Square Enix have been on a winning streak with their remastered releases as of late, with classic titles such as SaGa Frontier, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, and Romancing SaGa 3 all seeing new releases on modern consoles. That’s just scratching the surface too, with plenty of other titles having released and also due to launch in the near future – heck, the first six entries in the Final Fantasy series are getting ‘Pixel Perfect’ remasters soon, so it shows that the company’s back catalogue still has its strengths. The most recent release has been Legend of Mana, with the PlayStation RPG seeing a variety of impressive enhancements to bring it into the modern age.
Does it hold up well twenty-two years on from its original release or should it have stayed back in 1999? Well… it’s a bit of both, really. Whilst Legend of Mana is fun to play and certainly looks the part, it’s clear that some aspects of its design do feel a bit dated today.
Check out a gallery of screenshots for the game down below:
Legend of Mana tells an intriguing story, with the player taking on the role of one of two nameless protagonists as they look to seek out the magical Mana Tree. The thing is, the land itself is unclear and empty, with the player having to sculpt it along the journey through the use of peculiar artifacts that had previously shaped the world. Sounds a little off the wall, right? Thankfully, the game goes into a little more depth, with three story arcs and countless side quests making up the narrative. It’s all run of the mill stuff as far as RPGs go really, but it’s fun and there are plenty of quirky scenarios taking place that add to the game’s slightly bizarre vibe.
Now you might have read that I mentioned you have to ‘sculpt the world’ as you play and thought, ‘what the hell is he talking about?’. Basically, Legend of Mana adopts the Land Creation System, which sees players placing land nodes by using special artifacts across the wide-open world map. When placed, players can then enter that locale and explore it, with each bringing with it a questline to complete in order to continue progression through the game (a lot of these are optional, but it’s always worth completing everything that the game has to offer). When completed, players will typically earn a new artifact that can be used to introduce a new location into the world map, allowing them to continue their journey.
“Legend of Mana is very open-ended in design and isn’t really forthcoming in telling players what they have to do, so placing artifacts on a map and exploring this array of locations direction-less could be a little frustrating.”
I’ve probably made it sound a little too simple there, because the system can actually feel a bit daunting at first – especially since you probably won’t really having a clue what you’re doing or where you’re supposed to go. Legend of Mana is very open-ended in design and isn’t really forthcoming in telling players what they have to do, so placing artifacts on a map and exploring this array of locations direction-less could be a little frustrating. I couldn’t help but to feel like I was doing something wrong or missing things along the way; I’m a bit of a completionist, so the lack of direction could get a bit overwhelming.
You know what, though? Once it started to click, I actually had a fun time with the system. It’s so unconventional in design yet it works quite well when you get in the groove, with it giving players plenty of flexibility in how they approach the game. It gives the player a greater sense of discovery, with the satisfaction of exploration one of Legend of Mana’s key strengths. It also helps that you can turn off random encounters when exploring these areas too, which can alleviate some stress during the moments where you don’t have a clue what you’re supposed to be doing.
“The Land Creation System is so unconventional in design yet it works quite well when you get in the groove, with it giving players plenty of flexibility in how they approach the game.”
I will be honest though, I checked a walkthrough online in order to learn the best way to work the system. I know, I know, I SHOULD be learning it myself, but Legend of Mana’s old-school approach of teaching the player next to nothing left me a bit too puzzled. When I read up on the system though? I was good as gold and had fun tinkering around. I would have definitely enjoyed the game less without it, so don’t be ashamed to use a guide if you’re getting a bit annoyed with how aimless Legend of Mana can be. Don’t get me wrong, you can progress without one with no problems… it’ll probably just take a lot longer and involve a lot of annoying trial-and-error.
Whilst not exploring the lands, speaking with each one’s inhabitants, and completing quests, players can expect to indulge in their fair share of combat against all sorts of nasties. Encounters are plentiful but quick-paced, with the player controlling their character in real-time as they dish out attacks and move around the battlefield. The core mechanics are simple, but it’s fleshed out with the variety of weapons players have access to that strengthen them in different ways. Your weapon choice affects how you level up too, with different weapons focusing on different stats. Each weapon choice brings with it a variety of different skills, so mixing up your arsenal can be vital to defeating some of Legend of Mana’s more challenging bosses (which all look really impressive in-game and feature some stellar sprite work, might I add).
“Combat encounters are plentiful but quick-paced, with the player controlling their character in real-time as they dish out attacks and move around the battlefield.”
My only real complaint when it comes to combat would be with the camera angle, which can often make it difficult to tell if your attacks are lining up perfectly with each enemy. It’s something you will get used to the more you play, but there were a handful of occasions where I thought I’d lined up the perfect hits only for them to miss completely.
Between all of the exploration and battling, players will spend their time in the home hub that acts like a base of operations. There’s a lot they can do here too, with basic things such as crafting gear, looking after plants, and raising pets all helping make the journey go a lot smoother. Interestingly, there’s a ‘Ring-Ring Land’ mini-game that can be played when raising up the strength of pets, which is a feature that wasn’t originally included in the Western release of the game. It started life as an extra for Sony’s PocketStation handheld, which explains the retro-style LCD display in-game. In honesty, there’s not much to it and it’s a little random in nature, but it’s still a cool addition – especially since you can bring those pets into combat with you.
“The visuals look great, with an air of freshness to everything in the game that also maintains the old-school purity of the original.”
I’ve got to give a shout out to the presentation of Legend of Mana, with it utilizing the same visual style that players will remember but also giving it a fresh lick of paint. The backgrounds have been re-created to look smoother in-game and fit the new widescreen presentation, whilst the sprites look just like they did back in the original game (albeit smoother with the higher resolution). Together, the visuals look great, with an air of freshness to everything in the game that also maintains the old-school purity of the original. I was a big fan.
In all, Legend of Mana has all of the tools to offer players a really enjoyable RPG experience. I just wish that it gave a little bit more help to the player, with the aforementioned confusion with the lands, the lack of direction in quests, and some needlessly awkward mechanics making the experience a little tough for RPG newbies. Heck, you’ve even got to re-visit the home hub every time you finish a quest to hand it in, which is a really dated mechanic in 2021. These aren’t issues that make Legend of Mana bad by any means, but they could’ve been addressed just to make the experience more accessible for newcomers to the game.
Legend of Mana is a thoroughly enjoyable RPG that has stood the test of time, but a lack of direction might make it rough for genre newbies. I’ve admitted myself that I had to use a walkthrough to get the most out of the game – I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it quite as much if I didn’t.
I did though, and it really allowed me to appreciate the intricacy of the world, all of the little zany quests it has to offer, and the enjoyable action-orientated combat mechanics. Legend of Mana does something different with its old-school RPG offering, but it comes together to make for a good time. Just don’t be afraid to look for a walkthrough online when you’re playing.
Developer: Square Enix, M2
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC