For us Europeans, this was our first taste of anything Final Fantasy related, released as it was back in 1993 alongside Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest, two years after it had dropped onto Japanese shelves. And it was immediately accused of being the runt of the litter. There a none of the sweeping narrative epics that Square had ploughed into their flagship RPG series thus far, no turn-based battle system, although Moogles and Chocobos did pop up from time to time.
No, wasn't a 'proper' Final Fantasy game at all. But that didn't matter because, quite frankly, Final Fantasy Adventure (or Seiken Densetsu as it was called in Japan) is one of the finest games to ever grace the Game Boy.
Taking a leaf out of The Legend of Zelda's handbook, Final Fantasy Adventure was in fact the first game in the Mana series, paving the way for sequel/prequel Secret of Mana, undoubtedly one of the finest SNES games of all time. Players moved about square map segments in four directions, wielding a small medieval arsenal, from one's basic sword and shield combination to whips and sickles to the devastating mace and morning stars later in the game. Indeed, by the game's finale, the player had amassed an assortment of items that would make even the most dedicated BDSM fanatic blush.
Unlike Link's Awakening,though - that other adventuring Game Boy classic - Final Fantasy Adventure retained a good deal more of its parents' RPG genes than its appearance might have suggested. Equippable items and armour went far beyond anything that the Zelda games had to offer, with Bronze, Iron, Silver and Gold ratings for different armour sets. The useable items, too, were varied in their applications, requiring a certain amount of inventory organisation.
In spite of being an action title, statistics and experience points were a large part of proceedings too. Unlike it's sequel, Final Fantasy Adventure let the player choose to upgrade in four different areas - Wisdom, Power, Stamina and Will - meaning that unlike Link's fixed character, it would be entirely possible for two players to end up with quite different hero strengths by the end of play.
As well as funnelling points into one's physical attributes, Magic counted for a lot too, with a wide variety of spells to match the choice in weaponry. There were spells to heal, freeze, poison and burn, spells that could be deployed over an area, and others that were far more precise. But, as with the weapons, combat essentially involved picking the right spells for the job as bosses could be somewhat unforgiving. There was a certain amount of tactical decision-making to be done when it came to larger enemies.
But there was none of the melodrama of Square's more traditional titles, the plot a simple and straightforward one that mirrored the Heroic archetype so closely that Jung would have had tears in his eyes. In this instance, our hero, a young gladiator in service to the Dark Lord of Glaive, escapes his repetitive life and, after being kicked off of a waterfall by the Dark Lord's assistant Julius, sets off to make a name for himself. Along the way he meets up with the heroine of the piece, learns of the Dark Lord's plans to corrupt the Tree of Mana and destroy the world, and vows to stop him.
Of course, in having all of these elements, if one were to pick holes in the game, it would be that it sometimes didn't do a terribly good job of balancing them all. The plot, though solid, was supported with fairly woeful dialogue. The menus and inventory systems were pretty clunky and, unlike Link's Awakening, they broke gameplay up a fair bit, but these were minor gripes in an otherwise superlative effort.
The soundtrack, courtesy of Kenji Ito and Nobuo Uematsu, was really the icing on a very hearty cake indeed, so much so that occasionally I'd just leave the game running so I could listen to the music. One of the best looking games of it's time, one of the best sounding games to make the most of the Game Boy's tinny little speakers, Final Fantasy Adventure also proved great value for money too. I'll always love Link's Awakening, itself a rather quirky Zelda game, but this might just pip it for me. One of the first games I ever bought for my garishly red Man Utd Game Boy (I saved up for months for that!), it remains one of my favourites to this day.
It was re-released in extended form for the GBA as Sword of Mana in 2003.