If you're on the market for an old school action role-playing game that'll keep you reasonably entertained for a good few hours, you can't really go wrong with Adventures of Mana. Released on mobile devices earlier this year, it's a remake of Game Boy title Final Fantasy Adventure – or Mystic Quest as it was known in Europe. Despite its transition from 2D to 3D visuals, this is a release that retains its traditional feel, and even though it'll never take you by surprise or go out of its way to impress, it's still capable of scratching that retro itch.
In many ways, Adventures of Mana plays a lot like an older Legend of Zelda game. You view your hero from a top down perspective as you navigate an overworld map that houses small towns and dungeons, and as you move from one screen to the next, enemies spawn in and take to patrolling the immediate area. The overworld itself is full of dead ends and branching paths, making it seem maze-like at times, but a minimap is on hand to at least give you a better idea of where you're going – although it's worth mentioning that the minimap can actually be disabled if you're looking for the full old school experience.
When it comes to gameplay, things don't get much simpler than what's on offer here. X is your one and only attack button, allowing you to take a swing with whichever armament you currently have equipped. From swords and spears to clubs and chain flails, there's a decent amount of weapon variety – each instrument of destruction boasting its own unique attack.
Combat, as you can imagine, isn't a complex affair. Hit and run tactics are the order of the day, smacking your foes a couple of times before stepping away to avoid retribution. Standard enemies pose no real threat unless you're unfortunate enough to get swarmed from all sides, but bosses are at least a little more engaging thanks to defined attack patterns.
In some cases, weapons can also be useful outside of combat. The sickle, for example, lets you slice through thick vegetation, which can lead to the discovery of new areas. Slowly but surely, you'll build up an arsenal that's as deadly as it is practical, gradually giving you the tools that are required to progress through the game. It's simple, traditional design, and in this age of big open world titles, it's arguably quite refreshing.
Much like its gameplay, Adventures of Mana likes to keep its story simple and to the point. It's a classic tale of good versus evil – a heroic knight and a fair maiden saving the world from a power hungry baddie – but it's told with a degree of charm. The only potential problem with the narrative is that it's easy to forget what you're actually doing. Plot points tend to come and go in the blink of an eye, and if you're not paying attention, you can miss a line of dialogue that acts as your only insight into the current scenario.
Visually, Adventures of Mana proves to be a colourful if uninspired fantasy jaunt. The Vita's screen does help the 3D models pop on occasion, but by and large, its looks are serviceable at best. In contrast, its reworked musical score is surprisingly good, featuring some catchy little tunes – although the repetitive dungeon theme can certainly grate over time.
The role-playing genre has come a long way since 1991, but that doesn't mean Adventures of Mana should be cast aside. The simplicity of its gameplay makes it a nice portable snack, and as a faithful remake of a Game Boy title, it's hard to fault – just don't expect to get too excited over this dusty old quest.