Despite the stellar reputation and good commercial performance of the first three Mana games, all of which followed a similar formula and gameplay template, Square never returned to that style with the remaining games in the franchise. Instead, it experimented heavily with each game, creating something that is only connected by name.
The first title that started this trend was Legend of Mana o the PS1, which aimed not only to subvert the expectations on its series but all expectations on RPGs in general. It deviates in nearly every way from the games of the past and those of its own era for better or worse.
Unfortunately, other than the decision to go with extremely beautiful hand-drawn 2D graphics instead of the prevalent polygonal style of the day, every other deviation doesn't lead to a better experience.
#A60: Legend of Mana:
Year: 1999. 2000.
Genre: Action RPG.
First things first, I am changing my rating system to a simpler 10 point system. Games that get above a 7 I fully recommend, and those that get below that are mostly a waste of time. That leaves the score of 7 to depend on your taste.
"Remember me! Need me! I can provide you with everything! I am Love! Find me, and walk beside me"
The first and arguably most significant departure the game takes is in how it chooses to tell its story. Set in a world destroyed by the burning of the great Mana tree and the subsequent conflicts over the remaining scarce resources, the here is tasked with recreating the world and reviving the Mana tree.
Except, that's what I think the hero is tasked with because there is no explanation for what you are doing and why you are doing it.
Basically, you start at a region in the map, and you are armed with an "artifact" in which you plop into place and create your home. Another "artifact" is then given to you, and that one makes a town. The entire game has you gaining these "artifacts" which you can then place in varying order. Both the order of placement and the locations have some effects that are poorly explained, but that's not what's important. What's important is what that does to the structure of the game.
You can theoretically craft the world in the order you want
Every location you put on the map has its own sets of characters and related stories, which in any other game would be considered "side-quests". Here, these side-quests, which can be tackled in chaotic and non-linear order are the bulk of the given story. This means that depending on how you put your "artifacts", and the amount of backtracking you do to check on older ones, you reveal more or less of the story.
This non-linear story style would be seriously terrible if the sections of the story you reveal aren't that good, which is thankfully not the case here. At its best, the story in Legend of Mana is like a collection of loosely related and sparsely told fairy tales. These are given life thanks to a colorful and interesting cast of characters that are helped by expertly localized dialogue.
While this does spare the game's narrative from being a completely negative aspect of the game, this doesn't mean that game's story doesn't suffer from its segmented nature and lack of guiding arc. That's most evident when you are trying to reveal more of the story by revisiting places you have been to without any hints or guidance.
This leaves you with the equally bad options of being lost in the game's story or having to consult a guide.
"We can't get to the top without the flame of hope in our hearts"
I think that Legend of Mana's non-linear story and disjointed progression would be less of an issue if the gameplay was consistently engaging and fun, which, unfortunately, isn't. Like any RPG, the gameplay is divided into two parts: the actual combat and the preparation that supports it
Following the series's style of action RPG gameplay, the combat is real-time action-focused. Where the previous games had a top-down style that isn't very different from The Legend of Zelda, this one is closer to brawlers with its side-scrolling action with multiple lanes.
Your character can move freely around the battlefield, but they can only attack enemies in their lane. The basic attack can be combined with heavy attacks, and there are multiple skills that can help you evade attacks or move you into better positions. As you attack, you fill a meter which allowed you to use powerful special. moves. Supporting you in battle is one CPU-controlled ally and a monster pet.
Other than against bosses, battles unfortunately get boring after a while
In theory, the battle system has a lot of promise. However, it's too slow and sluggish and ends up being repetitive and boring. This is especially obvious with how easy the game usually is (until you reach some inexplicable difficulty spikes). After several dungeons, I was just flat-out bored by the extremely repetitive nature of combat.
The feeling of boredom is compounded by feeling a definite lack of progression. Your allies are random and cannot be customized, while your pets may become under-leveled due to the obtuse leveling mechanic (unless you get a certain rare item, the pets must physically gather experience shards from defeated enemies, but the AI is stupid and doesn't get them before they vanish).
"Items may bring new beginnings. Cherish what you encounter in life"
Admittedly, maybe the sense of character stagnation is due to my own lack of engagement with the game's two ain preparation systems: the monster raising and the equipment crafting. However, in my defense, I didn't plan to get a degree in alchemy when I started playing this game.
Seriously, the sub-systems in this game are so involved and convoluted that I feel they require a degree of some kind to be mastered. There are tons of items you can use in crafting and rating monsters, each with its own effects and combinations. Successfully doing anything requires several rounds of expensive trial and error if you don't grasp the "theory" of these systems.
Fans of the game have figured out ways to completely break it, crafting extremely powerful weapons early, and reducing the little challenge the game has. Of course, this is its own kind of fun, but that's not the kind I'm looking for.
I really don't
Instead, I am left grappling with an obtuse and needlessly convoluted system that I barely want to engage with. Luckily, thanks to the forgiving nature of the game, I rarely need to at all. Ironically, thanks to how the game unfolds, you may play more than half the game without ever unlocking any of these systems at all.
Unfortunately, despite the game being ripe for other activities to do other than combat and preparing for combat, there is little else to do in the Legend of Mana world. This is a shame since it would have been nice to engage more with the game's quirky characters. At least, I wished there was more to the world-building part of the game.
"He ha the blood of a demon in him, and he posses absolute power. He will become the king of both worlds"
Despite my best attempts at enjoying the game, I am simply sad that I just couldn't. I am sad because this is a game that was obviously crafted with a lot of love and talent behind it. Just a cursory look at the game's brilliant graphics and unique artistic design is enough to prove that.
Seriously, the game's choice for going with 2D hand-drawn backgrounds and sprites justifies itself with a vengeance. This is a beautiful-looking game. The backgrounds are gorgeous, conveying such a lush tapestry of colors and images that could be some of the best graphics (if not THE best) on the PS1.
The large and moving mountain sprite is a masterwork
This is supported by some truly unique and revolutionary sprite-work that conveys the unique design of the Legend of Mana world. Each of the game's many named NPCs features its own hugely imaginative design, from a sentient teapot to a centaur bard.
In fact, I would say that the game's graphics didn't need any work for the remastered version of the game, because it still looks s damn good on the PS1's original hardware.
Not to be undone by the graphics, the soundtrack is also excellent. In fact, this is one of Yoko Shimomura's own personal favorite soundtracks, and it isn't difficult to understand why. From an absolutely gorgeous title track, the game opens with an interesting Swedish vocal song, and the soundtrack rarely dips in quality at all.
The game's tracks convey the unique world of the game successfully, and they add a mysterious and soulful quality to the game's narrative when it needs to, and moments of excitement when the action calls for it. In fact, it makes it a little bit difficult to choose some favorite tracks like I usually like to, so I am just going to mention the "Title Theme" which is typical to Shimomura, and "To the Sea" which is more energetic and may remind you of her later Mario & Luigi soundtracks.
This scenery deserves a stellar soundtrack
Unfortunately, one minor criticism of the soundtrack is due to the game's random sequencing. It may cause some tracks to repeat a tad too often, and it may sometimes lead to an incorrect build-up of musical dram. It's like listening to a symphony randomly spliced together.
But it still sounds great in front of some amazing graphics.
Mostly, I feel a bit disappointed that I didn't like The Legend of Mana as much as I hoped I would. Right of the bat, I knew that the game's non-linear narrative and style would need a lot of work through its gameplay to win me over.
Unfortunately, that ended up being the game's weakest part, since I could forgive its disjointed story but could never forgive its boring gameplay and combat.
Sadly, the game's weaknesses absolutely betrayed the major strengths in graphics and sound that it had. If it had the gameplay and story that it deserved, I am sure that this would have been one of the best games on the PS1.
1-Always talk to the little cactus vase next to your bed after each mission.
2-Find the item that distributes experience points evenly and always equip it.
3-Check the books in your house for some useful information.
4-Use different attack commands to unlock different ones.
5-using different commands also unlock different moves.
6-Using different weapons upgrade your character differently.
7-Maybe use a guide to figure out what you need to do.
8-Maybe ignore all the superfluous stuff around the game to enjoy it more.
The battles should have been much more fun to justify these excellent sprites
For those reading one of my PS1 review blogs for the first time, here is the basic concept:
I already reviewed both major Generation 4 consoles, and am now to review Generation 5 consoles. I already finished reviewing the Sega Saturn, so I am now reviewing the PS1. In these reviews, I take a top 100 games list and review the games that interest me in that list.
This time, my review series is based on this list from Retro Sanctuary along with other sources, since the PS1 can handle a list bigger than a top 100.
Also, note the following:
-If you have any suggestions for a game that is not on the Retro Sanctuary list that I should review, please suggest it.
-Make a bet on each game to check whether Chris Charter played it or not.
Is that a Chocobo running an inn
I really wanted to like this game. It's just too damn gorgeous not to love, but it simply was too boring to play, and that's never a good thing. Maybe if I played it when I was younger, I would have just been absorbed in its beautiful world and sounds, but not today.
The next game on the addendum list is another "cult classic" that doesn't feature in Retro Sanctuary's streamlined top 100 PS1 games list. Kartia: The World of Fate is an RPG made by Atlus, who were yet to be widely known in the West as they are now, and it is supposedly a really good game. Here is hoping for a hidden gem. So my experience with the Oddworld franchise wasn't rewarding after all. Although I like the satirical edge, the gameplay was ultimately too boring for me.
The next game to be reviewed in the list should be the rhythm-focused cult-favorite, PaRappa the Rapper at #62. However, a remaster was already released on the PS4, and the game is very poorly calibrated in comparison to today's Rhythm games. As such, I am going ahead and writing a report on the top 70-61 games in the Retro Sanctuary Top 100 PS1 Games list, and then going to the addendum list with a playthrough and review of Legend of Mana.
For Previous PS1 Game Reviews: