(Skip the first three paragraphs if you are not interested in the messy release history of the games.)
The first Seiken Densetsu for the GameBoy game has a curious release history. Originally a Final Fantasy spin-off in Japan with the title “Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden”, the game was released as “Final Fantasy Adventure” in the US and “Mystic Quest” in Europe. Mystic Quest would then also turn into the title of a game intended to provide an accessible role-playing experience for beginners in the West, “Final Fantasy Mystic Quest” (US) which, again, would have different names in other regions: “Mystic Quest Legends” in the EU and “Final Fantasy USA: Mystic Quest” in Japan. This game is, by the way, in no way connected to the Seiken Densetsu series.
Seiken Densetsu was later remade as “Sword of Mana” (“Shin’yaku Seiken Densetsu” in Japan) for the GameBoy Advance. Story, graphics and gameplay were heavily revamped to match the standards of the Mana series at that time, and all references to Final Fantasy were removed. The game was such a departure from the original, actually, that calling it a reimagining might be more accurate. The changes were not uncontroversial, but it is unquestionable that Shin’ichi Kameoka’s iconic character and environment designs made it one of the most beautiful games for the GameBoy advance.
But here comes the most curious part: In 2016, Square Enix published a 3D remake of the first Seiken Densetsu for mobile phones and PlayStation Vita, called “Adventures of Mana” in all regions, that completely ignored what Sword of Mana had done. While I understand the wish for a more faithful, unembellished remake, Adventures of Mana actually turned out to be nearly a 1:1 port of the original that completely scrapped Kameoka’s beautiful style that had become an iconic part of the series in favor of cheap-looking and plain 3D graphics. Needless to say, Adventures of Mana did not make big waves, and it was forgotten soon after.
Now what all of these versions have in common is the music by Kenji Itō. His memorable soundtrack helped to make Seiken Densetsu the game with the most emotionally engaging story of its time by a long shot, and he’s been in charge of the arrangement of both Sword of Mana and Adventures of Mana. As a big fan of Itō’s music in general and this soundtrack specifically, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to all its variations.
So, in what ways do these three versions differ?
- Obviously, Seiken Densetsu and Sword of Mana were restricted by their respective release platform’s specifications, resulting in 8- and 16-bit music respectively, while Adventures of Mana does not have these restrictions.
- In according with the expanded story and content, Sword of Mana also features a bunch of new music. Some of the new pieces are variations of existing themes, but many are entirely new. Some of the additional tracks in Sword of Mana include “Pleasing Scenery” (a new town/village theme), “Chain of Fate” (a heartrending piece that conveys the tragedy of the game’s story perfectly), “Running Towards the Future” (an excellent new field theme), to name a few. But the game also dropped some pieces of the original. Since all Final Fantasy elements were removed, the “Mogry” and “Chocobo” tracks were also not included.
- The original game contains 27 pieces of music (+1 unused track), Sword of Mana 40 pieces and Adventures of Mana the same 27 (+ 3 jingles and 1 bonus track) tracks as the original game.
- The unused track, “Town”, is not featured in the original game and not even on Sword of Mana’s soundtrack released, but was both arranged for Adventures of Mana AND used in the actual game – and I’m really happy about that, since it’s a very expressive and memorable track, especially in its newly arranged form.
- Kenji Itōs love for rock music really shines through in Adventures of Mana. The battle themes and some field themes are much rockier than the GB/GBA would’ve ever allowed, and it even features a “Endless Battlefield -More Rock Ver.-“ as a bonus track. The arrangement of “Battle 2” strongly resembles a previous arrangement released on the 2011 “Re:Birth/Seiken Densetsu Kenji Itō Arrange Album”.
- Some themes were expanded upon in Sword of Mana. “Village”, for example, is almost twice as long before it loops. These expansions were, as everything new in Sword of Mana, ignored in Adventure of Mana. A real shame here, since I absolutely love the Sword of Mana version of “Village”.
- On the other hand, Adventures of Mana does also have some expanded tracks, like the main theme “Rising Sun” or “Dungeon 3”.
- Despite the lack of technical restrictions, the music of Adventures of Mana is entirely synthetic. The mentioned Re:Birth album had used real instruments, but even the “Battle 2” was rearranged using entirely digital means, though the overall quality of the samples is quite good, making the arranged music easily the best part of the remake.
- The Sword of Mana soundtrack was released as a “Premium Soundtrack” with 3 discs, with the game’s soundtrack on disc 1, a piano collection of 7 tracks on disc 2 and a single 2-minute long medley of the main theme “Rising Sun” and “Endless Battlefield” on disc 3.
Personally, I love all three releases, but if I had to pick just one, I’d definitely choose Sword of Mana. I love the 8-bit sound of the original Seiken Densetsu, but many of the tracks are too simplistic and had not reached their “final form” yet. I also love the modern arrangements of Adventures of Mana that are more on-par with the modern digital capabilities (though not *quite* what they could’ve been). But I’m a sucker for the 16-bit GBA sound in Sword of Mana AND the game has not only some of the best arrangements (“Village”!), but also features quite a few excellent new additions I don’t want to miss.
But in the end, my favorite versions are scattered across all three releases, so I’ll just rank them from 1 (favorite) to 3 (least favorite) for each of the 27 original tracks.
|The Duchy of Glaive||2||N/A||1|
|Royal Palace Theme||3||2||1|
|In Search of the Sword of Mana||3||2||1|
|Birth of a Chocobo||2||N/A||1|
|Drowning in Despair||3||2||1|
|Placing Thought Under Investigation||3||2||1|
This is completely subjective, obviously. Bottom line is, just like the games, music of Seiken Densetsu and Adventures of Mana are very similar while Sword of Mana has more content and stronger variations from the original, for the better or worse. Mostly for the better, if you ask me.
As a bonus, here are the cover artworks for all three releases: