Final Fantasy Adventure Was Dated the Moment It Released

The map of Final Fantasy Adventure

There are a few things in life that are certain. For instance, there will always be people who never use their blinkers when taking a turn into Burger King at 1 am. Another fact is that everything ages, including video games. No matter how good a game is on first release, it will eventually show its age in one way or another. The key is how well they age. Super Mario Bros 3 remains an absolutely fantastic platformer to this day thanks to its tight controls and superb level design. On the flip side of that is the much beloved Gameboy ARPG Final Fantasy Adventure.

Now, I appreciate retro games. I’m willing to put up with annoyances from a bygone era if the core game is still enjoyable. I’m sad to say, friends, that Final Fantasy Adventure was dated the moment it released due to numerous small choices that add up to a cumbersome and thoroughly tedious final product.

The best way to see how dated it was at launch is to compare it to the Zelda series. When Final Fantasy Adventure first dropped, it was up against A Link to the Past, with both of them releasing in America in November of 1991. ALttP was an extremely anticipated title, so it’s a wonder Final Fantasy Adventure did well enough for its sequel Secret of Mana to see a Western release as well. FFA was billed as Final Fantasy meets Zelda, with the magic and leveling of the former, and the dungeons and combat of the latter. Only unlike Zelda, Final Fantasy Adventure focused almost entirely on combat, with a few puzzles sprinkled here and there throughout the overworld for good measure.

The protagonist fights a large werecat type creature in a gated arena
At least the graphics still hold some charm.

Like I said, I can tolerate dated game design if the main game is still good. I’ve put up with some seriously ancient RPGs in my time and have been able to enjoy them despite their flaws. The problem with Final Fantasy Adventure is that it was dated from the moment it released. To start with, let’s take a look at its inventory system. In order to use a basic healing item, you need to pause the game, move down the sluggish menus to your items, find the item in your stockpile and press B several times so you can equip it. This, however, is not indicated on the extremely simple HUD at all. Once you have the item equipped, or think you do, you have to press the B button again to use it. Some effect will appear, and you’ll gain health back.

It’s a tedious, extremely stilted process that grows old after an hour of play time. The problem is that you have to use literally every item in this manner. See a cracked wall and don’t have your pick axe equipped? Time for several button clicks to break that wall down. Want to use an item that puts all on screen enemies to sleep? Better get clicking, buddy. This is exacerbated by the fact that magic uses the same button. So if you have your healing spell equipped, but need to use another item, you need to pause, equip, use, then re-equip the spell. Oh, and did I mention that some enemies, often times ones in the same room, are all vulnerable to different kinds of spells? So if you hope to clear a room, you’ll have to swap out spells and items multiple times in the span of a few minutes.

The worst offender as far as the inventory goes is the keys. From the very first game in the series, key use in Zelda was automatic. If you saw a locked door in a dungeon, you knew there was a key hiding away somewhere waiting for you to claim it. If you’re exploring a dungeon in Final Fantasy Adventure and use a key on a door, only you want to backtrack, guess what? When you go back to that door you’ve already unlocked, it’s locked again. Better hope you have enough keys. Because, see, unlike Zelda, keys in Final Fantasy Adventure aren’t rewards for completing puzzles. Instead, they’re items dropped by certain monsters and sold in shops. Only the way the game is paced, you have no way of knowing if you’ll need keys in the upcoming dungeon, meaning the only course of action is to have a bunch of them eating up space in your inventory at all times. Even worse is running out in the middle of the dungeon. I had passed the point of no return in the endgame and ran out of keys with no discernible way of finding more. If only I was told that, ten floors back, there was an enemy who sometimes gives out keys as random drops.

The protagonist is in a dungeon room with some pillars and ninjas
The only way to tell that this is a late game dungeon is the ninjas.

This leads me to perhaps the absolute worst part of the game: the “dungeons”. In Zelda, dungeons all have a distinct look, and you’d be hard pressed to find a room in one dungeon that looks exactly the same as another. Not so here. Every single room in every single dungeon looks exactly the same as the one before it. There are no visual cues to indicate you’re on the right path. No real puzzles to let you know whether or not you went up or down. No map of any kind. It all adds up to every single dungeon feeling just like the last, only bigger and more confusing. What’s more, any puzzle the dungeons do have are simplistic to the point of being insulting, and much like how unlocked doors will relock again if you leave the room, the outcome of completing the puzzle is totally undone if you leave. So when you’re lost and wandering around trying to find the right way to go, you need to redo everything you’ve already done.

The weirdest part of the game, though, is its reverse difficulty curve. In the beginning, the game’s total lack of feedback and wonky collision detection means you’ll be kind of flailing around hoping you actually hit the monsters while also taking hits yourself. You’ll probably die quite a few times. Then, once you get the classic healing spell Cure you can pretty much bulldoze your way through the game. It only becomes easier the more spells you get, with one just being called Nuke that more or less lives up to its title. By the end, you can take out most or all enemies with little to no effort as long as you’re okay switching between spells with obnoxious regularity.

From what I can tell, this seems to be a more or less cherished game that most remember fondly, but I think (and I really hate using this argument) it’s because of nostalgia. I think that comparing it to the classic Zelda games at the time is a more than fair argument, as that is more or less what it was billed as. The problem is that it was making mistakes that Zelda figured out how to get past a long time ago. Its dungeons all look exactly like one another, whereas each one in Zelda has some kind of distinction to help exploration along without a map. Its inventory is more cumbersome than even Link’s Awakening (whose constant item switching is admittedly dated, but was helped along in the Switch remake), and that game was released only two years after this one. Its combat gives the player little to no feedback whatsoever, with no knockback or anything to even let the player know if their attack connected or not. I can appreciate the ambition of its (poorly translated) story, with it having a late game twist unique for its time, and the retro graphics and soundtrack still holding their own charm. Still, all of these little gameplay choices add up to something that is, quite frankly, flat out annoying to play. I wanted to like it when I played through it recently on the Collection of Mana, but it quickly reared its ugly, poorly designed head, and I still can’t quite believe that so many hold it in such high regard.

Written by Collin Henderson

Collin enjoys gaming, reading, and writing. He would love to tell you all about his two books, the crime thriller Lemon Sting, and the short horror story collection Silence Under Screams, but only if you find yourself unfortunate enough to be in a conversation with him. He lives in Massachusetts.


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  1. Finally, someone who had the same experience I did! Along with these issues, I would frequently get lost on the overworld map and not know where to go, but every review didn’t mention this as an issue! It was infuriating!

    P.S. There is a map function for dungeons, it does make them easier, it’s under the select menu I believe.

  2. I haven’t played this game, but I can imagine this being the case. I’ve only played the remake (Sword of Mana), which was great, but a friend’s played through part of the original and already mentioned it felt pretty poor.

    Also, funnily, the opinion you hold on this game, I hold on its sequel: Secret of Mana. A very buggy, badly translated and cumbersome experience I had with that one.

  3. Well, I hate the nostalgia argument, too, because it’s just a way of saying “I don’t understand why people like this game, and the only explanation is that other people’s opinions are wrong.” My basic problem with this nostalgia argument is that why would anyone like the game when it came out if it was dated upon release when they could not had any nostalgia for it yet? Or what about people who enjoy a game without nostalgia? For example, I just finished the game yesterday and had never played it at all until a week ago. I had a lot of fun with Final Fantasy Adventure, and I certainly had no nostalgia for it.

    I still agree about most of the flaws you mention. However, I just kind of accepted the menu interface as unavoidable, given the Game Boy’s technical limitations and Square’s inexperience with the portable console (probably, Square should have dedicated one button to a menu, instead of having two menus, and then used the other button to swap between items or magic). By the end of the game, I was carrying like 30 keys with me at all times, and it hardly mattered that it filled up the inventory, since I seldom used any other items by that point. I also generally avoided using magic, opting instead to pump up the hero’s strength stat, and just melee’d everything in sight, trying to use weapons that could damage every enemy type in an area to reduce time spent in menus (at times, I ran from certain enemies to avoid opening the menus). I’m a bit surprised that you did not mention the other interface flaw, which is that the hero talks to people by bumping into them; it’s quite annoying when you need to dodge villagers to avoid having their textboxes assault you.

    Anyway, I had fun with Final Fantasy Adventure because it’s quickly paced, the action is all real time (unlike its SNES sequels, which pause the game for spells), no grinding is needed, and I had fun going around defeating enemies. If anything, I probably had more fun playing it now than I would have at its release, since I got tired of its maze-like dungeons around two thirds of the way into the game and took advantage of online guides (non-existent in 1991) to get through the game faster.

  4. I have to say, I can see the nostalgia argument. However understanding the platform that it’s on (GB) I understood it’s limitations. However, I had never played this game until last week.

    When I was a kid, I didn’t have a lot of games for my Game Boy because they were expensive and I was poor. Therefore, the nostalgia argument doesn’t hold up for me, yet I found this game very impressive for what it was.

    It was a Game Boy title that did mix Zelda and FF. In fact, my girlfriend, who doesn’t play video games at all, walked in and thought I was playing Zelda on our 65 inch TV. And although I knew how the two could be mistaken easily, the gameplay on such a simple platform still stood apart enough to make me feel like I was playing a game that was like Zelda, yet had RPG elements unlike Zelda. This doesn’t make it a bad thing at all.

    Also, if you think about the music and sprite work compared to other games at the time, wow. There is a lot of different enemies, sometimes for no reason at all, which is also not a bad thing. They vary in EXP obtained and give you tons of variety so it doesn’t feel repetitive. Resident Evil 7 is a modern game and lacks variety of enemies in a big way, so in my book, this is amazing that a Game Boy title went this far.

    As far as player feedback, the sounds clue you in on what weapons work, and like tons of games of this era, I never had a problem knowing whether or not an enemy was taking damage. I instantly realized, some enemies require certain weapons. The only confusion I had was using fire on some enemies which may or may not have caused damage if they took more than two hits, but that was it.

    With all that being said, this is an impressive title, and I play both old and new games of all genres except sports, MMORPG’s and music-based games (except Beat Saber for PS4 VR). I don’t have the bias of nostalgia in this case, and my taste is well rounded, and with the frame of knowing the limitations of the time, this was an excellent title. Simply put, it was a great game that satisfied the best of both worlds on the go. If you wanted a game with the caliber of Zelda a LttP, you would just play on a home console. But you couldn’t do something that extensive in a Game Boy cart.

    So I say bravo to the developer’s for there fantastic work and quite a morbid story at some points. I mean, it really is dark sometimes.

  5. I can definitely understand some people’s nostalgia for it, and it’s not an out and out terrible game. It’s just that, to me, there were a LOT of redundancies that could have been eliminated had the developers looked to other games in the genre. I appreciate the weirdly ambitious (if underwritten) story, too. I enjoy retro games quite a bit, and like to look at them from a critical angle, and I just saw so, so many redundancies. I definitely understand it’s a result of hardware limitations (Link’s Awakening has some similar issues with its inventory management, although nowhere near as bad as FFA).

    Then again, I’ve come to find out I have a very complicated relationship with the Mana series as a whole. I’ve played through the majority of Secret of Mana, which is widely considered one of the best RPGs on the SNES, and when I played it, I found a LOT of little things that really added up in it, as well. I do think it’s overall a better game, but weirdly a lot of the same issues I had with FFA cropped up too (like extremely poor hit detection).

    It’s a fascinating series to me, one I enjoy looking at with a critical eye and picking apart more than I enjoy actually playing. Still need to get to Trials of Mana in the collection, though, and who knows maybe that’ll turn the series around for me.

    Either way, thanks for reading!

  6. This guy has no idea what he’s talking about. Sounds like my 12 year old son who plays a vintage game and gets frustrated after 10 minutes and goes back to fortnite. FFA is a masterpiece of it’s time. It’s not nostalgia either. I’ve been designing games ever since I came across rpg maker on the playstation 2 and fell in love with it. I now make games for the DMG (fat) gameboy. The DMG has only 8 bits. And even though it came out in 91 the hardware it’s run on came out in 88. So going back to doors locking themselves when you leave unlike links awakening, that’s because you only have certain directions you can take when writing the games initial code. Events like open/locked doors being true or false have a certain data value based on a matching one from an inventory item. By putting in enemy’s that drop keys, it keeps the player from getting stuck. Links awakening having that feature is due to it having room in its code to enable disable multiple events instead of using it for stat calculations like in FFA. I can ramble on for hours but just know changing something as simple as that is miles of rewriting code that interfere with other mechanics. Comparing games that came out the same year from different developers to eachother is completely asinine. Games back then were forced to be creative as they could be given what they had to work with. When I see reviews like this or how pokemon red and blue was a glitch fest, it reminds me that only a handful of people know how these games are made from scratch. It’s like you dropping off a guy in the woods with only a hatchet and you complaining about how long it took him to send you an email. The person who wrote this review is out of his element.

    • Hey Knox,
      Sorry we don’t see eye to eye on the content, but I’m still very grateful you took the time to read through it!

      For me, you’re right, I’m not as familiar with programming as I am with other parts of games, but I do know my gut reaction to them. I’m actually quite fond of retro gaming myself, and understand the whole “different times, different standards,” thing. For instance, I’m a big Dragon Quest fan and enjoyed my playthrough of the original game a few years ago, but I enjoyed it more as a piece of history than an enjoyable game. I will say I come across as very harsh in this article; I appreciated playing through FFA, again, as a piece of gaming history, but for me it was simply outdone by other games of its ilk at the time. Like the original Dragon Quest, it’s not something I’d recommend to people looking for something to enjoy as a fun game, but more to people like yourself, who approach it from amore technical angle or from a historical perspective.

      But at the end of the day, regardless of programming prowess, if I couldn’t get into the game, I couldn’t get into the game. Mechanically, it felt archaic in the extreme, even for a title from 1991, and I struggle to see the appeal.

      But to each their own! Like I said, thank you so much for taking the time to read through the article!

  7. So in 1991 I was 12 years old. I think I might have gotten this game for my birthday or Christmas. I remember enjoying the game very much. It’s one of the few games that I have played through to completion and was one of the first games I played finished as a kid. The Zelda like movement and attacks were very familiar. The rpg stats fulfilled my niche for “spreadsheet gaming”. I think it’s unfair to compare this game with it’s 4-bit graphics to NES titles with 8-bit graphics. I think I also chose the melee path partly out of convenience and partly because I think spell cast takes too long in any game. While I haven’t gone back and replayed it to see if it still holds up it did a better job of holding my attention then games like Bugs Bunny’s Crazy Castle or Bart Simpson vs. the Juggernauts. It was meant to be played while in the car, plane or tent. I wasn’t playing Gameboy in my house. That was what the NES was for. Albeit Pokémon would change that 5 years later as I was one of 5 people at my local Electronic Boutique in the mall to Pre Order the game after seeing a paragraph blurb in a gaming Magazine about the game coming out.

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