As I get ever closer to wrapping up my RPG project, I find myself playing a handful of games that I somehow managed to miss out on back when they were new. Today, I’m going to talk about a classic JRPG title, Legend of Mana. Yes, this is another entry in the heralded Mana series. But this time around, we have a game that’s quite different from those that have come before it. In my opinion, this is potentially a good thing. If you’ve read my other Mana reviews, you’ll know that I was a big fan of the first game in the series. However, the two sequels that followed it left me largely unimpressed. With that in mind, I was eager to see if this game could redeem the series.
Before getting into the game itself, let’s talk a moment about the best way to enjoy this title today. Legend of Mana was originally released in 2000 for the Sony Playstation. However, a remastered version of the game has since been made available for the PC, PS4, and Nintendo Switch. During my research for the game, I took a deep look at all of the changes made in the remaster and I can tell you without a doubt, the remaster is the version you want to play. For starters, none of the original content has been removed in this new version. But, a number of graphical, audio, and quality of life enhancements have been made. All of these changes keep with the original design philosophy for the game. The graphics keep the same hand-drawn style but are now presented in high definition. There’s also an option for either the original soundtrack or you can elect to hear a re-arranged “hi-def” version of the classic music. As you might expect, the localization for this release has also been updated with a better English translation. This update to the game even includes the long forgotten Ring Ring Land minigame for the Pocketstation (more on this later). Taking all of that into consideration, the 2021 remaster is the version I chose to play for this review.
All of the games in the Mana series have been very loosely connected. They are not direct sequels. This game is no exception. Legend of Mana takes place in a realm known as Fa’Diel. Like the other worlds seen in previous Mana games, Fa’Diel is home to a great Mana Tree. However, in this world, the tree was mostly destroyed nearly a millennia ago. The death of the Mana Tree brought rot and decay to the world at large. However, some crucial elements of mana were converted to sacred artifacts and scattered throughout the land. The game begins when the player creates a hero and is entrusted with one of these artifacts. Unlocking the power contained within the artifact, they player is able to create a lush and thriving home for themselves. This home will serve as a base from which they will undertake their journey to restore the realm and bring the Mana Tree back to life.
The artifacts mentioned in the summary above are a key elements to the gameplay in Legend of Mana. The game begins with the creation of your character. Players are able to select a name and choose their gender. Immediately after creating your character, a world map is displayed and players are asked to select a portion of the map in which to begin their adventure. The game doesn’t really explain this at the time, but the plot of land you select early in the game will have a BIG effect on how the game is played. You see, each lot of land has a number of vacant spaces on it. Over the course of the game, players will find new artifacts that can be placed in these empty spaces. Doing so creates a new playable location. Location placement is very important because each location has a certain element assigned to it and these elements react differently with their neighbors.
The game itself unfolds and moves forward as the player creates new areas and then pays them a visit. For example, one of the first areas you’ll create (aside from your home) is a city. This city is filled with various NPCs that will initiate quests.By undertaking quests, the storyline is moved forward and more artifacts/areas become available. The big bummer here is, that some quests are only accessible if locations are created next to each other. The game does not really provide any indication on the best way to place artifacts. So, unless you’re playing with a guide or walkthrough, it is extremely unlikely that you’ll be able to 100% the game on your first playthrough.
In reality, this is ok. Because, once you’ve completed Legend of Mana for the first time, there is a New Game+ option that lets you start over and try again. By doing this, you can quite literally have a completely different experience every time you start a new game. That being said, it is important to take your time and explore as much of the game as possible. There’s plenty of things to see and do in Legend of Mana. But it’s important to remember that the game is very chaotic and open. The storyline isn’t particularly linear and there’s multiple ways to reach the end. On top of that, it’s very possible to accidentally skip over certain events.
As you can probably tell, this map and level creation system is an entirely new concept for the series. But the rest of the gameplay is likely to be very familiar to fans of the previous games. The majority of the gameplay is presented in a semi-birds-eye view where the players explores the area and does real-time combat with various enemies. Players can select from a variety of weapons and special skills. Many of these skills have to be unlocked by executing combos during combat. Additional weapons and armor are often crafted by the player using a unique (and again, very ambiguous) crafting system.
Gone are the days of the ring menu. Legend of Mana uses a more traditional JRPG fullscreen menu when it comes to equipping items and examining character stats. The combat in this game is also much simpler than what was seen in Secret of Mana or Trials of Mana. Players no longer have to wait for a gauge to fill up before executing an attack. You can now pretty much button mash until your heart’s content. However, different weapons and different methods of attack all have slightly different speeds of execution. There’s still a gauge at the top of the screen. But this time, it fills up a little bit every time an attack is successfully landed. Once the gauge is full, players are able to use a special move.
As was the case in the the last two games, players are occasionally able to team up with other characters. By default, these other characters are controlled by the CPU. But Legend of Mana does allow a second player to control the additional character. Naturally, this is funnest way to play through the game. But, considering how niche this title is, you might have a hard time finding a willing participant. Aside from the various characters, players can also team up with different pets or golems. This leads into a handful of other mini-games and sub-systems found within Legend of Mana.
Occasionally while adventuring, players may find monster eggs. These eggs can be brought home and hatched. The newborn monster can accompany the player on their adventures. Monster-rearing is a whole game in itself. Players can influence monster growth by feeding their pets various foods. More often than not, these foods are obtained by planting seeds in your orchard and waiting for the fruit to grow. So you can see what I mean… farming and breeding monsters is a whole game in itself. But there are other ways to develop your pet as well… The Ring Ring Land mini game.
Back when the original game was released. Sony also sold a weird little handheld called the Pocket Station. The Pocket Station could be connected to your PS1 and your pet would migrate over to that system where you could play a quirky digital board game called “Ring Ring Land“. The game itself is odd and completely random. In fact, I doubt many Western players experienced it. But, this new remaster includes an emulated Ring Ring Land. So players are able to tinker with it all they want.
I have to praise the developers for not simply recycling old ideas with Legend of Mana. This game is nothing if it’s not unique. However, there is such a thing as being too open-ended and I feel that this game reaches that point. I urge anyone who’s going to sit down and play this to read the manual if at all possible. Because the game itself doesn’t do very much hand holding. I’ve even heard other players vent and claim that Legend of Mana is “impossible” without a guide. Personally, I’m not willing to go that far. I was able to complete it without any type of walkthrough. But it took considerably longer than I expected and I feel like I only saw about two-thirds of the game. I would say that if you want to see 100% of events in this title, a walkthrough is going to be a must-have.
Usually when I play RPGs, I like to try to experience everything the game has to offer. Every quest, every side quest, every optional boss. But by the time I had finally finished the main story for Legend of Mana, I was ready to be done. That’s very unusual for me. There’s so much about this game is simply amazing and there’s no doubt that it was way ahead of its time. But on the other side of the coin, this game feels very chaotic and disjointed. It doesn’t flow well at all and the quirkiness that is littered throughout only makes makes me want to distance myself from it even more.
If you’re a fan of action JRPGs, than this game may very well be worth a look. There’s no doubt that is unique and interesting. But in the end, it left me scratching my head instead of nodding it.
Version Reviewed: PS4
Difficulty: Easy – I can’t speak for the original release. But combat in the PS4 version is not particularly difficult. Now, it does take a little getting used to at first. But, once you’ve acquainted yourself with the game and leveled up a bit, even the boss fights are mostly a cake walk. Upon completion of the game, players are able to start over and choose to play in either Hell mode of No Future mode. These new settings do considerably up the challenge quite a bit.
Multiplayer: Local Co-op.
Story: The main storyline is pretty well done. But by now, we’ve pretty much seen it all before. The various side quests and mini-events do present some cute and entertaining bits of storytelling. But it’s easy to get distracted with other tasks and thus, kill the momentum these stories are trying to build.
Originality: There’s plenty about this title that new and refreshing. My biggest complaint, however, is the way much of it was executed. The frustration and confusion that comes along with playing this game the first time (even after reading the manual) casts a pall over all of the new and original systems that are present.
Soundtrack: Here we have something that I have absolutely no issue with. The music is absolutely magical. This soundtrack ranks right up there with some of the classic Final Fantasy scores. The new “re-arranged” versions included in the remaster are absolutely delightful to listen to. But the original versions still hold up on their own, even today!
Fun: Even though I’ve voiced a number of complaints, make no mistake, I had a lot of fun playing through this game. In fact, it’s probably been my favorite Mana title since Final Fantasy Adventure. Still, there were plenty of spots in the game that left me wondering just what in the world was I supposed to do next, or systems that weren’t explained very well and impeded my progress. A shame.
Graphics: Again, one of the very best things about this title. The graphics in this game are spectacular. The hand-drawn backgrounds are gorgeous and the colorful sprites are really well done. The original release looked pretty good for its time. But this new remaster is absolutely stunning.
Playcontrol: Easily the best in the series so far. But even so, the game still suffered from some rather loose controls. For example, on more than one occasion I would find myself trying to walk down some stairs only to immediately find myself going back up in the opposite direction. I’ve only played this game on the PS4, so I can’t comment on how the play control might pan out on other systems.
Downloadable Content: None
Mature Content: None
Value: The remaster sells for around $30 new, which is a pretty fair price. Bargain hunters may want to try to catch it on sale, as it is occasionally sold at a discount. For collectors, the original PS1 release sells at wildly different prices on eBay. I’ve seen it go for anywhere from $5-$50. In the end, I certainly feel like the remaster gets you the most value.
Overall score (1-100): 80 – When it’s all said and done, I feel like Legend of Mana is only slightly better than the previously released Trials of Mana. I applaud the radical design choices in this game, but I feel like the execution was a bit flawed. Still, it’s a fun romp that’s incredibly unique. It’s not going to be everybody’s cup of tea, but that’s ok.
Original System: PS1
Available today on: PS4, Switch, PC – (Updated as of Fall 2023)
Best Experience: PS4 – (Updated as of Fall 2023)
Other Games in this Series:
Legend of Mana – Children of Mana – Heroes of Mana
Sword of Mana (FFA Remake) – Secret of Mana (Remake) – Trials of Mana (Remake)