Retro Review: Legend of Mana (PS1)

Legend of Mana is one of the very first games that I’ve played on the back in the early 00’s. Since it’s about the same age as AME, it would be fitting to revisit and review it now that i’m older and can actually comprehend the game. Does the game hold up after 17 years, or has the Legend of Mana been lost to time?

 

©Square, 1999

About the game

Legend of Mana is actually the fourth game in the Mana series (Or Seiken Densetsu in Japan), which started with Seiken Densetsu for the GameBoy. You might also know it by its American release title: Final Fantasy Adventure. Yes, the Mana series is a spinoff franchise to the original FF game, and it was also handled by Squaresoft. Legend of Mana is considered a classic PlayStation JRPG, ranking 48 on famitsu’s top 100 playstation games of all time and getting persistent re-releases through the years.

Story

©Square, 1999

Let’s start with what many consider to be the weaker aspect of Legend of Mana: The story. The premise of the game is that the Tree of Mana, the source of all mana and life, burned down some time ago in the past. When that happened, the various beings of the world(Humans, beasts, faeries, etc.), waged war against one another to get whatever power remained. Once the war died down, however, the Tree of Mana started to regrow. You are the hero that’s tasked to rebuild the world by collecting artifacts which the Tree of Mana used as containers for various lands. Once you obtain them, you can use them to restore the land to its former state, one area at a time.

 

At first glance, the game might seem directionless, as it does very little in the way of telling you where to go and what needs to be done. This gives the game a very “Wandering” feel to it. That philosophy pretty much extends throughout the whole game, as there isn’t an explicit main narrative to be followed while playing. As you wander around, you’ll meet various people that will give you different sidequests so you’ll have something to do. These quests are completely easy to miss aside from a few key ones that’ll trigger the next arc (loosely used in this context) of the game. This process of “wander till you progress” repeats for a total of three “arcs” until you get to the end of the game.

 

©Square, 1999

While it can get downright confusing, the game does allow for a customizable story experience; and while there is no main plot, the various interactions that you get is satisfying enough to keep you hooked in. Since the game chose to tell its story through its people, it does a good enough job to make sure that you’ll be interested in a lot, if not all, of them so that you won’t miss the big picture. A big chunk of the game’s lore also lies within item and character descriptions that you unlock as you meet other people and collect more items. As I mentioned earlier, wandering is the name of the game, and the unpredictability of who and what you might encounter next has its own, adventure-y charm. There’s even a twist at the end that gives the game an extra kick, which isn’t bad for a supposed “sidequest bonanza”.

 

Gameplay

©Square, 1999

The gameplay, similar to the story, is something that seems confusing at the start due to the game not giving any explicit info at the start. It then starts presenting itself to be a deep and fully customizable aspect with a lot of easy-to-miss things in it. When it does do something explicit, however, it does so using text walls. This seems to be a common thread between the two, which can be a headache when combined into one game.

 

©Square, 1999

To elaborate, Legend of Mana features the aforementioned sidequest format with multiple pathing, a grid-based world-building mechanic, item crafting, pet/familiar-raising, and a real-time combat system which is a big departure from FF’s turn-based combat. Herein lies one of the complaints I had while starting out with this game. Each of these systems are already complex enough on their own, and while there are basic tutorials in-game that you can access through dialogue, taking it all in is an entirely different beast. While it’s far from impossible, having a guide for this game wouldn’t hurt you the slightest. Here are some of the things that I had to consider while playing through the game: Placing new lands requires you to consider what nature of mana they produce since they affect the type of enemies that’ll spawn there and in their surrounding areas; Sidequests can get locked out depending on your land placement; 11 distinct weapon types exist in the game which serves as the game’s classes, and you can individually level each of them; There are way over a hundred different maneuvers you can unlock by using existing ones in tandem repeatedly; Passives and special arts also have their own extensive list which can be difficult to manage.

 

©Square, 1999

On another, not-so related note, the real-time combat is what made me stick with the game more that the turn-based combat that was more prevalent in JRPGs during the game’s heyday. While controlling your character can get a little fidgety at times and aiming can be sketchy, having your character move and attack in real time can arguably provide you with a more thrilling and immersive feel as opposed to having the combat be turn-based.

 

Concerning multiple branching, the game is most certainly intended for multiple playthrough, and it even provides you with a more challenging alternative to the game on replays. One such alternative turns all enemies into level 99, which is there if you’re into inflicting pain on yourself.

Audiovisual

The music and art for Legend of Mana still do hold up to some degree after all these years. The music is wonderful, which is helped by the fact that Shinomura Yoko of Kingdom Hearts fame did the score for the game. Kameoka Shinichi, a regular for the Mana series, did the art for the game, giving it a very lovely, distinct, high fantasy storybook-looking style. As I was playing the original PSone version, the resolution and color filters doesn’t seem to do justice to the art which is unfortunate. Nostalgia aside, the game does a good job of providing you with a homely atmosphere when needed, and a frantic feeling when it calls for one. There really isn’t much more to say aside from it’s great, but if I do have a complaint about the audiovisual presentation of the game–specifically the art–I would say that the designs for some human characters can get a bit too cluttered. Again, looking at the high resolution version of the assets seem to fix that, but it’s still a bit disappointing to see it look weird in-game.

 

©Square, 1999

©Square, 1999

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overall

I would say that Legend of Mana does live up to its reputation 17 years from its initial American release, even if you are a person who doesn’t dwell much on RPGs or JRPGs (like me). However, it is recommended to play this game with a guide, regardless of whether you just want to experience the game’s narrative or you want to fully explore its systems and subsystems. You can still play it without one, but expect to get stuck at certain points in the game until you wander  enough to find what you’re supposed to be looking for.
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