your adventure anytime by simply pressing the Select button. However, it means, that it is up to you to do it every so often so you don’t precious minutes of gameplay.
The game is also brilliant by its diversity so much in terms of the areas you visit, you’ll explore swamps, forests, caves, desert lands, castles, and much more; the non-playable characters you’ll meet and befriend among whom some will follow you—and even betray you—like Amanda who looks for her brother, a robot, a mysterious traveller and many more; or the man yweapons and piece of equipment you can carry some of which have a direct impact on the quests like the axe that cuts the wood, the scythe that cuts the plants, the chain that catch the poles or the specific pieces of equipment you need to have to enter the Dwarf cave.
Every aspect of the RPG genre is respected, from the management of your—rather small—inventory, your equipment or your levels. Indeed, every slain monsters awards you some well deserved gold and experience points. Once reaching a new threshold you’ll be prompted to select the way you want to distribute your points: Stamina, Power, Wisdom, or Will. Grinding is of the essence, especially at the beginning as the very early monsters can be disturbingly unfair if not prepared for them. Fortunately as every screen is filled with those treacherous creatures, you’ll have many opportunities to level up and become more powerful.
Let me conclude on the soundtrack of this gem which is a nectar for your ears especially if you love chiptune soundtrack and in my humble opinion the Game Boy delivers the best there is on this kind. Kenji Ito is a virtuoso and offers melodic and charming compositions with epic boss battle themes, tearing sad theme, and empowering over world themes. All of that with very limited hardware capabilities which renders his prowess even more amazing.
This is a game I completed countless of times and that I hold dearly in my heart and in my collection. I can only recommend it, preferably in its original version even though some remakes are available on the Game Boy Advance as Sword of Mana or on mobile devices as well as PlayStation Vita under the name Adventures of Mana.