Last month, I bought Adventures of Mana for iOS, and I gobbled it down pretty quickly. I really enjoyed myself, though I can understand why people might shy away from it. After all, it’s a pretty action-heavy game that you play using touch screen-based controls. That jazz takes some getting used to, and whereas I have the privilege of years of experience under my belt (I’ve been writing for mobile sites since 2009), other folks have their own reasons for not getting into it.
I can understand. I mean, I simply can’t get used to keyboard controls. I’ve tried. Failed often. It’s not happening. So I’m not going to peck at anyone for not playing Adventures of Mana because of its touch-screen interface.
Kind of wish more people would give it a try, though. In Japan, the game is also available on the Vita. In North America … ehhhh. Nah.
Adventures of Mana is a remake of 1991’s Final Fantasy Adventure for the Game Boy. Final Fantasy Adventure is, in turn, the predecessor to Secret of Mana, one of my favourite games ever-ever. Unsurprisingly, the two games have a lot of links between them, including big holy trees, big holy swords, and holy shit, big problems afflicting both those objects.
Both games also feature downer endings, and I’ve come to realise how significant that is.
Nowadays, adventures that pluck our heartstrings like cheap ukuleles are the norm. I mean, is it OK to just confess that all these months later, His Theme from Undertale still makes me want to press my head against the keyboard and weep? Not simply because the song is divine (it is), but because of the events that occur under its umbrella?
And the funny thing is, the emotion-heavy events that wrap up Undertale are purposefully plucked from older RPGs. Earthbound. Illusion of Gaia. Phantasy Star. Secret of Mana. Final Fantasy Adventure.
In fact, Undertale’s endless string of tributes is a living reminder of how RPGs have been telling us some pretty stirring stories nearly since day one. But I don’t think we really noticed as much until the 16-bit era (those of us who grew up with console games versus PC games, anyway), which is why I want to single out Final Fantasy Adventure’s finale.
Final Fantasy Adventure and Secret of Mana share two more features: Both involve women turning into big-ass trees that protect the balance of the world, and those trees eventually get nuked by the bad guy. At the conclusion of Adventure, the Mana Tree gets rekt during the final battle with the veiled magician, Julius Vandole. Fuji, the woman that the main character, Sumo, set out to rescue in the first place, becomes the tree in the place of her mother.
(Incidentally, I can’t get over how the original character designs for Final Fantasy Adventure / Seiken Densetsu lack noses, except for Julius. He’s still got his sniffer. I guess the trade-off is that he has no mouth.)
So when Fuji becomes the tree, Sumo is out one potential girlfriend. The two say goodbye to each other, and Sumo limps away.
It’s not an original ending. It’s definitely not progressive: Fuji does a whole lot of nothing in Adventure except get caught and mind-controlled. But I admire that the game’s scenario writer stood up in a time of rescued princesses and restored kingdoms to say, “You know what? Forget ‘sweet.’ It’s ‘bittersweet’ all the way, baby.”
And even though Sumo and Fuji technically don’t get much of a chance to bond in Final Fantasy Adventure — or Adventures of Mana — I say “Well. Shit.” whenever I watch the games’ endings. You just kind of assume the two will click together in the end, but then Mom turns around and gives her daughter the dick choice of true love or saving the world.
Worse, Sumo’s chocobo companion (who trails you through most of the game) finds a lady friend. He’s hesitant until Sumo pushes the two together and then turns and runs.
Secret of Mana does you one worse by cleaving you from your Sprite companion at the conclusion of your adventure. Destroying the enraged Mana Beast is a necessity because it’s about to drill itself into the earth’s asshole and explode, but killing the big guy also means Mana won’t be instantly restored to its proper balance — which means magical creatures like the Sprite are out of luck.
And let me tell you, when you’re 14 years old and not good at games, the Mana Beast is one fuck of a battle to go through when your reward is basically “Oops, this character you liked is now dead. LOL.”
I don’t know who decided Mana games should have downer endings, but here we are. Final Fantasy Adventure arguably gave us our first “Bad Ending!” twist outside of garbage like having to beat the game on hard mode to get its “real” ending.
And damn it, those tiny cabbage-coloured sprites with their squashed foreheads and impossibly huge weapons made me feel. I suppose the valuable lesson “Life sucks, deal with it” is valid regardless of whether you learn it from a personal tragedy, a rained-out amusement park trip, or a little man with a little broken heart on a little Game Boy screen.