The Mana series is a long running, revered and up until the last couple of years rather absent in the Europe JRPG market. Fortunately times and attitudes change and Square Enix have seen fit to sit us down by the fireplace and spin us a yarn, one called Legend of Mana.
Legend of Mana initially released on the Playstation 1 in Japan then the US while skipping out on us European lot. Headed up by the franchise creator and key staff who worked on both Chrono Trigger and the experimental playground that is the SaGa series, this game has a tonne of pedigree and comes from what is often hailed as the golden years of Square Enix, known then as SquareSoft.
Legend of Mana has the meat and bones of a PlayStation One title with a sprinkling of HD and touching up in some of the artwork. Fortunately the art direction from SquareSoft was so strong here it holds up really well and helps create a memorable and whimsical feel throughout the game.
I feel it’s important to point out where some of the staff came from prior to this game as people jumping in expecting another Trails or Secret of Mana may be initially quite shocked in what’s been placed in front of them, in my humble opinion this shares a fair amount of DNA with the SaGa series.
Legend of Mana doesn’t have the strongest narrative around, in fact the main story of regrowing the Mana tree actually takes a back seat for the bulk of the game, instead it’s the plethora of side quests which grow the world and its inhabitants quite literally at points.
You’re initially given the choice of what to name your character alongside the gender and then the first curveball comes in the form of “where would you like to start your story” followed by a world map.
It’s here you’ll start to notice, this isn’t your standard paint by numbers JRPG and the gameplay and narrative that follows also keeps that tone throughout.
Now while I’m skipping ahead a fair bit I will just say, play the game blind on your first time. World map placement and how you build the world around you affect what stories you can do, the order and how the game progresses but I never found it as much fun following a guide as I did just discovering something new on my own and piecing together the mystery over time.
Towns are split up into smaller sections which are accessed from a map screen with some beautiful artwork, while artistic it is kind of clunky and may not be for everyone.
Dungeons on the other hand are a standard exploration affair though more 2D side scrolling than you would expect, they can also be a pain to explore as you may miss paths due to the background art somewhat bleeding into itself.
Combat is your standard action role playing game affair much like the other “Mana” titles but again in more of a 2D side scrolling style. You have a standard attack and magic/techniques you can perform but overall the combat didn’t really do anything we haven’t seen or done a million times before.
As Side Quests make up the bulk of the game here it’s a relief to say that they are some of the most well written “mini” stories that range from silly fetch quests to engrossing character building tales.
As you do more of the side quests you unlock parts of the world, you decide where they go and there is a strategy to this where placement affects enemy types, recruitable party members and stories available.
Each time you place down a bit of the world you unlock more Mana which helps the Mana Tree grow, once this tree is fully formed you can access the end game section, this means you can and will miss a good bit of content on your first blind playthrough.
There are other elements to help keep you engaged such as crafting, pet raising using an awesome emulated version of the “Pocketstation” and even a build a mech story!.
I love Legend of Mana for how quirky and how it isn’t anything like Secret or Trials of Mana, instead it feels like a more accessible SaGa title and I applaud it for stepping out of the shadow of “Secret” and doing something different within the Mana world.
While it’s a fantastic game, the more obscure elements may put some off as will it’s age. If you’re a fan of Squaresoft Ps1 era titles though this is another obscure gem that you could do with adding to your collection.
A quirky and unique title in a long running series
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