Initial release date: July 15, 1999 Remaster: June 24th, 2021
Composer: Yoko Shimomura
Writer: Nobuyuki Inoue
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation Portable, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita
“Review Copy Provided By Square-Enix”
We’re definitely in a Seiken Densetsu or Mana resurgence which has been going on since 2016 where we’ve seen a lot of remakes in the franchise from the original game being remade from the ground up to even Secret of Mana being remade much to the chagrin of fans. In 2019 we saw the release of Collection of Mana which included the original release of Seiken Densetsu along with Secret of Mana and the never before localized Trials of Mana exclusively to the Nintendo Switch. In 2020 we had the surprise hit remake of Trials of Mana which shocked everyone including Square-Enix with how well it did. Now here we are in 2021 with the release of another rerelease of the Mana series in Legend of Mana. Legend of Mana release originally in 1999 on the PlayStation and was a commercial success in Japan while being a commercial flop here in the West with it taking the gameplay of Trials and Secret and expanding upon both. Over the years, the game has gained a cult classic status and is considered a hidden gem of the PSX; the question now is will Legend of Mana become a smash hit with the modern audience or will it be another flop in the West? Let’s find out!
Set in the world of Fa’Diel, the Mana Tree was burned down roughly 9 centuries prior during an all out war between humans, faeries, other creatures seeking the increasingly scare mana that is remaining. The destined hero is tasked with restoring the world and it’s mana and restoring the Mana Tree.
Starting off the game you are given the option of selecting either a male or female character and then naming them and selecting what their starter weapon will be which ranges from swords to axes to staffs to flails and so much more. Once you have completed that then you are dropped into an overworld map and asked to select where on the map you house will be.
I’m gonna be honest here in saying that this game is very much decidedly a 90’s experimental game where they weren’t afraid to take chances and were always wanting to try and make the next revolutionary impact in gaming. IF you were expecting this to play almost point for point like Secret of Mana or Trials of Mana then you may be a little disappointed as the game as the way the story and gameplay play out is entirely different from those earlier entries which ultimately makes sense because this entry in the franchise is not only a spinoff but is also made by the creator of the SaGa series Akitoshi Kawazu.
When I say it plays differently from a standard Mana title I mean that it essentially plays like a SaGa game with very little overall narrative and numerous mini plots that start and conclude in less than half an hour or less with very little if any overlap in characters and narrative. Unlike the other Mana titles, Legend of Mana is based on the imagination of the character that you choose and when it comes to gaining access to new areas then you have to make sure you have what’s called an “Artifact” that you use on the overworld in this games “Land Make”system which helps. to open up new areas and dungeons to explore. You gain Artifacts from the characters who will join you temporarily as well as from NPCs that may prove pivotal in the plot of the story attached to the Artifact. As you use Artifacts, you will need to arrange them on the overworld map as you see fit as there is no set layout for any location nor even you home.
Given that this is a 90’s style RPG you will need to explore each town you’re in and search every nook and cranny as well as talk to every NPC that you can in order to find your way through the game as this game doesn’t really hold your hand or tell you were to go. The safest comparison I can make for this game is that it is very similar to SaGa Frontier in that there are so many subplots that don’t really weave into one another and these numerous subplots can be completed very quickly. In towns you can find merchants to buy new weapons, armor, and items as well as stay at Inns to recover health and learn more about the inhabitants of where you are. Each area you go to that isn’t a dungeon will have you enter it and then enter a town map where you can walk from point to point to get to new locations in the towns in a similar vein as SaGa Frontier does.
When you enter dungeons you will almost always see the onion knight who can give you details on how to approach battles and the various mechanics therein such as strategies and what to do if you are overwhelmed by your enemies. As you explore the dungeons, you will encounter enemies that you can see on screen (and sometimes you wont see them on screen) which will have you drawing your weapon and getting ready to fight.
Battles play out with you being able to move up and down the screen while attacking left or right and unlike older Mana titles there is no stamina bar that drains as you attack. Enemies (and you) move about rather slowly so you don’t have to worry too much about anything other than where you are in relation to the enemy and if you block to avoid being damaged. You can attack, jump, heavy attack, block, and use skills or magic mapped to the shoulder buttons. You can perform combos by alternating between attack and heavy attack as everything happens in real time, just don’t expect this to be as fast and fluid as a Tales of game as this is much slower paced even in comparison to the older Mana games.
There’s monster ranching where you can find eggs in towns demo side quests and in dungeons allowing you to raise monsters that will fight alongside you. This did come out during the whole pocket monster crazy of the late 90’s so in a way I’m not too shocked to see this mechanic in the game. The monsters are stored at the farm of your house and will grow and evolve based on what you feed them.
This game is beautiful in its art-style and the graphics in the game look really good for when they released. The way the character illustrations are done by Shinichi Kameoka have such an amazing fantasy dream like essence to them and I love it.
The sprites have more detail in them than the SNES entries and has much more going on in the environments. Given that this game is a remaster of the 1999 original; you will see an increase in screen real estate going form the origin 4:3 aspect ration to the modern 16:9 aspect ratio giving you the entire screen to enjoy.
The game’s OST was composed by Yoko Shimomura was one of the premiere Squaresoft composers of the era. Every track is just amazing and adds so much to the world you’re diving into as you spend more time with this game.
As I stated in the gameplay section; this game is unapologetically a game from the 90’s and because it is many modern gamers may be put off by the fact the game doesn’t tell you where to go or what to do and doesn’t even really explain many of any mechanics of the game outside of what the onion knight shares with you. Getting lost and not knowing where to go and the overall cryptic nature of the game is what will get a lot of people to drop this game.
The games graphics while gorgeous in their pixel style aren’t as fluidly animated as they should be and can seem stiff looking especially when in battles where your character and allies as well as enemies barely animate.
The main thing I can say that’s just ROUGH is the fact that in battle the controls are incredibly stiff and it really comes down to just repeatedly pressing attack over and over. Yes there is a combo system but it overall is pointless in the long run of things all you’ll ever really be doing is mashing the attack button in order to build up your skill/magic gauge to use skills and magic which do major damage to enemies and bosses. Outside of that there’s no real benefit to using combos and the gameplay just doesn’t feel as fast and or fluid as the two previous games in the franchise.
The Mana series is definitely in an era of a resurgence and I’m all for it even if Legend of Mana isn’t the best of the rereleases/remasters/remakes. The game offers up improved visuals and aspect ratio, however, the game still suffers greatly from being an experimental game from the 90s with concepts and ideas that aren’t fully realized layered on top of stiff controls and an almost non existent plot. If you don’t mind the issues that this title suffers from then you may find a game that has it’s charms and can be enjoyable in spurts, for all others; wait for a sale.
Wait for a sale