iOS is always a gamble.
Whenever I'm browsing the app store, something might catch my eye but I never know what to think of it. Something might look good, or have a great premise, but it's usually impossible to know what it is that you'd be getting, whether it's worth the price, and whether it's even what you expected.
Square Enix quietly released a new game on the app store last week, Adventures of Mana. AOM is a remake of Final Fantasy Adventure, the game that would go on to birth the "Mana" series of the games ("Legend Of The Holy Sword" in Japan). The Secret Of Mana on the Super Nintendo is one of my favorite games of all time, so I HAD to take the plunge and see what this Mana game is all about. I had played a little bit of the original Final Fantasy Adventure game on the original gameboy, but didn't play the game all the way through.
Here are some initial impressions after spending some time with the game:
It's good. Very good, really. The game takes place in a top down view that is very reminiscent of the original Legend Of Zelda. The game cold opens in a battle, and the first thing I noticed was that I LOVE the way it feels. Playing with a virtual stick is never the optimal choice, but the game controls very well and is very responsive. Sword strikes are very deliberate. There are no terrible button mashing combo systems in place. This is old school "stick and move" gameplay that I both really enjoy and really miss.
The graphics are both a huge positive and a huge negative. While nobody here would know, I've frequently gone on record as saying that I greatly dislike super-high resolution in games. This usually prompts a record scratch moment from die hard PC gamers who are taught that resolution is everything, but the reality is that the higher the resolution in a game, the better the game engine has to be to support it. I'm playing AOM on an iPad Pro, and the the picture is as clear as can be. This means that every misaligned texture is glaringly obvious. Every seam is blinking for your attention. Every jagged polygon is jutting out ready to cut your eyeballs in half. Characters don't look like they are walking on the floor. Walls don't look like they connect to the floor. Every single object screams, "I'm an polygonal art asset in a 3d rendered room". Everything is heavily aliased and glaringly mechanical. The worst of it comes with character faces. Every single character in the game has a face that is clearly drawn onto their head geometry and it never moves. The sullen, dead eyed expressions are permanently frozen to characters faces and they will never change. Pixel art handles this concept better by allowing the players imagination to create a face from the suggestions that the pixels (digital brush strokes) give the viewer. This is a technique that painters have used to thousands of years, and it still works very well in games.
The positive side of the ultra-high resolution game is that the colors look luxurious. That is what one comes to a Mana game for, and AOM delivers in spades. The art style of AOM is based on the Rococo period of art which emphasizes vivid, ultra-saturated color and lush, ornamental costuming. The ultra-fine textures allow for the designs of the characters to come through 100%. While the characters may never look like they are interacting with their environment, the characters themselves all look phenomenal.
If you are a Mana fan, it's great fun to see Mushbooms, Goblins, Rabites and more rendered in the beautiful imagery of 2016. Other Mana holdovers like Candy, Dancing shopkeepers and jaunty music round out the nostalgia package and firmly ground the player in the world of Mana.
Adventures of Mana is 14 dollars. That's a high price for an iOS game, and I have no idea how long it is.
If you are looking for a Zelda-esque adventure to play on-the-go, I would highly recommend this game. If you are a fan of old school jrpgs and want to see how those games might have progressed in an alternate reality where Tetsuya Nomura never highjacked the genre, this is a really interesting case-study. If you are a Mana fan who has been frustrated for years that no game has ever picked up where Seiken Densestu 3 left off, this game might very well be the answer to your prayers. If you are a fan of jRPGs who cares about cutscenes... this game may not be for you. The story is very 16-bit era.