I find everything about Mystic Ark utterly fascinating, from Akihiro Yamada’s sumptuous artwork to the musical score and the rather mysterious plot. Unfortunately I’m not that much of a fan of actually playing the game as I find it a rather fiddly RPG and I have the attention span of a wasp after a sugar spill at the best of times. So we arrive at this manga, which I bought in the hopes of being a tour through Mystic Ark’s world without all that RPG-related business that I really do like but sometimes don’t.
This three part set had its first volume published in August 1996 (roughly a year after the game’s release), and then the second arrived six months later and the final six months after that, making for a rather tidy release schedule. This work was done by Akirako Iwasa, an artist possibly of most interest to people reading this for his work on the Rebus (Kartia: The Word of Fate) tie-in manga. The “regular” art’s competent, expressive, and recognisable while obviously simplified to get each volume out before the end of time, and the chapter intro art ranges from some pleasant little vignettes to some really very impressively detailed work. At no point is there a feeling that anyone’s “off model” or that some scenes been drawn crudely to save time or effort (which is more than can be said for the utterly detestable Final Fantasy XII manga), making for both exciting action sequences as well as well articulated conversations.
One possible fly in the ointment is that it does take a fair few liberties with the Super Famicom RPG’s plot, with major NPCs being given all-new backgrounds, personalities, and motives and a few cuts to keep things within the three-book format. It’s not going to win over anybody who wanted an exact copy of the game’s plot in book form, but then again the game’s plot is rather fuzzy at the best of times and wouldn’t really make for a particularly gripping manga, so the feeling is the author’s basically taken what they were given and tried to make a good-quality short manga serial out of it.
The good news is that while they’ve not been a stickler for accuracy they have done a good job of weaving an enjoyable tale, and most of the important and recognisable things do show up in some form as you read through – both male and female leads receive their “official” outfits at an important point, all your potential companions show up (even if they do fulfil different roles), and the general The Goddess, The Darkness, and You framework that binds both the story and the manga to the events within them is also present and correct.
So at the end of the day if you’re an ardent fan of the game’s story and would like to see it trapped within the pages of a manga for easy access then this is sadly not the trilogy for you. However, if you’d like to read an entertaining and heavily Mystic Ark themed story, or would simply like to read a good nineties manga that requires no major commitments, then I’d recommend Mystic Ark without reservation.