Manafinder pits itself as a classic JRPG-style game, with turn-based combat that is reminiscent of the early Final Fantasy games. But Manafinder is very different from those games in many ways. For example, whereas all the Japanese-style turn-based RPGs have a team of main characters, Manafinder only has one character to play as. It means that there are not multiple kinds of character classes to play as. But it rather implies that there is only one kind of playstyle that one can pursue with each playthrough. The game is way more straightforward than most of the classic JRPG games.
On the whole, Manafinder is a way more streamlined game version of a JRPG. This is streamlining with only one character changes a lot about how enemies are designed and how the game plays. Storytelling is also handled interestingly. Manafinder does end up doing its own thing from the classic JRPGs. Here are some changes which work and some which do not.
Manafinder is available on steam for $13.99.
Story – Interestingly Deep
We play as Lambda; we meet her as she is in jail, being humiliated. It is never sure what crimes Lambda has committed. And she, along with all the other prisoners, is judged by the King to be banished from the city. Through various conversations, it shows how dogmatic the town is. The King is seemingly worshipped as a god. It is apparent at the start that people who are banished are as good as dead because the city, aka the Manacity, is the only safe space in the world.
The city is guarded by a safety shield, and once outside, all the prisoners including Lambda are just terrified. We also meet up with the other prisoners and it is odd. Because people we meet do not seem like criminals but rather just normal people. There are weak families, kids and many others in the group. Lambda is unsure but on the whole, is sympathetic to a mother and child. The people do get end up ambushed by some monsters. This causes chaos and the group is dispersed and killed by the lot. Lamba barely makes it out alive, unsure about the fate of the rest of the companions.
Lambda and the Manafinders
Here is where Lambda is rescued by the titular “Manfinders”. Manafinders are explained to be the people who extract Mana from the world and use it for magic. The world of the game is named Aevi, and all the magic and the world stems from Mana. Mana is found across the world in the form of Mana gems. Manafinders are trained to harness this strength. Even the shield of the city from the start is powered through Mana Gems. The city has almost an unlimited supply of Mana as they literally reside on a hill made up of Mana Gems. Whereas people outside have to scavenge and use the gems for survival.
We as Lamba end up joining the Manafinders in a refugee camp. And Lambda slowly but surely grows through their ranks. Here it becomes a normal hero story with Lambda realizing that she is really good as a Manafinder. As she movies through the places in and around the camp with various quests, it is a pretty standard hero’s journey. We meet many quirky characters to interact with in the camp.
It is fine but not the most important part of the story. Sadly Lambda is one of the blandest characters I have ever played as. It is like a homage to FF1 where the main character has almost no personality. I understand the homage but it seems like a missed opportunity, not really developing the main character. She does have a fun distinct look to her which is good. But that is not the most important or interesting part of the story.
Conflicts of the Setting
So here is where the central conflict of the story comes in. The people who live outside the Manacity have their own mana shield to protect themselves. Manafinders try to find the Mana to keep the shield up. This inadvertently leads them to be very much reliant on it. The world outside is not just in the refugee camp, though. A set of people believe that the over-reliance on Mana is horrible and that everyone must go back to a world with no Mana. These people are known in-game as barbarians.
They live outside and are brutal to a point. They do make sense in a way. Even the gods of the land reflect this divide. The Barbarians do make many good points with the Manafinders. Showing how brutal and uncaring the people of the city have become. With no one questioning the king. There are four gods of the land out of which three of them are really supportive of the Mana and its usage. At the same time, the fourth goddess is very adamant against using it. We interact with these gods a lot and their internal bickering and conflict are fun to watch. They are fun and slowly give a lot of revelations about the story, something that I won’t be mentioning in the review. Do go experience them first-hand.
Storytelling and Making Choices
As seen from the pictures and the trailer the story is told mostly with the character and text boxes, but there are some really well-animated cutscenes which do help the visual flair of the story. Nut other than that the whole game relies on its retro style and characters talking to Lambda as she does not respond directly. It is like they are talking to a namely protagonist. Most of the world-building is actually optional but I think it is necessary to pay attention.
There are choices to make which to end up causing different endings to the story. They are not obvious yes or no choices but rather small ones which you chose as you go along. But this kinda taking up different endings has a few problems. Near the end, when the story pivots into a choice, many threads which were set in the quests before are just left behind. This is because they do not directly contribute to the present storyline anymore. Many plot threads are left dangling. I understand the pivot, but it does feel empty like those stories ceased to exist because you went another way. But on the whole, the endings do feel justified. With almost 15 hours to reach an ending, it is good, but the side quests do get annoying as one goes.
Gameplay – Simple and Fun
As mentioned, the gameplay is very much streamlined. if one knows how to play a JRPG, then you are in. It is simple and actually way easier than most the JRPGs. For most of the same, all you have is Lambda and her Dog. Lamba is the only real fighter. the dog is a great help, too but Lambda is the only one the combat with any real depth. She has her basic movies and many weapons which can use to counter different types of enemies. there are also different elements of power which are as obvious as they sound. It is fun and breezy while being hard when it needs to be.
The other part of this game is exploring the world and fighting enemies to collect spirit dust. Every time you collect enough spirit dust and rest Lambda levels up. When levelling up Lambda can contact the gods and buy upgrades for her. There are also different Manashards which grant new magical abilities. Along with all these the character slows does. It is a fun loop and works pretty well.
Graphics and Sounds – Meeting the Homage
The retro style of the game is really charming and works a lot. The sprites are great and creative. It is really a blast to look at. The menu is a bit clunky to navigate but nothing too complicated. It is functional and not too obtrusive. Almost all the details of the game are in the menu alongside the chapters and play time of the game. The Sprite of Scar (the dog) is also really damn cute so it helps.
The Music, while it did not stick with me was good. it really matches the tone and feel of the rest of the game while not being abrasive at all. The graphics and sound honestly are what one would need to expect to form a retro throwback JRPG game. and I am glad it did not falter here at all.
The Key for Manfinder was provided by Jorge Blanco.