Big fan of Japan, whiskey, and loud music.
PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch
June 24, 2021
Square Enix, M2 Co., Ltd.
Ahh, the Mana series. The once-proud third sibling in the Square Enix pantheon of RPGs, sitting a little behind Dragon Quest and a fair whack behind Final Fantasy, but consistently winning the hearts of JRPG fans across the world. Secret of Mana was a banger, Trials of Mana (Seiken Densetsu 3) was incredible and received a recent remake, and now comes Legend of Mana. Much like the series as a whole, Legend of Mana was and is the gawky third sibling, awkwardly existing somewhere between “beautiful playable storybook” and “maddening aimless journey”. I quite liked my time with Legend of Mana Remastered, a remaster that does a lot of legwork to make the unique JRPG feel at home on modern consoles, but does little to remedy some of the more glaring issues that existed way back in 1999.
Legend of Mana is very much the choose-your-own-adventure style RPG, in which you build your own world and complete quests within each piece of the world you create. Collecting artifacts as quest rewards will open up more pieces to place in your world, and so on and so forth. I found this game mechanic charming and oddly freeing; I was able to have some agency over my experience with Legend of Mana Remastered, and I think the game shines because of it.
Since this is a remaster of a 22-year-old game, I won’t dive too deeply into the plot, but the other side of the coin to the choose-your-own-adventure is that sometimes the adventure itself is hard to find. Highlighted in reviews when the game originally dropped, players must really earn their way through the game – holding onto small nuggets of plot and lore to seek out and uncover the wider narrative. I don’t particularly mind this method of story-delivery, however at times Legend of Mana Remastered felt like it was held back somewhat by this design choice, and perhaps some updates to the script and journal system could have helped remedy this.
As mentioned above, the story unfolds in small bite-sized quests, and steadily introduces you to the cast of weird and wonderful characters. The sprite artwork is cute and emotive, even in its pixelated form, with all manner of humanoid and animalistic individuals met across the hero’s journey. Where Legend of Mana truly shines is in its backdrops; beautiful, storybook styled graphics that grace the player’s eyes with a sense of nostalgia and warmth unlike anything I’ve played in a long time. Everything from caves, mountains, and riversides to the cobblestone city streets of the main towns, and the homely comfort of the hero’s home – every environment leaps off the screen and creates a truly aesthetically pleasing world to play in.
After each quest, you are treated to a title card that concludes that story and features a hand-drawn image of a character, place, or item featured in that quest. I find this to be one of the defining features of Legend of Mana and one of its most charming qualities; a sweet send-off that wraps up the last 20 – 40 minutes of gameplay. It serves as a convenient breakpoint as well, which is notoriously difficult to come by in classic RPGs as you can be locked into hours of gameplay with no save point in sight.
JRPGs are always a wonderland for the keen music fans out there, and the Mana series is no different. I still get tracks from Secret of Mana and Trials of Mana stuck in my head on a regular basis, and I am pleased that Legend of Mana also delivers on that front. While perhaps not as timeless and iconic as some of the heavy hitters in the genre, I found the Legend of Mana soundtrack to be filled with groove, emotion, and creativity that complimented the beautiful visuals splendidly.
“…the ability to switch off encounters, which is very handy when completing quests in older areas of the map where you may be overpowered”
One of the new features brought into Legend of Mana Remastered is the ability to swap between the original MIDI-based soundtrack and the brand new orchestrated soundtrack created for the remaster. Switching back and forth is easily done through the menus, and for the musically-minded gamers will be a cool feature to check out. Other new features include the ability to switch off encounters, which is very handy when completing quests in older areas of the map where you may be overpowered, and also the ability to quicksave. Also included is Ring Ring Land, a mini-game for the Pocket Station that has never been released in the West.
Truly, Legend of Mana Remastered is brimming with interesting mechanics and features, some that existed in the original 1999 release and new ones that have been added to the remaster. I particularly enjoyed the creature-capture system, which allows you to store monsters you have caught in the Corral at your Home, and then send those monsters into Ring Ring Land to level up and play an 8-bit board game. At times, Legend of Mana feels like the forgotten middle-step between JRPGs and games like Stardew Valley and Rune Factory – a blend between player-choice, overarching narrative, and day-in-the-life gameplay. You can collect seeds and grow fruit at the Mana Tree living in your backyard, and also fill out a journal in your room between quests. There is a library brimming with tomes of knowledge at your disposal, and you can even recruit and train two sorcerer companions to be your sidekicks.
Legend of Mana Remastered rounds out the 90s Mana titles to be brought onto modern consoles in a true-to-form remaster. Updated visuals and new features are certainly a nice touch, even if the narrative can be a challenge to earn. While the game shows its age in places, fans of the genre and Mana series as a whole will love returning to the world of Fa’Diel, or experience it for the first time.