Welcome to Portable Retro Review, where I’ll be reviewing classic portable games. I’ll also be seeing how well they hold up.
I’m going to start with a game that is near and dear to me, Final Fantasy Adventure/Mystic Quest/Seiken Densetsu (Legend of the Holy Sword): Final Fantasy Gaiden for Game Boy. This is the game that helped me through many summers of boredom and hospital visits. It is bar none my favorite game of all time. Therefore I will probably be ditching the humor for most of this review in an attempt to be critical of the game rather than fanboy out on it.
First off this is a Japanese game by Square (pre-Squaresoft or Square-Enix). The music was composed by Kenji Ito, who also did the soundtrack to the remake on GBA. There are several sequels and the aforementioned remake. There was also a remaster on Japanese cell phones in the mid-2000s that sadly never came to the US or Europe.
The story starts off with you (canon name: Sumo) as a slave for the Glaive Empire fighting in the arena. You escape and continue to explore the world meeting various characters, several of which will join you as uncontrolable assistant characters whom you can talk to for advice or several services (the Girl “Fuji” heals you, Watts will sell you items, Marcie will refill your MP, etc). The Chocobo from Final Fantasy makes it’s sole appearance in the series as does the Moogle as a status ailment that makes you completely vulnerable in every sense possible (no defense and you can’t use items or weapons). Sumo makes it across tons of varied areas before proceeding to the final areas. Once you get to the final area of the game you lose the ability to go back to the main world, so make sure you’re ready.
The story is decent but won’t win over anybody who is used to modern stories. There are several instances of character deaths that are (in my opinion) well done in making you empathize with their plight.
I want to call this a 10/10, but there are some serious issues that need to be considered.
Moogle status is a massive offender. While in this status no action buttons you hit do anything, this isn’t horrible until you realize there’s a Moogle healing potion that you can buy. Which you can’t use because you can’t do any actions.
Keys and mattocks are possible the largest offender. It is VERY possible to run out of either of them since doors and boulders regenerate. Thankfully you get the Ball and Chain later in the game and that completely replaces the mattock. However even into the late game you can run out keys. The saving grace of this is that you can find enemies that will drop keys, but they are from so early in the game that they are completely out of place thus break the immersion.
The last big offender is a certain puzzle that most people who have played probably got stuck on, many of which gave up without figuring it out. There is a vague clue to make a figure 8 around trees, but which trees isn’t clear. Until you figure out what trees this clue is talking about you can’t proceed with the game. The GameFAQs board was filled with topics asking how to get past this part. I don’t think this is even the fault of the localization, as the location is kind of difficult to figure out where it is. All in all this could have been handled better.
Since this is an early GB game there are no indications of how much damage you’re doing to enemies so you can’t tell if what you’re attacking with is effective or just normal damage. This means that in a lot of cases just going with the most powerful weapon is more useful until you find an enemy that will take no damage (Bubbles I’m looking at you).
The inventory is woefully small. Rearranging items is rather annoying and there are some weapons that are permanently in your inventory even if you replace them with better versions (Battle Axe, Sickle, Chain Whip in particular).
As far as the actual gameplay goes it plays a lot like the original Zelda, complete with only having movement in 4 directions and having rows/columns you move through. The weapons are varied and have powered up attacks that will activate when your Will meter fills (which you can’t do a normal attack once it’s filled). As you level up you are able to increase one of the four stats by two points which boosts two of the other stats by one. You can either boost stats evenly or you can focus on one stat and not worry about the rest to make the game easier.
There are 8 spells you learn as you progress through the game and several of them are required to proceed with the game.
Each boss has it’s own pattern and many of them have a certain spot you can stand in to avoid damage. Most enemies have patterns that you can learn to avoid and figure out when to counter attack.
The enemies are quite diverse and decently detailed for a Game Boy game. The series mascot Rabite is easily recognized as are many of the other series mainstays. Several bosses from Final Fantasy 1 NES/Famicom make an appearance. Boss fights are varied and only have a couple duplicates.
There’s a lot of map sprites from Final Fantasy 3 Famicom that are reused in this game as characters and enemies. They look good on the Game Boy screen and are well proportioned to the small screen. The game doesn’t gain a lot from being played on the Super Game Boy adapter for SNES, but it works well.
The sound is adequate for what is needed, but nothing to speak of. Sword slashes, swinging the Ball and Chain, firing off a spell etc all make different sounds that are appropriate for their design. Enemies make a distinct sound when they are immune to a certain attack. Walls that can be broken down make a sound to indicate that you can do so.
This section is impossible for me to not fanboy at. I love the music in this game. It is my favorite soundtrack to any video game ever. Part of what makes the game so good in my eyes is the way the music is used to dramatic effect. Even the Chocobo theme is well done. This is all despite being on the original Game Boy.
Besides the two points mentioned above about mattocks/keys and the figure 8 puzzle the game is decently easy to play through. Most of the bosses are quite challenging until you learn their pattern, but a few of them have random movement that you can’t easily predict.
There’s some major name changes in this game. But the fact that it’s a cart based game on Game Boy means that they were up against the ceiling when it came to space. Given what they had to work with the game is (mostly) easy to understand. Figure 8 puzzle is the biggest offender for localization issues.
How it holds up: 7/10
I want to rate this higher, but it has too many major flaws in the gameplay to give a higher score to. I hate to harp on this again, but the figure 8 puzzle makes this game impossible for some people to beat as they’ll never figure it out. The game is fun, but highly outdated. The GBA remake is more in tune with the later games as it uses the different spirits introduced in Seiken Densetsu 2 (Secret of Mana) and stuff introduced in Legend of Mana, but makes some significant changes to the gameplay that I feel ruined it.
Contemporary overall score: 8/10
Same issue as before, but at the time the game was a great example of a portable title that had hours of things to do with a killer soundtrack. There’s hidden items scattered throughout the world and some rare enemy drops. Nintendo Power at one time had to put the figure 8 trick solution in the magazine to help people who were stuck.
My overall score: GLEEEEEEEEEEEE/10
I like this game. A lot. Like you can’t imagine how much I love this game.