Legend of Mana

   Legend of Mana is not Secret of Mana updated for a modern system. The two games differ in almost every way possible. Both games feature a "storybook" style of graphics, the Mana Tree, and the same type of weapons but the similarities end there. That having been said, don't write off Legend of Mana as a failed Square experiment. Just be aware that it is, in many ways, just that: an experiment.
Ding dong, Avon calling

   If you're insistent upon comparing Legend of Mana to another Square game, the one it most resembles is not Secret of Mana but rather Saga Frontier II. The most striking difference between Secret of Mana and Legend of Mana is the non-linear storyline that Legend of Mana features. Legend of Mana's main plot, assuming there is one, is buried beneath mountains of mostly irrelevant yet entertaining subplots.

Character select
Select a character to begin your quest

   Thus, the quality of the storyline is a mixed bag. For the most part, the subplots are short enough to avoid wearing out their welcome and are usually entertaining enough to pique interest. Unfortunately, some plots are seemingly abandoned just as they are starting to get interesting while others tend to drag on aimlessly. What at first appears to be a major plot point can turn into a forgotten detail in a matter minutes; an interesting character among the cast of thousands can wander off and be forgotten. Gamers insisting upon a coherent, well developed storyline will likely find Legend of Mana's meandering style to be frustrating at best and infuriating at worst.

 Map screen
Landmake at work

   The game is held together by amazing storybook graphics and a fun battle system. They illustrate the light-hearted tone of the game to perfection while maintaining an immaculate level of detail. The one drawback to the ambitious level of graphical detail and animation is that the PlayStation at times has trouble keeping up. Animated backgrounds, three to five enemies on screen at once, and three characters add up to occasional slowdowns during battle, which can be a significant annoyance for the real-time battle system.

Facing a familiar foe

   The battle system is unique and enjoyable, but vastly different from Secret of Mana's. First off all, enemies are, for the most part, unavoidable, and there is a battle mode that is separate from the exploration mode. Battles are still conducted in real-time hack and slash, but there are several added elements. The triangle and circle buttons are assigned to a special movement or attack, such as a backflip or a slide tackle. The X button is a quick attack, and the square button is a stronger attack that leaves you briefly vulnerable. Combining the four elements allows you to learn a multitude of weapon-specific super-attacks that keep battles fresh. Unfortunately, the game's difficulty balance is well out of whack. The game's style may indicate it is being aimed at younger audiences, thus an easier game is suitable. Be aware, however, that bosses provide next to no challenge, and what little challenge that exists is diminished by the fact that characters revive automatically after a short time.

   The non-linear plot allows for a high replay value, however. Revisiting areas provides surprises and new plotlines, and characters completely overlooked in one round through the game can suddenly become key players another time through. As is now a Square custom, bored players can spend hours on minigames like growing fruit, preparing pet monsters for battle, or engineering battle-companion golems. The game's weapon, armor, and musical instrument creation system allows gamers to experiment with different metals and magical adjustments to equipment, though it's not necessary. Stock weaponry and armor is more than enough to get through the game's battles.

   Legend of Mana tries to assemble various pieces of plots into one beautiful game, but can't quite pull it off. The gameplay is fun, but the lack of cohesion can lead to frustration. Square's experiment succeeds on some levels, but at the end you can't help but feel that Square turned a potential masterpiece into just an above average game.

Review by Andrew Kaufmann, GIA.
Legend of Mana
Developer Square
Publisher Square
Genre Action RPG
Medium CD (2)
Platform PlayStation
Release Date  07.15.99
Legend of Mana release date moved up
108 screenshots
World map
U.S. box art