Review – Legend of Mana
The Mana series has been incredibly popular every since they first appeared in the 90s. A series of JRPGs featuring adorable characters and classic top-down perspective and RPG elements have won over fans for decades. Legend of Mana is the fourth game in the series following Trials of Mana, and was originally released back in 1999 from publisher Square (now Square Enix). After over twenty years, Legend of Mana has been fully remastered and made available for modern consoles. Fans of Mana, rejoice!
Legend of Mana is a bit different from the other installments of the series wherein it doesn’t have one single overarching plot. Instead, it really changed up the formula by being comprised of many shorter individual quests. While several of these quests do relate to one another, not all of them do. In this way it feels somewhat similar to The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, where the bulk of the game is made up of smaller quests and storylines as opposed to one giant continuing epic. This also means that, much like Majora’s Mask, Legend of Mana won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
The story is pretty bare bones for the most part, since this game is much more character-focused. You play as a silent, unnamed protagonist, but you can at least decide to play as a male or female, as well as which weapon you wish to start out with. This decision has no bearing on the outcome of the story. All there really is to tell of the plot is that it is set in the fantasy world of Fa’Diel. The Mana Tree, a mystical tree that provides Fa’Diel with all of its life and mana, was burned nearly a thousand years prior to the events of the game. It’s up to you to help restore the Mana Tree and rebuild the world.
Speaking of the world, this is another area where Legend of Mana shook up the traditional formula. Instead of having a fixed world map to traverse through, the map of Fa’Diel is completely empty when you first start. The first thing you’ll do is decide where to set up your home by placing a mailbox wherever you’d like. After exploring your home, you’ll discover an Artifact. This can then be used to place anywhere else on the map, which will result in a new land opening up for you to explore.
I really love this concept in theory, but the problem is that each of the lands have to be placed in such a way that they can connect to one another without getting cutoff by the borders of the map or being wedged in too tightly with other lands. If each land doesn’t get its full area to expand upon, then certain quests won’t be available. The game doesn’t tell you this and offers no advice or details on how to set up your map. I was about halfway through my first game when I learned about this, but by then it was too late to make adjustments and I’d lost out on several missions.
Honestly, that’s a pretty big detriment to Legend of Mana in general. I like when games don’t hold your hand too much, like that obnoxious golden trail used in the Fable games, but Legend of Mana offers almost no help whatsoever. It’s nearly impossible to set up the lands just right or uncover all of the quests without the aid of a guide. This was a common complaint with it when it first released and I was shocked to find out that it hadn’t been altered in this remaster to make things more user-friendly. Or at the very least competently explained.
That brings me to the next baffling disappointment with Legend of Mana: the combat. I say baffling because there was absolutely no quality of life upgrades to the combat system whatsoever. This has a real-time combat system with special ability bars that fill as you fight, but it’s incredibly clunky. The characters can only attack from left to right, not up or down. You can move in all four directions, but you can’t aim any attacks above or below you, so trying to hit enemies becomes a mess.
The hit detection is often unreliable as well. Sometimes it will look like you’re swinging right where they are, but they’ll be ever so slightly higher or lower than your direct plane of attack, so it won’t register the hits. Thankfully, this remaster features an option to turn off all encounters, so you can avoid extra battles if you so wish. I did after a while and was happier for it.
Thankfully, even though I might have disappointed by the areas of the game that weren’t revamped, the art and sound designs were fully redone. The art style has the original pixelated sprites set against vibrant, fully hand-drawn backgrounds. It’s a stark contrast, but one that fits the feel of the game very well. It’s not quite as striking and dynamic as those found in Octopath Traveler, which had pixelated sprites set against more realistic looking backgrounds with dramatic lighting, but considering Legend of Mana is a lot lighter in tone than Octopath Traveler, I feel that this style is a bit more appropriate.
The soundtrack has been completely updated and it sounds wonderful. Each area has its own distinct music, which makes them feel more unique. The general melodies have remained the same from the original version, but have been cleaned up and enhanced with more instruments. There’s also an option to switch back and forth between the original soundtrack and the modern one, which was pretty fun to play around with.
I enjoyed this remaster of Legend of Mana. It kept the same feel of the original (almost to a fault), so any fans of this classic adventure will undoubtedly love this remaster. It’s gorgeous to look at and listen to while you enjoy the journey. I really wish there had been quality of life improvements to the combat and better explanations of how to set up the map though. Those areas are the only thing keeping this version of Legend of Mana from being truly great. However, if you have ever been a fan of the Mana series, then you should still definitely check it out.
The sprites still retain the same look at the original, but they are set against completely remade hand-drawn environments.
None of the gameplay has been given any quality of life improvements, so it still retains all of the inconsistencies and clunkiness of the original version.
The entire soundtrack has been redone, but you can still switch to the original soundtrack if you wish.
This remastered version of Legend of Mana still has all of the charm and fun of the original and is far more delightful to look at. I wish there had been improvements to the combat though, as it’s still very awkward.
Final Verdict: 7.5
Legend of Mana is available now on PC, PS4, and Switch.
Reviewed on PS4.
A copy of Legend of Mana was provided by the publisher.