The Charming Mana Series in Another Generation
Legend of Mana is the fourth title in the Mana series, but only the third one released outside of Japan, while being the first on the fifth generation of consoles. The Mana series is known as Seiken Densetsu in Japan, the first one was released worldwide as Final Fantasy Adventure, for the Game Boy. The second game was released as The Secret of Mana, which became a classic for the SNES. The third one never came out outside of Japan, which is Seiken Densetsu 3, and what might be the best game in the series, you can play via good fan-translated versions.
(This game will be really hard to explain)
Legend of Mana is not only the next title after those, as well as the first game on the next generation, having come out for the PSOne. But keeping the 2D art style, not trying to go 3D like every other series was doing. The perspective changes a bit, to more of a side view, not so much from the top as the previous games. The story progression design is very different and very unique for its time, I can’t think of a game that did something like this. Basically, the game doesn’t have one big and clear main plot, it doesn’t have one big villain, and you’re not the center of the stories. The game has a bunch of events (60, I believe) and each of them are part of a story, some of them are connected, but most of them aren’t. And you’ll be a presence in that story, not the main force driving it, generally, it comes down to you helping other characters, which would be the protagonists in those story arcs.
You don’t have a party like the traditional JRPGs, you’re one person, either a guy or a girl, that you can choose at the beginning of the game. You can have up to 3 people in your group, being one other character from the story that you are going through (some stories you do alone also) and that character can be controlled by your friend, having some 2 Player fun. But you’ll keep changing between around half a dozen of characters, or maybe more. The third spot in your party belongs to a companion, and this is one of the most impressive things about this game, and what made me love it so much at the time. Your character simply has a regular simple house, in that house you have a barn, later you unlock the possibility to capture eggs, from those eggs you can raise monsters. It’s almost 100 different options (you just have to find the right eggs and be lucky), and you put one of them in your party to fight alongside you, it’s amazing and they’re so charming.
On the other side of your house, there’s a cave, where you’ll unlock a blacksmith room where you can craft weapons and armor, but also you’ll have a Golem Creation room. Yes, that’s right, a GOLEM CREATION room, where you can just put together some weapons that you don’t use, combine it with some special items and boom, you just created a Golem made out of metal (it’s basically a robot) that can also fight alongside you on that third slot in the party. I 90% of the time rather have a monster pet, but a golem is also cool. The companion slot is up to you, you can have it filled all the time, just the second character slot that it’s determined by the story you’re following or you can, most of the time, just go pick someone up before going into a dungeon.
So, as I said, your character has a house. That house is one piece of the world, you can leave the area and go to an empty overworld map. Where you’ll just see an empty land, and through the game, you’ll unlock AF Items, which are basically artifacts that you can “plant” on a spot in the world map for them to become a new place for you to go, either a City or a Dungeon. Each City will provide a bunch of events and each Dungeon will probably be played multiple times, each time with a different path and story to it. Like I said before about the game not having one main big plot, you’ll unlock a bunch of AF fast and you can simply go through the story events at basically ANY order you want. That was amazing for a PSOne game, it’s really impressive for its time.
The game tells you that the artifacts grow by the power of imagination, basically. Since it’s a mana game, it has to involve something with the mana tree. Speaking about trees, besides the already mentioned Coral and Blacksmith Cave, your house will also have a big talking tree that you can cultivate seeds to become some useful items, like fruits. That you can use to capture new pet monsters. Those can be captured by you finding an egg in a dungeon, the egg will have legs and walk around, he’ll be scared of you, so you need to put some food on the ground and wait for him to eat it, if he likes it enough, he’ll fall asleep and then you can grab it to raise it. All the monsters have amazing art style, I’m a big fan of the designs in the Mana series, they have some of the best monsters of any video games. Having some of them as pets are a big plus for me. The characters also feel distinct between one another, varying from Humans, to humanoid varied from animals, like a rabbit person, a cat person and so on. The animations are remarkably well done when a character is mad or sad, you can sense it, that also comes with some of the best dialogue writing from that era. And it’s all perfectly completed with an absurdly well-made hand-drawn background, that gives so much charm to the game. Combining the amazing hand-drawn detail, with the charming humor, as well as the character reactions, it’s one of the games that I enjoy the most by looking at it.
The soundtrack is one of my favorites of all time, the PSOne is phenomenal on that department, and this game has one of the best from that system, every RPG fan would love to hear it. It’s not repetitive, it knows how to accompany the tension when it comes to huge battles, it has amazing relaxing songs in the cities, and so on. One thing that the game didn’t shy away from moving to the PSOne was having what a bunch of games from the console went hard for, an amazing opening cinematic when you boot the game, it always used to get me hyped. The loading screen had something cool as well, it’s basically a representation of the Mana Tree, and how far you’re in the game, it starts with a really small plant, that keeps growing the more you progress through the story. A bunch of the events involves some type of core that some people have on their chests (yes, like Iron Man), which is what makes them still be alive and be important. Some of those events are silly things like helping a merchant go through a dungeon. That’s a nice perspective on a series that always has the same focus, of mana tree and its stones.
So, the gameplay, you go to the dungeons, or whatever the events take you, running through areas with a sideways view camera, the combat is very simple to pick up but amazingly deep. You have a light and heavy attack button, while the other two buttons can be used to do other things, like jump, crouch, grab, guard, etc. You start with all those simple things, but the thing is, you can unlock other options of command, for example, if you map your triangle and circle buttons to be jump and crouch, you can press them at the same time to perform a high-jump, if you do that enough times you’ll unlock the high-jump to be mapped on only one button, if you use something like roll and jump, you can unlock some gymnastic moves. And you can later combine the ones you unlock to learn even more advanced moves. It’s amazing to see that being done on a PSOne RPG. It was really smart and with a perfect design.
During the battles the game also has some different approaches, for example, you can’t use items in battle, like in all other JRPGs. It’s just a straight up fight, if your character fall, its HP will slowly start to recover while it’s still down. Then your partner and/or your pet has to stay alive until the bar is full, for you to ress. Same thing if an NPC falls, you can’t die during that time or it’ll be a defeat. There’s no mana system, you simply have to hit the enemies to fuel a second bar that can be consumed for you to use a special attack, just like in fighting games. You can also perform some attacks like quarter-circle plus heavy attack to do a different hit or combine light with heavy attacks, or a ton of other motions. It’s basically a combination of an RPG and a Fighting game. Some characters may have, instead of special attacks, traditional magic, which has been one of the weaker gameplay lairs for the mana series, but here it’s a bit more creative.
Another lair – yes, another one – that the game has when it comes to all these systems in your house. Is that you later unlock an “Instrumental creator” in your Blacksmith cave, where you can craft magical instruments that can do magic. You basically combine some items to create any type of instruments you want, or you just buy instruments from the shop. Then the systems go even further, you can now find, at some points in dungeons, spirits that can help you create better instruments of magic. You’ll have a situation like the eggs that you have to give food, but this time you have to play music for that spirit, with one of your instruments, and it has to enjoy the music you’re playing. If it enjoys the music enough, he’ll start to come closer, when he’s close enough for you to cancel and run into him, you’ll earn an item that will be used to create better instruments. It’s a system that I didn’t get very in depth with because I rather use just the regular special attacks. But it’s absurdly impressive how many customizations the game allows you to do.
The use of Magic is more straight forward, you don’t have to wait for the special bar to be charged, you can just start channeling at any time, it’ll show the area that you’ll hit when you release it. As of my experience with the game, it doesn’t hit as hard as the special attacks, and that’s good, otherwise, it would be just overpowered as hell. The way you unlock your special attacks involves the unlocking of new commands I’ve mentioned before. Some of those special attacks can only be unlocked if you learned the high-jump for example, others can only be unlocked if you learned to do a black-flip. Then it’s just a matter of gathering enough experience with that specific weapon because each weapon has its own unique catalog of special attacks.
Speaking about gathering experience, this game has a system where when you defeat an enemy, he can drop either experience, an item or candy that you can pick up to recover health mid-battle. Yes, the enemies drop experience, it’s a bunch of blue crystals that pop like a piñata, and you have to grab them, they don’t go automatically towards your character, you have to move over them. Same for the item bag and candies. That’s one thing that sometimes can be bad, if you don’t pick them up in about 5 seconds they just disappear. It’s rare that you won’t be able to do so, but still, it’s something it could be a bit better designed.
The Legend of Mana is a unique game that came out in the middle of a golden era for JRPGs and most of the video games audience missed it. It’s one of the best action JRPGs I’ve ever played and certainly the one with the most personality. The amount of system and deep lairs of customization make this game highly replayable, with possibly a hundred hours of gameplay to enjoy. If you pick up a guide to follow through all the events and just complete the game without going too deep into those lairs, it takes about 20 hours I would say. The events, despite being all over the place, are a breath of fresh air to just not being one big cliché story, and you’ll be surprised by how well written those smaller stories are, with some nice twists, amazing dialogue, and some surprisingly good wrap-ups. I recommend this game for any JRPG fan out there.